by Maria Thomas, Kyla Guilfoil & Nicole Rodriguez, Managing Editor, Asst. News Editor & Production Editor
Washington Monthly has recognized Manhattan College in its annual list of colleges that have best encouraged students to become active citizens.
Student voter turnout increased from 41.3 percent in the 2016 election to 59.6 percent in the 2020 election, which was significant enough to win the college its first first silver designation from the All In Campus Democracy Challenge, a competition including more than 1400 colleges and universities who are aiming to raise voter participation.
These efforts are led by the Voter Engagement Committee, a group made up of faculty, students and administrators who set goals and agendas for improving voter turnout and registration at MC. The committee’s work is largely carried out by Margaret Groarke, Ph.D., professor of political science; Jacqueline Martin, coordinator for Campus Ministry and Social Action (CMSA); Kathleen Von Euw, assistant director of Community Engagement and Partnerships, and a team of work study students including Assiatou Diallo, Doriz Yari, Grace Geckeler and Chelsey Leveque.
A local Bronx community member, Groarke has been part of voter turnout efforts in the area for many years. In collaboration with Martin, Groarke has been able to establish a noteworthy effort for voter engagement at MC.
“I’ve long been interested in maximizing voter participation — it’s also a subject of my research — so I signed us up for the All In Campus Democracy Challenge several years ago,” Groarke wrote in an email to The Quadrangle. “I’ve co-chaired the Voter Engagement Committee with Jacqueline Martin, and took the lead on writing up our plan, which is on our website — just search
in Philadelphia right before the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. There, the group learned from others about useful strategies and brainstormed their own plans for action at MC. Graorke and her colleagues decided that their focus would be on making sure that students knew how to register to vote, how to get an absentee ballot, how to vote for their respective districts and for students to understand how to evaluate candidates and why their participation matters in elections.
“Young people have historically not voted in large numbers — and that means politicians can ignore their interests,” Groarke wrote via email. “Young people’s voter turnout is on the increase, which will give them a greater voice. Also, people who start voting young tend to keep voting, so getting young people involved matters for our democracy.”
Groarke added that she would like to see students receive an automatic opportunity to register for voting when they register for courses at the college. She also advocates for student membership of political clubs, for all and any ideology, in order to promote political engagement among MC students.
Martin, who works closely with Groarke within the Voter Engagement Committee, also organizes the community engagement programs on campus which play an important role in invigorating students to become active citizens.
“Part of my role is overseeing voter engagement work study students, and so they work both on campus and the college community, and locally and in the local community to help people get registered and engaged in voting in a different way,” Martin said.
Martin also oversees weekly local community service projects, social justice education programs run by the college, and the L.O.V.E. social justice immersion trips that are hosted by the CMSA.
“We do a lot of different things under our umbrella trying to get students more engaged with the world around them and learning more about themselves and how they fit into things and hopefully, so that they can become like really active citizens in the community,” Martin told The Quadrangle.
In terms of the voter engagement work on campus, work study students work with Martin to do classroom presentations. Students create presentations that explain why it is important to vote, especially as a young person, as well as explain how to register and be qualified to vote in a particular election.
Martin said that it is important for young people to be involved in elections because politics are intertwined with students’ daily lives and the society that they live in.
“I think it’s so important to be a part of that conversation,” Martin said. “Because if you’re not someone else will be and you want to make sure that your concerns, and the concerns of people who are different from you, and who are from different communities are being heard, to be able to affect change.”
Martin shared that a major focus for the committee during the spring 2022 semester will be addressing the upcoming primary elections in June 2022. She said the committee hopes to hold events that will raise awareness for these upcoming elections, and the candidates that are running. The goal will be to raise awareness as well as encourage more students to register to vote.
The voter engagement committee also plans to work with Residence Life to create a program led by Resident Assistants to create more accessibility for students to register to vote. Martin added that they would also plan to include events hosted by Commuter Services in order to reach non-resident students.
Junior biology major, Assiatou Diallo, is part of the college’s voter engagement committee. As a member, she engages in community outreach with the purpose of helping people with voter registration.
“One way the college has prepared students to become more active citizens is by making voter registration easily accessible. We offer different ways for students to register, whether that be by completing the application and we mail it on their behalf, or simply scanning a QR code that we provide,” Diallo said.
Diallo explained how crucial it is to educate students about the importance of voting and making sure to provide a consistent flow of information regarding elections in a more simplified and bearable form to understand.
“It is important for specifically college-aged individuals to vote because we are old enough to be socially, politically, and economically aware of society and recognize what needs to be changed within it, but young enough to be more affected by long term changes made by political leaders compared to older folks,” she said. “Politics is dominated by people who won’t be here in 20 years or so, which is ironic because young people are quite literally the future, so we should be the ones deciding how we want our future to look, but nothing will change in our favor if we continue to be complacent when it comes to voting.”
The efforts of the college’s voter engagement committee have enabled 76.4 percent of Manhattan College students to be registered to vote in 2020. Further, 78.1 percent of these registered voters voted in the 2020 election. According to manhattan.edu, this is an increase of nine percent from the 2018 elections.
Diallo hopes the college will take further steps to increase voter turnout in the future such as dedicating a day on campus to voter registration along with a political workshop.
“Some things that I hope the college will implement to increase voter turnout is dedicating a day on campus that primarily focuses on voter registration, and all things voting-related,” Diallo said. “This would include educating students on the importance of voting, and addressing any confusion students may have about the process by answering questions they may have but are typically too afraid to ask.”
“I also hope that MC will implement a workshop or something along the line that allows people to express their political views in a judgement-free environment because if we can make students feel comfortable enough to speak their minds, I believe that they will be encouraged to go out and vote so that their voice can be heard on a much larger scale.”
Martin emphasizes that students should use the voter engagement committee as a resource to better understand voter registration and elections. She hopes that students will stop by the CMSA office in Kelly Commons for any further information or guidance on these issues.