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The case for civic engagement on college campuses

| Wednesday, September 23, 2020

As the 2020 election looms and the first debate nears, many college students across the country are voting in a presidential race for the first time. While voting looks different this year due to COVID-19, it is crucial — perhaps more important that ever — to ensure we are still able to cast our ballots. For the longest time, young voters have made up a significant portion of the electorate and yet have made up only a sliver of actual votes cast. Too often this lack of turnout is attributed to stereotypes of young Americans as ignorant or disinterested; however, this couldn’t be further from the case. Take, for example, our social media feeds for the past several months; students are clearly interested in politics — we advocate for human rights, we ask our friends to call representatives and donate, we send around petitions. A large portion of college students today are activists in their own right. What prevents them from turning this interest and devotion to change into voter turnout are obstacles such as lack of knowledge on the registration process, difficulties with absentee ballot requesting or feeling as though they weren’t educated enough on issues to be a good voter. This is where colleges and universities come into play.

Universities need to make voting easy and accessible while also educating their students not only on their respective courses of study, but also what it means to be a civically engaged citizen. Hosting seminars on issues of importance to college-aged voters, conducting registration drives and encouraging student to make their voices heard via their ballot each November are important. Nonetheless, colleges need to do more. Based on NSLVE data from 2018, only 37% of the student body voted despite 80% being registered. Universities need to educate students on how to request their ballots, empower student organizations that facilitate voter education and readily provide envelopes and stamps for students to send their absentee applications and ballots in. They need to work towards depolarization by encouraging students to engage in civil discourse and understand where their peers’ beliefs and values may come from without trying to convince them to change their minds. These principles of access, engagement and discourse are central to the health and integrity of modern American democracy.

As a reminder, this week is Student Government’s Civic Engagement Week here at the University of Notre Dame. We applaud the efforts of both the Ingal-Galbenski Administration and Office of the President in making national engagement at the forefront of conversation and activity on campus and hope that other universities do the same. Students, we hope you take this week to educate yourself on the platforms of not only President Trump and Vice President Biden, but also the platforms of your state and local representatives; often times they are the ones with the power to effect change on policies and issues closest to your heart. Finally, we’d like to urge everyone reading this article to not only register to vote, but to actually send in your ballot request and make your voice heard. We have the determination and numbers to make a difference, so get out and vote!

Riya Shah is a member of BridgeND, a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5pm in the McNeill Room of LaFortune Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

Contact Bridge