Civic engagement for SU students in 2020 election
With the coming presidential election you might expect to see students bustling around Salisbury University’s campus, stopping to talk with any one of the SGA or PACE’s many representatives.
But this day, and this year, is unlike any other. A virus sweeps the nation, leaving students and civic organizations alike to engage virtually all from home.
Nov. 3 marks this year’s 2020 presidential election, and many young Americans finally have opportunity to cast their vote. In spite of restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, civic organizations across Salisbury University still work to ensure students have the resources and information they need to keep involved.
“It feels like an election everyone cares about, but it’s an election everybody’s caring about behind their desks,” said Michael Webber, coordinator for the Institute of Public Affairs for Civic Engagement (PACE). “They’re alone in dealing with it and it’s been very different than what we saw in 2016 where we were able to get together and talk about our differences, what we all shared in common, stuff like that.”
PACE’s Graduate Assisstant Kacie Cassar added that the sheer amount of impersonal communication is just overwhelming. To her, face-to-face interaction is generally better at engaging the average student.
“Of course we really want everyone to engage with us, but it’s so hard when a face to face is always going to get you so much further than an email,” Cassar said. “You get whole paragraphs full of how to do mail in ballots or how to vote in person… and you kind of get lost. Where if you have it in person you can break it down, talk to them, show them things and be one on one. I feel like that helps a lot but unfortunately here we are and here’s what we have to do.”
But in the face of adversity, students have shown real savvy, Webber said. For what can’t be done in person, they’re taking to the internet instead.
“I’m sure you’ve read countless stories in the [Washington] Post or the [New York] Times about students – who are on Tiktok or they’re on Snapchat – and how that generation is giving more money to political candidates than ever before,” Webber said. “And while we can’t do stuff on campus it’s been interesting to see how dedicated they’ve been even without our involvement.”
Fathima Rifkey, co-president of Salisbury University’s College Democrats and whose interest in politics first developed from Twitter, said that social media makes sharing information easier than ever before. Users can package information in a variety of ways, whether that’s through photo, video, or simply sharing posts with other users.
“I think one of the coolest things I’ve seen is that there’s information is so easily accessible,” Rifkey said. “You go on Instagram and you can find infographics on anything right now.”
That’s not saying to trust all the info you find, she said, but these conversations can spark people’s interests. It gets them talking, and it gets them to appreciate politics or civic engagement in ways they maybe didn’t before.
But even with all this information at our fingertips, Cassar says the student generation isn’t going as far as they could be. Just because all of this information is there doesn’t mean it’s going to stick, she says.
“I feel our generation doesn’t look at the news, whether that’s reading newspapers or watching it on TV… I feel we don’t put in the research to learn about the candidates, to know wholeheartedly where we side,” Cassar said.
But if students are really serious about making a change, there’s certainly no shortage of opportunities. There are many ways to participate – they just need to do a bit of research.
SGA Director of Civic Engagement Haley Taylor says the most crucial part of civic engagement is to vote. That’s not just in the presidential elections, she says, but down ballot too.
“We are our representatives,” Taylor said. “There are so many things I think we can all agree need to change in some way and really to make those broad systemic changes you need to give input on who you want representing. Who are you putting in those rooms? Who are you giving a seat at the table?”
Webber feels that students from out-of-state may not feel much incentive to participate in local elections, but that it’s worth it anyway. After all, local elections affect them, too.
“I feel like sometimes that creates a barrier where students feel like that this is a temporary space, so they’re not going to get as involved as they would… but four years along time, so
I highly recommend that students take that step,” Webber said. “If [you] move into University Orchard, make that your permanent address. Make it so that you can participate in Wicomico elections.”
Webber also recommends students to seek out any local political clubs aligning with their interests. Wicomico Republican Headquarters, the Wicomico Democratic Headquarters, are just a few of the many groups students can find just a couple clicks away.
“It’s kind of like finding a club on campus to be involved in; sometimes it takes a lit bit more work than I feel like a lot of people want to put in,” Webber said. “I always tell students to google their interests and then type in ‘Wicomico County’.”
Even having a wholesome media diet is worthwhile, Cassar says. And in the age of digital media a student needs neither cable nor newspaper – just a stable internet connection.
“Since almost everyone in our generation has social media, how much harder is it to follow a news site?” Cassar said. “That’s on equal grounds, just giving your straight up facts of current news and what’s happening in the world.”[RC1]
She also recommends students apply as poll workers, or election judges to work up and close in the political process. Application is simple, training’s provided, and a person could earn over $100 for a day’s work.
Haley Taylor recommends volunteering for a candidate’s text messaging campaign. These require a volunteer to simply send out mostly pre-written text messages to people; something so simple you could probably multitask, too, she says.
“I think a lot of people are afraid of failing, or not being ready,” Taylor said. “But if you find what you’re passionate about it’s not going let you fail. It’s going to lift you up.”[RC2]
PACE’S guide for voting and voter registration https://bit.ly/SUVOTES2020
Becoming a Maryland election judge https://elections.maryland.gov/get_involved/election_judges.html
BY: Ryan Chandler
Photo Credit: Ryan Chandler