Scotties to the Polls: 2020 Voting and Civic Engagement at Agnes Scott College

Happy Election Day! Discover how Agnes Scott engaged and prepared students, initiated nonpartisan programs, and celebrated community during an election year unlike any other.

In February 2020, a small group of students and staff from the Gué Pardue Hudson Center for Leadership and Service attended the Georgia Student Voting Summit. This daylong event featured workshops and speakers aimed at improving campus infrastructure to encourage student voting and broader civic engagement initiatives. It was during this summit that the idea of the Civic Scotties Coalition was born.

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Agnes Scott has consistently had politically engaged students. In 2016, 91.4 percent of eligible students were registered to vote, and of those who registered, 75.3 percent voted. But this group of students in 2020 wanted to do more to ensure that their peers were not just voting but preparing to become active citizens. The Civic Scotties Coalition is a working group comprised of students, faculty, staff and community partners who have helped provide insight and guidance for the direction of civic engagement and voting initiatives on campus this year. They also became central in Agnes Scott’s application to be a Voter Friendly Campus, as well as its participation in the ALL-IN Campus Democracy Challenge.

 

Through the Voter Friendly Campus program and ALL-IN Democracy Challenge, Agnes Scott created a campus action plan for the institutionalization of civic engagement. As part of this action plan, the college has committed to, among other things, increase registration and voting rates of eligible students, infuse civic engagement into the curriculum, and strengthen a campus culture that values deliberative dialogue, information literacy and community service by the 2022 midterms.

Through these programs, Agnes Scott has also gained access to numerous resources, including webinars, digital graphics and opportunities to apply for grants. Over the summer of 2020, the college won a $16,000 grant from the Ask Every Student Initiative, a program of the National Conference on Citizenship. By receiving the grant, Agnes Scott was able to further advance civic engagement during the time of COVID-19. Students learning remotely were mailed a voter registration and civic engagement care package that included information on how to register to vote or request an absentee ballot, along with “I Voted” Scottie pins, a “Scotties Vote” face mask to wear if they needed to vote in person, and postcards they could use to write to elected officials.

Instrumental in achieving many of the initiatives around civic engagement during the fall semester has been the Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellows, Olivia Chapman ’21 and Olivia Begalla ’24.

“As a Democracy Fellow with Campus Vote Project, I have gained valuable experience surrounding civic duty and engagement,” Begalla said. “So far this semester, I have learned how to successfully lead discussions and execute social media campaigns all under the topic of voting.” 

Begalla and Chapman were paid and trained by the Campus Vote Project, but worked directly with the Gué Pardue Hudson Center for Leadership and Service to advance nonpartisan civic engagement efforts. Tasks included stuffing the voting care packages, hosting debate and election results watch parties on Zoom, and providing educational information to students through social media and workshops.

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Another important tool utilized throughout the summer and fall has been Agnes Scott’s TurboVote site. This page, created in partnership with Democracy Works, gives students a one-stop location to register to vote, receive assistance with requesting an absentee ballot and sign up for election reminders. Since the site’s implementation, more than 10 percent of the student body has utilized the resource.

Other departments and initiatives across campus have also helped the campus expand the civic engagement opportunities available not only to students, but to the entire Agnes Scott campus community. Political science and human rights faculty were awarded a President’s Mini-Grant for Social Justice for their democratic engagement project, “Just Elections: The Theory and Practice of Electoral Justice in the United States and Beyond.” Funding will provide seminars, webinars, film screenings and guest speakers that encourage reflection on why the road to a truly representative democracy has been a long and continuous one.

The fall 2020 semester also saw the launch of the inaugural Engaging Global Challenges conference. Each year the conference will focus on different global challenges and on the role of women and other marginalized groups as change agents. This year’s event was held virtually due to COVID-19; it focused on the challenge of “Women, Voting, and Representation” in commemoration of 100 years since white women gained the right to vote in the United States and 55 years since the Voting Rights Act officially allowed women of color to exercise their right to vote. The conference was structured as a blend of academic and activist spaces. Guests this year included Leymah Gbowee, Brooke Baldwin, Carolyn Curry ’66, Allison K. Lange and many others.

“Taken together, the conference panels and events provided a space for all of us to not only celebrate the major accomplishments that we have had on women and politics, but also reflect on all of the work that remains to be done,” said Mona Tjali, conference co-chair and assistant professor of international relations and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. “Our students particularly benefited from hearing from key experts from both national and global contexts, to better learn about some of our common struggles while also discussing how we can come together and express solidarity despite our differences.”

The conference schedule as well as recordings of each session can be viewed at www.agnesscott.edu/engaging-global-challenges.

With the extensive focus on voting from various areas of the college, it seemed appropriate that this year Agnes Scott serve as an advance voting site for the 2020 election. College leadership approved working with the DeKalb County Voter Registrations and Elections office and quickly pinpointed the Mary Brown Bullock Science Center as the location for advance voting on campus, which started on Oct. 12. Advance voting ended on Oct. 30 with approximately 20,000 DeKalb County residents casting their ballots at Agnes Scott.

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“We are thrilled about this civic engagement partnership, which is a classic example of how our college continues to live out its mission of engaging the social and intellectual challenges of our times,” said Demetrice Williams, senior director of special events and community relations. “Conversations have begun about how to make this an ongoing partnership between Agnes Scott and the DeKalb County Board of Elections.”

Campus has come together like never before — and in the midst of global pandemic — this year, but students, faculty and staff know that the work of civic engagement does not end with this election. The Gué Pardue Hudson Center for Leadership and Service will be emphasizing the message “Voting is not the end of civic responsibility; it is the beginning” throughout the month of November. As always, the Agnes Scott community looks forward to remaining committed and engaged in the civic life of our cities, states and nation through the next four years and beyond.

Written by JLP Prince, director of community, civic and global engagement | Gué Pardue Hudson Center for Leadership and Service