From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on 11-19-20:
Few would argue with the proposition that universities, especially state universities, need to supply graduates with the skills our economy needs.
But societies are more than just their economies. Universities serve the societies of which they are a part by producing graduates who will support those societies. Those graduates are not just employees, employers, professionals and entrepreneurs; they are citizens who will shape our democracy in the years to come.
This is an area where Florida’s state universities, and New College in particular, have shone.
During the election cycle of 2020, college students showed up as voters and activists when their country needed them most. They prove that Florida’s State University System is doing its job by encouraging students to raise their voices and change society. Florida will be better because of them. So will our world.
This year, more people voted than they ever have in the history of our nation, and many more young people went to the polls for the first time. Students have been key players in changing voter dynamics.
For example, in 2018, New College received national accolades from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for its high level of student voting (nearly two-thirds of our students voted in the election that year). We earned a platinum seal from ALL IN for achieving a student voting rate above 50 percent, as well as three “Best in Class Awards” for the highest voting rate among all participating small, public, four-year institutions.
“New College, as an institution, supports the intellectually curious, and that leaves room for students to be engaged politically in multiple ways,” said Jada McNeill, the assistant director of New College’s office of Student Activities & Campus Engagement (SA[u]CE). McNeill and her team created New College’s Voting Information Center, and they partnered with TurboVote to make it easier than ever for students to get involved in the political process this year.
Students contribute to our society not just by voting but by the community work they do. New College students and faculty have been partnering with the Multicultural Health Institute (MHI) on an initiative funded by a grant from Tidewell Hospice to protect and educate at-risk residents about COVID-19. They’ve helped collect data to assess community needs and conditions and educated individuals on best practices in multiple languages.
Students also find outlets for their environmental passions by working with professors to assess the health of Sarasota Bay. Others work to promote social entrepreneurship as a means to align the social good and wealth creation.
“Activism is something that just underlies all the work I do – at school, in having conversations with my friends and parents, and what I hope to achieve in a future career,” said thesis student Rory Renzy, who works as a research assistant in the Economics Department at New College. “A vision of a more equitable society drives my plans for graduate school and beyond. Politics is truly about people, and it can act as a way to make their lives better. So just that alone gives me the hope for people from all sorts of backgrounds to come together and achieve some really amazing things.”
Through their engagement with the community on issues that affect their future and that of others, students become citizens who will serve our society and our democracy – even though their work may push against the comfort levels of some.
Fifty-five years ago, letters in the local papers criticized New College for not expelling students who participated in the Selma marches for Black voting rights. Who now could imagine denying anyone the right to vote or to stay at a hotel or to eat out on the basis of race?
It is to the enormous credit of Florida’s legislators that they have supported the State University System and New College in particular. In so doing, they are ensuring the future of our society.