By Clarissa Unger
Political scientists have a responsibility to encourage their students’ participation in our democracy and this year should be no exception. The unique and extensive challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic require each of us to commit not only to measures to ensure the public health and safety of our communities but to measures to ensure the health of our democracy as well.
As political scientists, we not only have the opportunity to let students know why voting is important but to walk them through the steps of how they can each register and vote themselves. Inviting your students to participate in our democracy by connecting them with accurate and reliable election information is an act of public service and one of the most important things you can do to ensure they become lifelong voters.
Inviting your students to participate in our democracy by connecting them with accurate and reliable election information is an act of public service and one of the most important things you can do to ensure they become lifelong voters.
That said, if you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you already understand the immense importance and responsibility that you hold in ensuring your students have the tools, information, and confidence they need to cast their ballots in this election. So, I’m going to cut right to the chase and share some suggestions and ready-made, customizable resources that you can use today.
- Commit to sharing accurate, nonpartisan registration and voting information in your classroom during National Voter Education Week (Oct. 5-9).
- Use Ask Every Student resources to integrate voter registration into your classroom.
- Create a Faculty Champions program and become a catalyst and resource for faculty across all disciplines at your institution in engaging students in the democratic process.
- If operational plans change on your campus this fall, your role will become even more important. Prepare to support student voters in the event of a campus closure with these resources.
- Join the Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights to connect with a diverse group of faculty from around the country who are working to ensure students have access to voting.
National Voter Education Week
Throughout our years of experience promoting nonpartisan voter engagement, we have seen many efforts focused on voter registration and voter turnout, but few focused on voter education—an essential component in ensuring that those who are registered actually follow through and cast a ballot. So, a team of organizations—including the Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition, Facebook, the Lawyers’ Committee, the NAACP Youth & College Division, Asian Pacific Islander American Vote, and many others—came together to meet that need.
Complementing the incredible success of National Voter Registration Day and the exciting launch of Vote Early Day, National Voter Education Week is a nonpartisan, digital voter education campaign that will be held from October 5 to October 9 this year. We encourage all faculty members to take advantage of the resources available through National Voter Education Week to ensure knowledge and information barriers don’t keep your students from voting this year.
Ask Every Student Classroom Resources
We know that the most effective way to register someone to vote is by having a one-on-one conversation with them to walk them through the registration process. Ask Every Student is a joint initiative of the SLSV Coalition, the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, and NASPA that uses a human-centered social design process to create tools and resources to support campuses in integrating voter registration conversations with every student into classrooms via Zoom presentations and learning management systems, student portals, and existing key communications from campus administration.
Among the Ask Every Student classroom tools is a template to create a module for your campus’ learning management system (LMS). The module can function as a one-stop-shop for students to access information and support for participating in the voting and democratic engagement processes.
Faculty Champions Program
Also created through Ask Every Student in collaboration with Campus Codesigners, the Faculty Champions Strategy Guide walks individuals through steps to create a faculty champion program at their institution. It’s not enough to simply ensure that political science students have the information they need to cast their ballots. Challenge other faculty across disciplines at your institution to integrate voter education into their classrooms as well. These voting modules for various disciplines created by Project Pericles can make it easy for faculty in other disciplines to connect their classroom content with the importance of voting and the mechanics of how to vote.
Preparing to Support Student Voters in the Event of a Campus Closure
Each of our vote plans may end up being a little different this year than in the past. With campus operations being in flux this election season, it’s important to provide students with quick, accurate information about their voting options. That’s why our team developed resources to support faculty and campus staff to prepare to support student voters in the event of a campus closure. These materials, and others found on the SLSV Coalition’s COVID-19 page, can help you ensure that your students are prepared in advance to quickly adapt their voting plans based on potential mid-semester campus closures.
Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights
Finally, there’s no reason to feel as if you’re alone in this—you’re not! Political scientists and other faculty members across the country are doing more than ever to ensure students are able to register, vote, and have their votes counted. By joining the Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights, you’ll get access to additional resources, a network to bounce ideas off of, and a rapid response operation to respond to attacks on students and faculty who advocate for student voting access.
Higher education’s commitment to graduating active citizens didn’t start in 2020 and will continue beyond this year’s election. So let’s be clear, integrating nonpartisan voter education into your classroom should not be a one-time thing. We applaud and support faculty who engage their students in the voting process in every class, every semester. And we’re here to support your efforts in any way we possibly can.
For more ideas and resources, visit https://slsvcoalition.org/for-the-classroom/.
Clarissa Unger is a guest contributor for the RAISE the Vote Campaign. The views expressed in the posts and articles featured in the RAISE the Vote campaign are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of APSA.
Clarissa Unger is the Co-Founder and Director of the Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition, a project of the National Conference on Citizenship. Prior to founding the SLSV Coalition, she served as the Development Coordinator for the Robert. J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas where she helped to promote civic and democratic engagement on campus. Clarissa has a Masters in Public Administration and a BA in Political Science and International Studies from the University of Kansas and a Masters in Comparative European Politics from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
The Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition is the national hub and largest nonpartisan network in the United States dedicated to increasing college student voter participation. The SLSV Coalition convenes and connects partners, campuses, and students with each other and with resources and programming towards achieving our collective vision of ensuring that every student has easy and equal access to participate in every election. The SLSV Coalition is a project of the National Conference on Citizenship.