March 13, 2018
The Democracy Project, a nonpartisan student-led initiative that seeks to engage young people in the democratic process at Rollins College, dedicates itself to the idea that civic engagement is critical to our future. We are a group of students who are passionate about democracy and creating opportunities for fellow students to learn about and discuss contemporary political, economic, and social issues. Our purpose is simple: encourage and empower Rollins students to be civically engaged, at the ballot box and beyond. The success of the Democracy Project in recent years can largely be attributed to the strong and enduring partnerships we have forged both within Rollins College and the local community. Partnerships formed with external stakeholders and internal departments have enabled our organization to mobilize the student body and achieve one of the highest college voter turnout rates (62%) during the 2016 national election. Through these relationships, we aim to create a civic ethos across campus to further Rollins’s commitment to civic engagement with the hope that students will remain active citizens throughout their lives. We hope other colleges and universities across the country can learn from our collaborations and implement similar practices on their campuses.
In collaboration with the Political Science Department, the Democracy Project began a ‘Politics on Tap’ series, where students, faculty, and staff come together at Dave’s Boathouse (in our campus center dining hall) for a monthly conversation on a hot-topic issue. The Political Science Department has led discussions on such topics as The Rise of Global Populism, Free Speech, the Politics of Sport, and Immigration and DACA. Based on school-specific data received from the National Study for Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), we made an effort to improve voter turnout amongst STEM majors by collaborating with faculty in the Natural Sciences to host a Politics on Tap about Big Pharma. Additionally, we have formed partnerships with faculty in the Economics, Philosophy, and Sociology Departments to host Politics on Tap events about Women in Politics, Racism, and the Economic Policies of the current administration. Faculty members often encourage their students to attend as part of an assignment or for extra credit, diversifying the audience for each event. The events begin with an introduction to the Democracy Project and the work that we do around civic engagement.
In addition to partnering with faculty in many departments across campus, the Rollins College Democracy Project has also partnered with Pinehurst, a service-based residential organization, to host News Round-Ups and Politics on the Porch. The former event entails discussing current local, national, and international issues during election years, whereas the latter is a new initiative we began to educate students about the importance of local politics during off-election years. The events have been very successful because we are able to host these important conversations in places that students already gather.
Our external partnerships with other non-partisan civic organizations have equally contributed to our success in registering students to vote and providing them with educational opportunities to discuss topical issues. As part of our new Politics on the Porch initiative, we have invited the Elections Coordinator from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections (OCSE), a former candidate for Orlando City Commissioner District 5, and representatives from the League of Women Voters (LWV) to discuss how to remain civically engaged at the local level in off-election years. OCSE Elections Coordinator, Marissa Corrente, shared with students the importance of contacting local representatives, attending forums, and volunteering at non-profits. Former District 5 candidate, Sarah Elbadri, told us what it was like to run her own campaign and the LWV informed students about the ongoing Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) – a unique feature of Florida law where the state constitution is to be revisited every 20 years. Beyond providing these platforms for informed discussion, we have partnered with OCSE and the LWV in hosting monthly voter registration drives.
Institutions of higher learning must become more proactive in revitalizing American democracy. With a prevalence of newly registered voters, colleges and universities are perfectly situated to create life-long active citizens by providing students with opportunities to engage in the democratic process outside the classroom. Such opportunities are greatly enhanced by partnerships with diverse academic departments and organizations both on campus and within the local community.
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