Empowering Students, Building Community: The Importance of Faculty Involvement in Student Voting EffortsRachael Houston
One of my biggest takeaways from being a graduate student and employee during the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of human connection across campus roles. I have struggled in taking all of my classes and work meetings from my dining room, but I know that everyone I meet with (from my college dean to a student I supervise) is going through similar daily negotiations of space, social distancing, and being present on campus from afar. Many faculty members open class by asking how we are all doing, and I now look forward to it as an opportunity for us to connect as people in a time that has been largely isolating and lonely.
And so I am left to think about how, in times chaotic and calm, faculty bring students together. This has been true since before this year, of course, but 2020 has made it more abundantly clear. Faculty facilitate connections, serve as mentors to many, and are a source of consistency in times of change and transformation. What better time to harness that energy than during a high-energy election season? Alongside student affairs professionals and other campus officials, faculty can reassert engaging in voting efforts—as ability and capacity allow—as an opportunity for learning communities to connect and engage. Broadly speaking, voting efforts and all parts of life that they address transcend campus roles, departmental boundaries, even academic disciplines, leaving faculty members of any and all kinds very well positioned to connect with students over voting efforts.
Faculty involving themselves in voting efforts reinforces that people in all walks of life can be involved in voting efforts. Students seeing trusted professionals in their fields of interest engage with voting efforts is powerful. Involvement does not have to be time-consuming or labor-intensive. Faculty do not have to lead long conversations* to make a significant impact. Having already established a relationship with their students, faculty are uniquely positioned to discuss important voter registration deadlines, remind students of the polling places assigned to their campus communities and provide reliable nonpartisan resources for students seeking more information about what will be on their ballot.
Faculty members looking for resources themselves can find support in CEEP’s faculty resources page. Some are fit for all audiences, such as the Vote by Mail Toolkit + Video Series, while others like our guide reviewing Difficult Classroom Conversations About Political Issues are faculty-specific. Faculty are uniquely positioned to make connections between higher education and voting in regards to students’ investing in their own futures, and CEEP is dedicated to supporting them in this pivotal work.
I know I am not the only student to have had so many of my life plans challenged and changed in 2020, and I am certainly not the only one wanting to connect with others to explore how I can use my voice and my vote. I am so fortunate to have faculty members who talk to me about those things, even very briefly, both as faculty and as fellow community members. Knowing how much that has meant to me, how much it continues to empower me, I very strongly encourage anyone who is in a position to be that for other students to at least try.
About the author: Erika Tai, MPP is a second-year doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her current research focuses on the impact of dialogue on undergraduate students’ understandings of meaning making and belonging. Erika began working with CEEP as a Faculty Resource Intern in June of 2020.