By Abby Weingarten
For Rory Renzy, Cristiana Feazell and Marina Sidlow, civic engagement is an enduring passion. And theirs is a shared fervor that has run deeply through New College’s 60-year history.
During the 2020 election cycle, the three Novo Collegians have represented their College—and their generation—as ardent political activists.
“I haven’t met a student yet at New College who isn’t passionate about the most recent political issues,” said Feazell, a second-year art history student involved in the nationwide Campus Vote Project—a student voter education program coordinated locally 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,” said 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.”
In fact, New College 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). The College 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.
This fall, McNeill has nudged 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.
To this end, 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.
McNeill also organized a campus-wide virtual “Race, Power and Politics” (RPP) discussion series, which runs through November 12, that covers topics such as economic inequality and injustice. All of these efforts have contributed to the politically conscious climate at New College.
“I’m passionate about political activism because I firmly believe that everyone should contribute to our democracy,” Feazell said. “I’m impressed by the students’ passion at New College, and they make that passion contagious. Voter engagement acts as an effective outlet for that passion.”
Sidlow, a second-year sociology and philosophy student with the Campus Vote Project, helped host a semi-virtual event for National Voter Registration Day in September—rallying students 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 said. “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.”
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 said. “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.”
For more details on voting and other political information, visit New College’s Voting Information Center at ncf.edu/campus-life/voting-information-center
For questions about political activism on campus, contact the SA[u]CE office at email@example.com
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.