Voter Friendly Campus Texas A&M University-San Antonio named official voting site

By University Communications

Friday, 10 23 2020

University provides voter registration, supports active social engagement

SAN ANTONIO – This semester, Texas A&M University-San Antonio partnered with Campus Vote Project, tapping three undergraduate students to serve as Democracy Fellows to assist with student voter registration, voter education and final-push efforts to get students to vote. The campus will also serve as an official polling site for students, faculty, staff and the general public for Election Day voting on Nov. 3.

The University has been designated as a Voter Friendly Campus by NASPA, the national membership organization of higher education student affairs administrators. That honor requires a campus to develop and nurture a culture of democratic engagement, in part by promoting voter registration and voting as a way to break down barriers for individuals to participate in the political process.

“We anticipate and hope for a big turnout among students this year,” said Amber Graham, civic engagement and fitness and wellness coordinator at A&M-San Antonio. According to data from the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education’s (IDHE) “National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement,” voter participation among younger voters, and especially among college students, has increased from 45.1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds who participated in the 2012 national election to 48.3 percent who voted in 2016.

Even mid-term election voting has seen a sharp increase among college students. The average institutional rate of voter participation among students increased nearly 20 percentage points between the 2014 mid-term election (19.7 percent) and 2018 (39.1 percent), according to IDHE’s “Democracy Counts 2018” report. IDHE’s database of roughly 10 million de-identified student records represents half of the approximately 20 million college students across the United States.

Graham’s work with the A&M-San Antonio Democracy Fellows on voter registration efforts has included working with MOVE Texas to provide voter guides so that students can study the issues and candidates in advance. “Anything to reduce the anxiety for first-time voters in particular is critical to turning younger voters into lifetime voters,” Graham said.

As a freshman human resources major, Democracy Fellow Elissa Gallegos understands the high level of interest in the upcoming election among her peers – many of whom, like her, are eligible to vote for the first time. “Being able to vote gives us a sense of independence we haven’t had before and a sense that we can be part of making change.”

Gallegos believes the efforts by the University and the fellows – including hosting town halls with San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg – will pay off by encouraging student participation in local elections. “We’re very excited for the future and the difference that the students of A&M-San Antonio can make.”

The importance of every person having a voice is the essential lesson learned by Democracy Fellow Denique Escobedo, a junior business and accounting transfer student from Palo Alto College, where she received her associate’s degree in mathematics. “Having a voice includes voicing your vote.” Social media, while popular with younger people in particular as a platform to express opinions, goes only so far, admits Escobedo. “To have your voice count, you have to actually vote.” Her mission has been to help others understand that “Voting is the essence of democracy.”

Democracy Fellow Walter Perry agrees with Escobedo about the importance of getting outside the digital bubble. “COVID-19 made the whole world stop, but through that process, it’s made many of us realize there is a big world out there outside the digital world,” said Perry, a senior marketing major set to graduate this December, with plans to continue his studies at the University by pursuing a master’s in business administration. Perry likens the current moment to 9/11 in that this “COVID Era” has become a “a history page-turning moment where we will one day look back and be able to talk about how this changed us.”

One way it has changed Perry’s outlook is to think more critically about his own responsibility to be a leader and take charge of the changes he wants to see happen. While the fellows don’t persuade students who or what to vote for, Perry did encourage those he helped register to become informed. “I think it’s a good idea to do a SWOT-style analysis, even in politics.” He believes the amount of information and messaging requires some critical thinking.

Planned activities following the November election will include “debriefing” dialogues on campus to discuss how to get involved and make a difference locally regardless of whether a student’s chosen candidate won, according to Graham. “Voting is about expressing your opinion, but it’s also about taking pride in your community and learning to be a good neighbor every day.”

The work of the Democracy Fellows in particular, and of campus civic engagement activity more broadly, goes well beyond registration and education efforts related to any single election, stresses Graham. Throughout the year, students engage in conversations and activities focused on issues of social justice and equity, eliminating disparities among different populations within society and ways to strengthen community partnerships.

In fact, developing career-ready and community-minded students is the overarching mission of the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement at A&M-San Antonio, which supports student civic engagement activity. “We want to model for students how civic engagement and community service can be part of their professional involvement and success – allowing students to gain marketable skills and leadership experience while also helping them better understand needs within the community where they can have impact,” said Dr. Edwin Blanton, executive director for the Mays Center.

More broadly, Mays Center programming facilitates and supports three synergistic functions: opportunities for students to learn through direct hands-on experience and observation, often in partnership with local employers and nonprofit organizations; extensive career services; and numerous options for students to volunteer on campus and in the community. “These three areas of focus combine to prepare students not only for their chosen career paths, but to become informed participants in society and in our democracy,” Dr. Blanton said.

The Mays Center was established in 2017 with a $5 million gift from the Mays Family Foundation. Since that time, the center has expanded its reach and its donor pool, including a $1 million gift from the Financial Literacy of South Texas Foundation in 2019 to fund a variety of projects, including the University’s Financial Literacy Fellows Program, offering upper-level finance and accounting majors experience providing peer-to-peer education and coaching.

While the format of certain Mays Center activities has had to evolve as a result of the pandemic, the center is open for business and eager to connect University students with local employers, notes Dr. Blanton. Organizations that wish to learn more about sponsoring student internships, job fair participation or other student recruitment opportunities can contact the center at (210) 784-1356. Organizations may also visit tamusa.edu/mays to learn more about how they can tap into A&M-San Antonio Jaguar talent.

In-person voting at A&M-San Antonio will take place Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Public safety precautions include a wellness temperature check, required face coverings and social distancing while waiting to cast ballots. The campus is served by VIA Metropolitan Transit.

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Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Texas A&M University-San Antonio is a comprehensive, four-year public university that reflects the culturally diverse, heritage-rich community it serves. Situated on nearly 700 acres in south San Antonio, A&M-San Antonio is a Military Embracing™ institution offering over 30 undergraduate and graduate degrees to over 6,700 students. The university is home to the Henry G. Cisneros Institute for Emerging Leaders and the Cyber Engineering Technology/Cyber Security Research Center. A&M-San Antonio holds the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation. Visit tamusa.edu for more information.