Several Rochester colleges and universities joined scores of others nationwide that committed to increasing student voting rates in the 2018 midterm elections through the All in Campus Democracy Challenge. Their efforts paid off.
The University of Rochester, the College at Brockport, SUNY College at Geneseo and Nazareth College recently were recognized by the All in Campus initiative with silver seals. These campuses reported 30 to 39 percent voter participation in the 2018 midterms. Hobart and William Smith Colleges received a bronze seal, which recognizes campuses with 20 to 29 percent voter participation.
New College of Florida reported a voting rate of more than 64 percent, taking the top honor, while the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota received the Champion Award for the most increased voting rate with a 35.5-point jump in the 2014-18 period. The Maryland Institute College of Art had a voter registration rate of 95 percent.
The All In Campus Democracy Challenge aims to institutionalize democratic engagement activities and programs on college campuses, making civic engagement a defining feature of campus life. The challenge, in collaboration with higher education, seeks to make participation in elections—local, state and federal—a norm, in addition to increasing democratic engagement among students, ultimately resulting in informed and active citizens.
At Nazareth, students worked on National Voter Registration Day in September 2018 to help register fellow students to vote. On Election Day, a group of Nazareth students worked as election inspectors.
“Nazareth is accepting the challenge to generate an action plan for the college’s commitment to advancing nonpartisan democratic engagement,” said Jazzmyn Ivery-Robinson, coordinator in Nazareth’s Center for Life’s Work.
The college is working on organizing other events for the spring semester, she says.
Nationally, increasing democratic engagement among students has been a goal for various institutions. In 2012, a report from the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement called on higher education and partners in education, government and public life to advance a 21st century conception of civic learning and democratic engagement as an expected part of every student’s college education.
The report, titled “A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future ,” made the following recommendations:
■ Reclaim and reinvest in the fundamental civic and democratic mission of schools and of all sectors within higher education;
■ Enlarge the current national narrative that erases civic aims and civic literacy as educational priorities contributing to social, intellectual, and economic capital;
■ Advance a contemporary, comprehensive framework for civic learning that includes historic and modern understandings of democratic values, capacities to engage diverse perspectives and people, and commitment to collective civic problem‐solving;
■ Capitalize upon the interdependent responsibilities of K‐12 and higher education to foster progressively higher levels of civic knowledge, skills, examined values, and action as expectations for every student; and
■ Expand the number of robust, generative civic partnerships and alliances to address common problems and empower people to act.
Since then, colleges and universities, including those in Rochester, have been working to reverse the tide of anemic civic health in the U.S.
In 2016, the All In Campus Democracy Challenge was launched. In its inaugural year, more than 200 campuses joined the effort. That number has grown to more than 250.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.