From SRQ Daily Perspectives edition on 11-14-20:
Civic engagement is part of the New College ethos. Throughout our six-decade history, our campus community has been known for its political initiative and engagement. We’ve even won awards for it.
And this year—during one of the tensest election cycles in modern history, not to mention in the middle of a pandemic—our students represented New College with incredible passion. They rallied their peers. They raised awareness. They reeled in votes.
“I haven’t met a student yet at New College who isn’t passionate about the most recent political issues,” says Cristiana Feazell, a second-year student involved in the nationwide Campus Vote Project—a voter education program coordinated through New College’s office of Student Activities & Campus Engagement (SA[u]CE).
“New College, as an institution, supports the intellectually curious, and that leaves room for students to be engaged politically in multiple ways,” says SA[u]CE Assistant Director Jada McNeill. “One of the earliest things I learned from working at New College is how big advocacy is for students. I really do learn a lot from students about what’s happening locally, nationally and globally.”
Jada is absolutely right, and the world has noticed. Our students have won numerous awards for their political initiative and voter turnout. Two years ago, New College received national accolades from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for its high level of student voting during the 2018 election (nearly two-thirds of students voted). We earned a platinum seal from ALL IN for achieving a student voting rate above 50%, as well as three “Best in Class Awards” for the highest voting rate among all participating small, public, four-year institutions.
This fall, McNeill has been nudging students to further amplify their voices in political matters, reminding them that the largest share of eligible voters in 2020 have come from the Millennial or Generation Z age group. She and her staff created New College’s Voting Information Center and partnered with TurboVote to make it easier than ever for students to register, gather absentee ballots and meet primary deadlines.
Marina Sidlow, a second-year student, helped host a semi-virtual event for National Voter Registration Day in September—inspiring students to vote as the fall semester at New College began.
“Seeing student participation in activism at New College has given me a lot of hope for the future of our society—whether it be students organizing groups to attend a local protest or creating our own protests on campus for school-related issues,” Sidlow says. “Political activism is so important to me because it is the most substantial way to create change in our society. As individuals, we may not feel like we have a lot of power to bring about real social change, but we cannot ignore the power of the vote in bringing about that change.”
Rory Renzy, a thesis student in political science and economics, is the chapter president of Democracy Matters at New College. With the campus chapter of the nonpartisan national student group, Renzy has coordinated petitioning efforts focused on getting corporate money out of politics, and he has organized on-campus events to engage students in topics such as ranked-choice voting and open primaries. He also led an effort to collect petitions across campus for Florida’s “Say Yes to Second Chances” campaign for voter rights restoration, which succeeded and appeared on the November 2018 ballot.
“I know a lot of students, myself included, can feel powerless at times, especially when they come into contact with powerful interests that seem to get their way all of the time. But I think the political tide is turning a little bit, and young people are actively aware of the pull they can have in politics, which is reassuring and inspiring in many ways,” Renzy says. “I really find pride in going to a school that has won national awards for voter registration and turnout for a college campus. New College has a lot of political energy that, when channeled in the right ways, can be a force to be reckoned with in the local community.”
I couldn’t agree more. I believe wholeheartedly in our students. Every day, they are making our world better. And they are making us so proud.