By Pete Janny & Anna Woods, Sports Editor & Asst. News Editor
Manhattan College was recently awarded a bronze award for its performance in the “All In” Campus Democracy Challenge.
This challenge is open to any accredited, degree-granting, post-secondary institution that aspires to enhance the political engagement of its students. The central purpose of the initiative is to give students the tools they need to become as politically conscious as possible both during their time in college and after graduation. The best indicator of a school’s performance in this undertaking is the rate at which its students turn out to vote.
To enter the competition, each school must first fulfill a list of minor requirements. First, the school must select a primary contact from their own administration to represent them. After doing this, each school is then required to assemble a committee made up of representatives from the most important groups on campus, including the student body and senior administration. From there, each school must formulate an action plan that outlines the steps they will take to bolster voter turnout and overall political engagement among students. All schools that participate are recognized, however, only institutions that record voting rates of 50 percent or higher earn a platinum seal, which is the highest distinction.
Manhattan was honored with a bronze seal as a result of their voter participation falling somewhere between 20 to 29 percent of students for the 2018 midterm elections. Manhattan was one of 31 institutions to receive the Bronze Seal, with some of the other notable honorees being SUNY Cortland, SUNY Oswego, and the University at Albany. There are three seals better than bronze: silver, goal, and platinum.
Manhattan’s 2018 Democratic Engagement Action Plan, which is located on the “All In” website, details the concrete ways in which the school has increased political awareness on campus. Their plan was developed on the basis of three goals: register unregistered students, make it easier for students to vote, and motivate students to vote.
The document of the plan, which dates all the way back to October 31st, 2018, at one point states, “Last year we set up registration tables on several occasions, and this fall we are doing it again… In the longer term, we hope to talk with the administration about the best way to make registration easily available to every student.”
One student who has a first-hand experience of trying to convince more students to register is Chelsey Leveque. Her appreciation for voting is best captured when she’s working at one of the registration tables on campus.
“Throughout the semester, I run the voter registration table for the Social Action Suite at various hotspots on campus. From the entrance of Thomas Hall to the ground floor of the Commons, you would most likely find me asking students if they’re registered to vote or aware of how the voting process operates — just to get their attention. At my table, you would find informative sheets that summarize the basics of voting and explain reasons to register, as well as sample ballots to give students a first-hand view of what they can expect on Election Day,” Leveque said.
From her own experiences on campus, Leveque views the student responses to the measures being taken as nothing short of an enigma.
“Based on tabling alone, the school’s level of engagement seems to be moderate to some extent,” Leveque said. “Most days students walk by me with an affirmative expression and pick up a few flyers, while others avoid eye contact entirely, completely uninterested in anything political.”
Margaret Groarke, PhD., an associate professor of political science, whose work is dedicated to community organizing and voter registration, has been working on increasing turnout on campus. Groarke touted one particular meeting in which members of the school administration came together to brainstorm about how to best prepare students for the upcoming election.
“We had a meeting with some staff and a bunch of students and we kind of talked about three things. Helping people overcome the obstacles, like ‘How do I register?’ And the really hard thing, ‘How do I get an absentee ballot?’ … Secondly, making sure people know enough about the election that they feel like they can sensibly cast a vote. Lastly, helping people understand how important it is; making people realize that it does matter whether or not you vote and that it’s a good thing to do. So we’re going to work on those three things,” Groarke said.
Leveque was also in attendance at that meeting and walked away feeling a lot more confident about the current state of political engagement at the school than she did prior to attending it.
“After having participated in the Voter Engagement Meeting held at the Social Action Suite — it has widened my perception of how politically engaged many of the school’s faculty members and students are. With more than 20 passionate individuals present, it was fascinating to see everyone come together to brainstorm ways to promote voter engagement on campus,” Leveque said.
Groarke was pleased with the news about the bronze medal because it is reflective of the progress that has been made over the last few years.
“22 percent might not sound like a very high percentage of turnout, but for midterm election ,which usually has lower turnout, it’s pretty good,” said Groarke.
“Turnout had been 8 percent in 2014, during the last midterm election … so 22 percent is a big increase. However, there’s a lot of room for growth,” said Groarke.
Leveque has also taken solace in knowing that Manhattan is indeed improving the political scene on campus despite what her own personal experiences have indicated at times.
“This recognition in itself indicates how eager, engaged, and politically aware our Jasper community is. It’s encouraging to learn that driven students expressed their dedication to voter engagement in this way,” Leveque said of the bronze seal achievement. “ I truly believe that activities like this should be organized and advertised more expansively, in order to get other students involved and excited about the political process.”
Izzy Frazza, Vice President for the freshmen class echoed those sentiments.
“I think that the Quad covering this topic is a terrific step towards ensuring that students are aware of the upcoming election and their ability to participate in it. I would suggest more lectures and opportunities for open conversations here on campus, said Frazza.”
Looking forward to the presidential election at the end of the year, Leveque hopes the school takes the necessary steps to inform students about every candidate running. After all, if the school runs the risk of not organizing events that help educate voters, there may end up being a sentiment of indifference among students toward the outcome of the election.
“I think the most important thing our school can do is to further educate the student body on the background and beliefs of the candidates that are up for election. The main reason why a lot of young adults don’t vote is that they don’t understand who they are voting for and why they’re doing it. As opposed to entering their polling site with a blind eye, Manhattan College should equip students with the information necessary to fully understand what every candidate stands for,” Leveque said.