By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–IU Southeast students have earned the institution a place on Washington Monthly’s 2021 Best Colleges for Student Voting Honor Roll.
The annual list recognizes institutions that are “doing the most to turn their students into citizens,” per the publication’s website, acknowledging the efforts of administrators to expand the culture of citizenship on campus alongside the determination of students to make their voices heard.
This year’s list includes 205 schools, an increase that parallels the surge in youth voting during the 2020 election cycle, when over half of eligible 18-to-24 year-olds voted–a record.
It is based on data received from organizations such as the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, of which IU Southeast has been a member since 2016.
ALL IN is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping institutions grow student involvement in the voting process.
By joining, IU Southeast committed to helping students form habits of active and informed citizenship and making democratic participation a core campus value. It further committed to convening a campus-wide working group with members from different administrative units, and developing a data-driven action plan to improve civic learning, political engagement and voter participation.
“It has been a great collaborative effort that started in 2016 when our Student Government Association spearheaded a voter registration drive with grant funding from Indiana Campus Compact,” said Dr. Seuth Chaleunphonh, dean of student life. “The efforts were joined by the College Republicans and College Democrats student groups and the Registrar, as well as the political science department.”
This sustained institutional commitment to expanding student participation and to transparency is what the Washington Monthly recognition is all about.
According to Washington Monthly, schools needed to submit action plans to ALL IN for 2018 and 2020, and to sign up to receive data from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, a group that calculates student voting rates. Additionally, they were required to make voting data for 2016 and 2018 public.
During the last electoral cycle, students at IU Southeast participated in a range of activities designed to build awareness and dialogue.
Dr. Margot Morgan, assistant professor of political science, has served as the American Democracy Project Campus Coordinator for the ALL IN Challenge. In this role she has created content for an informative voting website (“2020: Your Vote Matters”) as well as organized and co-organized events such as:
- Presidential Debate watch parties
- “So, What Did You Think About The Debates? A National Times Talk With Students,” a discussion with students from across the U.S.
- “Why Voting Matters to Me,” a student panel on the importance of voting
- The first Mock Iowa Caucus at IU Southeast, featuring student, staff and faculty participation
- Super Tuesday Watch Party, featuring discussion and analysis of this important day in the primaries
These events were all held via Zoom, demonstrating a tremendous commitment to political engagement. For Morgan, the key has been student involvement.
“I firmly believe that students need to talk to one another about voting, and why it matters, rather than have their professors talk at them,” Morgan said.
This was amply borne out during the “Why Voting Matters” discussion moderated by Morgan.
“The students had great reasons for voting, and were able to talk about it with one another in terms relevant to their lives,” Morgan said.
For Morgan, the new academic year is an opportunity to build upon what was achieved during the lockdown. In particular, she envisions the ALL IN Challenge activities helping to strengthen the partnership between academic affairs and student affairs.
“If faculty and student groups get together, pool our ideas and resources, we can make things happen,” Morgan said. “I’m excited for 2022.”
For his part, Chaleunphonh is encouraged by the recognition of student involvement.
“It’s great to see that our students are contributing to the dramatic rise in voter participation from their age group across the country, which will help amplify their voice to prioritize issues to our civic leaders locally, across the state and nationally,” Chaleunhphonh said.
He points to new accommodations from employers and instructors, and more options in voting locations, as concrete accomplishments that help students make their voice heard at the ballot box and strengthen democratic values more generally.
“Part of preparing students to be productive citizens and to contribute to the development of the region is to be active and engaged with their communities,” Chaleunphonh said. “Voting is just one way. Having civil dialogues about important issues year-round and respecting different perspectives or thought within a democracy is also important.”