University Increasing Voter-Friendly Campus Efforts Despite Pandemic

Office of Community Engagement works with faculty, students to ensure every student is counted

As COVID-19 forces people online, the UM Office of Community Engagement is finding new ways to help students navigate the voting and voter registration landscapes. Adobe Stock photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi‘s Office of Community Engagement is seeking Voter Friendly Campus designation from the Campus Vote Project, a nonpartisan effort to educate students on the voting process and help them overcome any barriers to registering as voters.

To help in these efforts, the office received a $5,000 grant from Ask Every Student, which has helped fund programs such as the Voting Ambassador program and Faculty Champions program. Both those initiatives came from the ongoing groundwork laid by the Office of Community Engagement’s Voting Engagement Roundtable.

Erin Payseur Oeth

“The Voter Friendly Campus designation signifies our commitment as a university to promoting a culture of active voter participation as a part of broader civic engagement efforts,” said Erin Payseur Oeth, project manager for the Office of Community Engagement. “For many college students, their college years represent the first time they are eligible to vote.

“As a first-time voter, the process can often be intimidating or overwhelming. We are here to work with students through that process and equip them to participate in our democracy and to make their voice count.”

Voting Ambassadors

The Voting Ambassador program is composed of an 11-student cohort responsible for networking with other student organizations and faculty to promote voter engagement. These students give presentations on how to register and what’s going to be on the upcoming ballot to classes, either remotely or in-person, and talk with students one-on-one to answer questions and help navigate the registration process.

“Voting, to me, is the best way to make your voice heard in our democracy – and our democracy was designed that way for citizens to share their concerns,” said Kynnedi Taylor-Henry, a senior public policy leadership major in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute from Madison, who helped create the Voting Ambassador program.

“I believe this day and age another way of protesting is to get out and vote. Voting is your voice.”

Students with questions about voting or who need help registering can schedule a one-on-one Zoom meeting with a Voting Ambassador.

“Now, more than ever, we need to mobilize our youth in the electoral process and have them informed on what’s going on in their local, state and national legislatures,” said Jaycee Brown, operations specialist of the Voting Ambassador program and a senior social work major from Crystal Springs.

“Our officials affect our daily lives, from health care costs to mental health access. We are the future leaders of America and it’s up to us to ensure that we participate in and preserve our democracy.”

Faculty Champions

The Faculty Champions program is working with the Voting Ambassador program to encourage faculty members to invite the ambassadors into their classrooms and online discussions.

Na Youn Lee

“This is important because faculty are one of the most trusted authorities students are in regular contact with during the semester,” said Na Youn Lee, assistant professor of social work and lead developer of the Faculty Champions program.

“Also, given the pandemic and remote learning, they’re certainly uniquely positioned to help students gain access to this type of information. That’s why we’re working to make voter resources readily available to faculty.”

Faculty can receive points toward recognition as a Faculty Champion for each step they implement in their classrooms, starting with including a voting engagement module on their Blackboard course sites. Second, faculty can invite their students to the Roundtable’s DebateWatch, a virtual watch party for the first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate, followed by breakout discussion groups.

They can receive additional recognition for sharing the Voting Ambassador resources with their classes, inviting an ambassador to present to their classes and sharing the secretary of state’s sample ballot and voting guide.

“All of this comes out of the Voting Engagement Roundtable, faculty, staff and students, thinking more broadly about voting engagement,” Payseur Oeth said. “It’s one of our roles as a public university.

“We have a responsibility to make a good faith effort to make voting accessible to students under the Higher Education Act, and it gets students to engage in the broader community by exercising our civic duties.”

Faculty members can learn more about the Faculty Champions program and access voting resources by visiting the Office of Community Engagement link tree.