In the 2018 midterm elections, overall turnout for college students reached 40.3 percent, more than twice the figure from 2014. A number of factors went into the increase, and one of them was the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.
The challenge is an effort to make democratic engagement ubiquitous on college and university campuses, and substantially increase the number of college students who are engaged in the electoral process, not only during elections but also between them. It recognizes institutions of higher education — more than 1,000 are participating — that work to increase student voting rates and that make democratic participation a principal value on campus.
One participating school is Wesleyan University. This post was written by its president, Michael Roth, who explains what his school is doing toward these goals and how other schools can do the same.
Like many college presidents, I’ve seen my share of protests — creative chants for social justice, sit-ins on behalf of divestment, marches aimed at drawing attention to the working conditions of those who maintain the campus. Good causes, all. How are these political energies related to electoral democracy?
I work at Wesleyan University, which recently was awarded a “Gold Seal” by the Campus Democracy Challenge because 47 percent of our students had voted in the last election. Only 47 percent, and we won an award! Can Wesleyan and other higher ed institutions around the country do more to enable greater numbers of students to engage meaningfully in elections? This is the time to try.
At Wesleyan — and we are by no means alone in this — we see it as a core part of our educational mission to prepare students for lives of engaged citizenship. In the fall of 2018 we offered bipartisan micro-grants of about $500 to students to help support work with electoral campaigns around the country. On short notice, dozens responded and many traveled during our fall break to states including Texas, Wyoming, West Virginia, Massachusetts and New York.