In 2018, millennials ended 40 years of baby boomer dominance as the largest generation of eligible American voters. Yet while millennials now have the potential to profoundly impact election results, many have neither registered to vote nor voted.
The efforts of Montclair State University’s Office of Civic and Voter Engagement to motivate students to register and vote have earned it a Voter Friendly Campus designation through a program sponsored by NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and Fair Election Center’s Campus Vote Project.
“We are honored to be listed as a Voter Friendly Campus,” says Montclair State Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Karen L. Pennington. “The civic engagement of students in the democratic process is a major component of the educational experience. This is a national recognition of the commitment to democracy, freedom of expression and participation in their future goals expressed by our students both on campus and in their communities. We’re proud of the work of the many individuals involved in the University’s registration and voting efforts.”
In order to receive the prestigious designation, the University worked to develop a campus culture of democratic engagement by promoting voter registration and voting. Throughout 2018, campus representatives took part in trainings for developing, implementing and reporting results for voter engagement programs.
University efforts were assessed after completion of a three-step process that included a written campus plan for engaging student voters in fall 2018; facilitating campus voter engagement efforts; and submitting a written analysis of initiative results.
“The application process provided us with an opportunity to form a campus-wide committee known as the Voter Friendly Campus Coalition, so this was truly a campus effort,” says Montclair State’s Center for Student Involvement Director Mariel Pagán. “We hope that the Voter Friendly Campus designation will help us continue to raise awareness and promote voter engagement at Montclair State.”
According to Pagán, 730 students were successfully registered to vote before the 2018 midterm elections – a significant increase from the previous year. “We also won our conference 2018 New Jersey Ballot Bowl,” she says, referring to the non-partisan competition in which students across the state competed to see which campuses could register the most students to vote.
Since spring 2016, Montclair State has partnered with The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its Vote Everywhere Program. The Foundation honors the memory of Andrew Goodman, a college student who traveled to Mississippi in Freedom Summer 1964 to help register African American voters. On his first day there, he and two other civil rights workers were brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
Inspired by Goodman, the Foundation supports youth leadership development, voting accessibility and social justice initiatives on campuses across the nation. “We’re one of the only programs that remains on campus throughout the year – and not just before an election,” says Justyna Krygowska, Andrew Goodman Foundation communications director. “What is intentional about our program are the long-term relationships we develop with institutions like Montclair State.”
The Office of Civic and Voter Engagement receives Andrew Goodman Foundation funding that helps support events, speakers and initiatives. “The push to register voters before the midterm elections was one of our most visible efforts,” says Pagán. She notes that the Office also collaborates with a number of campus partners for events such as the February 7 Day of Unity, which featured keynote speaker Mari Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, an 11-year-old activist who is fighting for clean water in her Flint, Michigan, hometown.
As Pagán sees it, the work supporting the University’s designation as a 2019-2020 Voter Friendly Campus aligns with the nationwide efforts of The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its Vote Everywhere initiative. “It’s a natural progression for the Foundation to host its 2019 National Civic Leadership Training Summit on our campus in June.”
The June 19-23 Summit falls during the 55th anniversary of the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner and will focus on developing and implementing strategies to promote long-term voting engagement for the 2020 general election. A number of Montclair State Office of Civic and Voter Engagement student ambassadors and staff members are expected to be among the Summit’s 150 student leaders, civic engagement professionals and industry expert attendees.