Rutgers student speaks on U. initiatives to increase civic engagement at press conference In Washington D.C.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) proposal to pass legislation that requires colleges and universities to play an active role in student civic engagement is reminiscent of efforts taken by Rutgers students to improve voter involvement earlier this year.
Last week Booker, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) announced the Help Students Vote Act — new legislation that ensures higher education institutions are supporting student-voter registration, according to Young Invinsibles.org.
At a press conference on Capitol grounds, Booker emphasized the role that student-voting has in shaping politics and its precedence in the lives of young people over those in the Senate and House according to NJ Advance Media.
To his point, he did not stand alone. Alongside him were students from several colleges and one of the University’s very own, April Nicklaus, a junior in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, who spoke as a representative for NJPIRG Students.
She shared some of the work the organization has done in collaboration with campus administrators and other student groups to develop the Campus Civic Action Plan.
“In close partnership with great national groups like the Young Invincibles, the Congressmen put together the bill and wanted to highlight examples of what great student and administrative leadership looks like,” she said. “Being that Booker's home state is New Jersey, when brainstorming names for potential speakers, they immediately thought to highlight the great civic engagement work happening at Rutgers.”
The bill requires that colleges email students reminders about registration deadlines and that they appoint a campus coordinator to answer questions and help students throughout the voting process, according to NJ Advance Media. Currently, colleges must help students register to vote, but are not obligated to do so. The bill mandates that they are and penalizes those who do not.
While at the press conference, Nicklaus said she spoke with students from schools across the country including Valencia Richardson, a graduate student at George Washington University (GWU) who completed her undergraduate studies at Louisiana State University (LSU).
Richardson discussed how she worked with campus administration at LSU to have student IDs accepted at the polls as voter identification.
When asked how civic engagement at Rutgers compares to that of schools that students she spoke with attend, she said, “ I think every campus in the country has room for improvement, and all campus administrators have room to grow in supporting civic engagement among their students. But Rutgers is doing a pretty good job … with the University Senate report on increasing student-voter turnout, the passage of a resolution to improve, and now the widespread mobilization of student, staff, faculty and administrative leaders across campus to develop Rutgers' first-ever Campus Civic Action Plan, we've really started a snowball effect of civic engagement …”
In response to an initiative by the Rutgers University Senate, the Student Affairs Committee drafted a 19-page-report on how to best increase student-voter turnout in all public elections earlier this year, as reported by The Daily Targum.
The report found that 54 percent of New Brunswick students voted in the 2016 general election, a more than 7-percent increase from 2012, and suggests that current practices have to be sustained with additional efforts taken in order to increase these rates, The Targum reported.
“Over the years, a variety of structures have been put into place and efforts undertaken to facilitate the process. As a result, voter registration rates among Rutgers—New Brunswick students are strong in relation to comparable institutions,” according to the report.
Nicklaus said that administrative support for student-voting makes an enormous difference as seen by LSU and by Lane Perry, director of the Center for Service-Learning at Western Carolina University (WCU), who delivered an anecdote at the press conference about driving students to the polls and the impact that collaboration between campus administration and the Board of Elections can have on student voting.
“Civic engagement is part of the central mission to the University, and investing in that as an integrated part of campus culture and academic community will show measurable results in future elections,” she said.