Marist Students Motivated to Vote as Election Approaches

Kenneth Guillaume ‘20

This year’s common read selection focused on participating in democracy and campus organizations have engaged in a voter registration drive.

October 20, 2020—It’s a presidential election year and there’s a theme on campus this fall: vote. The first-year common read selection for the Class of 2024 examines what it means to participate in a democracy and all over the Marist campus and voter registration drives have been in full swing, urging students to ensure they are making their voices heard and to take part in the nation's election.

The common read, Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting, tackles this head-on. On Wednesday, October 21, a video talk by the book’s author, Joshua Douglas, will be released to students in lieu of the common read lecture in the McCann Center. Douglas will address the upcoming election, democracy, and much more. His talk also examines the voter registration efforts of Marist alumna Julia McCarthy ‘19, who founded the student organization, Marist Votes.

“It’s about how we can get through this time period together. I hope the stories inspire you, I’m inspired by them, and I’m inspired by you all going to Marist and embarking on this great journey,” Douglas said to the freshman class in a previously released orientation video.

Vote for US
With an incoming freshmen class entering college during a presidential election year, the Common Read Committee wanted to pick a book that would stimulate students to engage in the democratic process. “We were excited to choose this book because we hoped it would inspire our first-year students to begin to think about our democracy and their place in it. We knew that for many, this would be their first presidential election, and we want our students to be informed and committed citizens. Douglas' book illustrates the importance of every vote and the work ordinary people are doing around the country to protect and expand voting rights,” said Robyn Rosen, Director of First Year Seminars and Professor of History.

“This year’s book was obviously selected because of the 2020 presidential election. This is the first time many of our first year students will be voting, and we wanted to select a book that discussed democratic engagement from a non-partisan perspective,” said James Snyder, Interim Dean of Academic Engagement, who oversees the First year Seminar program. He also noted that only Marist and one other college, in Texas, selected Douglas’s book as the common read for this year. “This is one of the only books we could find that engaged students in the importance of voting without requiring that our students adopt a particular political perspective or position when voting.”

Marist students at a register to vote table

Steven Devery ’24, a business major with a concentration in finance from Sayville, New York, found Vote for US had a profound impact on his viewpoint of the United States democracy. While he's not ignorant to the fact the US democracy isn’t perfect, Douglas’ book opened his eyes to specific issues that plague the nation.

“What I appreciated the most about Vote for US was not that it simply shed light on the challenges, but that the book offered examples of how we as ordinary citizens have the power to enact change. It’s refreshing to hear these positive success stories–especially these days–when everything we seem to read and see is negative,” Devery said. “Although we do not live in a necessarily model democracy, it does not mean we do not strive every day to try and ‘take back our elections’ in order to ‘change the future of voting’: ultimately producing a democracy that is representative of all of its citizens.”

Devery also notes that through reading Vote for US he is excited to participate in the election. “I am thrilled to participate in my first presidential election in November. This book has definitely contributed to my excitement with all of the knowledge that I have gained from it.”

On-Campus Efforts
The common read is just one facet of the push to engage students in the electoral process; the College also has a plethora of on-campus initiatives to promote student voting.

Across campus, students are making efforts to get as many of their peers registered to vote as possible. With weekly drop-in hours, the Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership’s student-led Marist Votes initiative is walking students through the sometimes confusing aspects of voting. However, it doesn’t stop there. The Marist Circle, Marist Athletics, and the Student Government Association are all working in combined efforts to educate and effect action in the community.

“It’s much more coordinated this year. But I think students have always been engaged in registering their peers to vote, particularly the political student groups,” Dr. Melissa Gaeke, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership and Professional Lecturer in the School of Liberal Arts said.

In previous years, campus efforts were not quite as cohesive. Now with the development of Marist Votes, students are directed from all over campus to a single location to answer any voting, voting registration, or logistical questions they might have.

Gaeke believes the drop-in voting information and registration sessions have been valuable. “We’ve had students say, ‘I still haven’t received my absentee ballot, what should I do?’ to ‘this is my first time voting by absentee ballot, what do I do?’” Dr. Gaeke said. “I think being a resource to provide information is really critical, and then we’ll also help a student if they need to print something, or if they’re rushing and they just want to hand it to us, we’ll mail it for them.”

The College’s newspaper also took an active role in the effort. "The Marist Circle has launched a website that is very similar in level and style of profile that For the Record was. It will be all focused-on voter registration information and vignettes and other stories. Their campaign is trying to highlight why students, faculty, and staff vote," Dr. Gaeke said.

Marist Athletics has also played a crucial role in being able to combine efforts from across the campus and ensure the core message of getting out to vote and register isn’t being diluted.

"The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) has been very engaged in this effort," said Elizabeth Donohue, Associate Athletic Director and advisor to the committee. "The collective efforts of the six subcommittees have contributed to 21 of 23 varsity teams currently boasting 100% voter registration. The Leadership Subcommittee polled student-athletes on the voter interest of the student-athlete population and their registration status while the Communications Subcommittee continues to post information regarding how to register and how to obtain an absentee ballot on its social media. The Athletic Subcommittee arranged for representatives of Marist Republicans and Marist Democrats to speak to SAAC at previous and upcoming meetings, educating the group on the background and platforms of the political parties overall."

SAAC recognized the need to align with other campus efforts to encourage voter registration. “Our committee took a trip to the Marist Votes drop-in center one Tuesday to learn about their process and hopefully replicate it for the student-athletes. We worked closely with Dr. Gaeke to obtain all the information for our student-athlete version of the drop-in center,” said Mike Kagafas, Football Assistant Coach and Events/Fundraising Subcommittee Facilitator.

As a result, many of the College’s athletic teams have been registered to vote and this success has been shared on social media.

Across campus, students are driven to ensure themselves and their peers are registered to vote come November. With the overarching theme dictated by the Class of 2024 common read, Marist has been proud to motivate students to be an active part of the democracy and that their voice is being exercised in the presidential election.

Devery is looking forward to November 3. “I truly hope everyone gets out there and votes.”

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