January 7, 2022 | UHCL Staff
College students have been a key demographic component in the last three elections, becoming more actively involved with issues like climate change, social justice and the economy. Raising awareness about voter registration and the voting process is critical, and Mohammad Khan, coordinator for Community Engagement in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership at University of Houston-Clear Lake says that through programs offered to Hawks throughout the year and especially during election seasons, student voter engagement on campus has risen significantly.
"UH-Clear Lake has recently become a participant in the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, coordinated by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University," Khan said. "In fall 2021, we received a report from NSLVE that provided detailed information about the voting behaviors of our different student populations, including the method of voting and voter turnout."
He said the most significant highlight of the report is the achievement of a 62.8% voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election, resulting in UHCL's recognition as a national Silver Campus Seal recipient in the ALL IN Campus Democracy challenge for the 2020 presidential election.
"Over the last year, we have increased programs related to civic events like National Voter Education Week and National Vote Early Day," Khan said. "We created events around those days to create awareness about the importance of civic involvement, including an Inauguration Day watch party, and had a panel discussion about President Joe Biden's first 100 days in office."
Khan added that the 2020 presidential election was the first time UHCL had participated in the NSLVE survey, which yielded useful data, including whether students voted early or in person, their gender and race, major, and which segments of the student population are more or less likely to vote.
"Our institutional voter engagement goal was to get 50% of our eligible students to vote, and we exceeded that goal. It's worth noting that this is our first time participating in this national survey, so we've not had the actual data till now," he said. "We can now make a more effective plan to say how we'll do even better in the next election."
The impact of the programs, Khan continued, has been noticeable. "In addition to the Silver Campus seal award, we also received a second national recognition — the Voter Friendly Campus award. We hosted events and programs to encourage engagement, and after the election, we submitted a report that demonstrated that we'd done what we said we'd do."
Other programs and initiatives designed to engage students include Rock the Vote, the Summer Voter Education Series, Constitution Day, voter registration tabling events, and deliberative dialogues.
Khan said a critical part of the plan is collaborating with the Campus Vote Project, which works with colleges and election officials to reduce barriers to student voting, and sponsors students to become Democracy Fellows.
"They know campuses need help in improving voter engagement, so they offer grants that allow students to become part of a national network of Democracy Fellows. These are student leaders who reach out to their peers through tabling and other events, and work with Harris County voting officials," he said. "UHCL's Democracy Fellow, Empress-Akira Sullivan, has done such a great job, we have been selected to add a second Democracy Fellow, which is uncommon in this program."
Sullivan, a sophomore double majoring in psychology and anthropology, said she'd become interested in politics when she took a speech class during her freshman year and spoke about voting. "Researching that speech provided me with an abundance of information, and prompted me to become more engaged and knowledgeable about the voting process," she said. "I got the opportunity to become a Democracy Fellow, and this lets me get others involved in a more hands-on manner."
She said her fellowship requires her to spend about 10-15 hours a week creating bulletin boards with current topics tied to civic engagement, setting up tabling events where students can register to vote and learn more about the process, and doing coalition work.
"Our Civic Engagement Coalition is a 'think tank' of UHCL students, faculty and staff who provide a network for sharing voter opportunities and serve as reviewers of our campus plan and analysts for our NSLVE reports," she said. "I also work with the Texas state coordinator from Campus Vote Project, which is the organization that pays for my fellowship."
She said being a Democracy Fellow has enriched her in ways she hadn't anticipated.
"I feel like I have learned so much and met so many people. If I didn't have this opportunity, I wouldn't be as informed," she said. "When you think of voting, you don't always realize the bigger picture. When I'm tabling, I ask people if they're registered and sometimes they say they don't know. I believe that if you don't do your part now, you can't complain later."
UHCL is an Early Voting and Election Day polling site. In the 2020 presidential election, over 14,000 members of the community cast their ballots on the UHCL campus. Go online for more information about civic engagement and voter participation at UHCL.