New organization aims to foster political engagement

U.S. Census Bureau figures show that young voters consistently turn out at the polls at lower rates than other voters. Jackets Engaged: Political Engagement Team, a new campus organization, is hoping to change that trend at Baldwin Wallace.
At bimonthly meetings, the leadership team has been putting together a strategy for connecting with and educating young voters.
Nate McIntyre, a sophomore sports management major and a registered voter says he wasn’t very motivated to vote in the last election, partly because of challenges he faced as an out-of-state student.
He was unsure of how to register in Ohio, or if he could even obtain an absentee ballot from his home state of New York.
“I was in a new place with so much going on, and it just seemed like a lot of hassle,” said McIntyre. On Oct. 10, Jackets Engaged began tabling periodically in Strosacker Hall to talk to students like McIntyre about their voting options. They hope this will lead to an increase in active voters on campus.
Julie Robinson, associate director at the David and Frances Brain Center for Community Engagement who works closely with the Jackets Engaged team, said that voter registration is just one aspect the group will focus on.
“It’s also about how students can get involved in all the other ways too, and about students being knowledgeable on the issues, whatever way they vote,” she said
Robinson said part of the group’s future plan is to provide candidate and issue guides to help students make informed political choices.
Voter apathy is another barrier to political engagement. Robinson said that while national elections attract a lot of attention, younger voters can sometimes ignore the importance off-year contests.
Sophomore Audra Mahon said she sees a lot of political apathy among her peers, but local issues actually inspired her to become passionate about voting.
Mahon watched as her hometown of North Royalton struggled to pass a school levy, and said she then realized why her vote mattered.
Mahon said she intends to vote in the local elections on Nov. 7.
“I feel that if everyone has a voice and a vote, and everyone uses that vote, maybe things will be better than they are,” she said.
According to Robinson, another goal of Jackets Engaged will be to foster respectful discussion of differences by holding events that bring together students who have a variety of views and perspectives.
The group is aiming to hold the first of these events in January 2018, although no firm date has been set.
Senior Peter George, part of the current Jackets Engaged leadership team, said he sees real value in this type of approach.
“We all have our own beliefs,” said George, “But what we really care about is participation. I may not agree with everyone else’s opinion all the time, but that’s not what this is about.”
George said his own participation was sparked by taking a political science class with Dr. Lauren Copeland. That progressed to volunteering during the Republican National Convention, to help welcome delegates to Cleveland.
At Baldwin Wallace he has been able to attend events held by former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and John Kasich.
Last year, George had the opportunity to meet with members of a German political delegation who visited BW. The delegates asked his opinion on how to better connect with younger constituents, demonstrating that it is not just young Americans who are disengaged.
“I told them they definitely have to be on Twitter,” said George.
While political groups on campus seek to affect change in the community, involvement in these groups can be beneficial to students as well, said Marc West, Dean of First-Year Students at Baldwin Wallace.
Like Peter George, West says that his own college experience was enriched by becoming politically active.
While attending Wittenberg, West worked on one of current Senator Sherrod Brown’s campaigns for a previous office, and West said it was a great learning opportunity. He advises students to follow what he calls “the rule of three.”
“Get involved in something you are passionate about, something in your major, or something outside your comfort zone,” West said.
West also echoed the sentiments behind the overall Jackets Engaged effort.
“Things won’t change if there are people whose voices aren’t being heard,” he said. “I don’t think students realize how much power they actually have.”
Students are encouraged to stop by the Jackets Engaged table when open to learn more and become more active on campus and in the wider political community.