An interview conducted by Becca Berkey (Alpha Chi, Butler University)
As a leader within her own community as the director of community-engaged teaching & research at Northeastern University, Becca Berkey, an Alpha Chi Omega volunteer leadership development specialist, shares the impact of civic engagement by interviewing her friend and colleague, Stephanie King. Stephanie serves as the director of strategic initiatives for the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.
Becca shares, “This topic is important and timely, and I hope that you all will find this interview as enlightening and chock full of resources as I did. Get out the vote and join me in thanking Stephanie for taking time out of her busy schedule to share her wisdom with us.”
Why is it important for college students to be involved in the democratic process?
Stephanie: Between 2018 and 2019 there were 21.9 million students enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States. These individuals are active constituents of our communities; they’re volunteers, consumers, educators and more. And when actively engaged in our democratic process, they are a force of positive change.
But being engaged in the democratic process doesn’t mean just voting. While voting is important, active engagement also means communicating with elected officials, taking part in community campaigns, donating to organizations, volunteering, participating in debate and dialogues across different viewpoints, and being educated about various topics and processes that inform our communities.
To that end, it’s important for college students to be engaged in all these ways to ensure their voices are heard.
In what ways have you seen college students be most effective in shaping our democracy?
Stephanie: College students – and young people more broadly – can effectively shape our democracy in a variety of ways: by organizing for issues and candidates they believe in, by casting informed ballots, and by working to ensure that our nation and communities live up to their stated values of equality and justice.
College students across the United States more than doubled their rate of voting between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, a dramatic spike in political engagement that could draw unprecedented attention to these voters in the upcoming presidential election (Tufts University).
However, COVID-19 may cause barriers and challenges to voting that could disrupt that trend unless election officials and campuses step up to help their students navigate the voting process. In this election cycle we’ve seen many students sign up to be poll workers, helping the Power the Polls campaign to reach over 500,000 interested persons.
Have you seen promising examples of how Greek-letter organizations have organized to Get Out the Vote (GOTV) or otherwise participate in civic processes?
Stephanie: Greek communities offer lifelong volunteerism, community service, advocacy work, social gatherings, mentoring programs and strong bonds throughout adulthood. All these traditions foster a civic habit in individuals. Unique ways we have seen Greek communities take action with GOTV efforts include but are not limited to:
- Georgia Divine Nine Team’s Voter Registration Week of Action
- Many Greek leaders volunteering as Voting Squad Captains to encourage their sisters to register to vote, make a plan to vote and to turn out to vote
- Chapters hosting virtual debate watch parties
For Alpha Chi Omega as a women’s organization, what is at stake in this election? In elections more broadly?
Stephanie: In 2019, 57% of the college student population identified as female. In recent data findings, based on the 2018 midterm elections, women in college continued to vote at the highest rates, with Black women maintaining their position as the most active voters on campus, and Hispanic women making the most significant gains.
The 2016 election as well as movements such as #MeToo continue to fuel the uprising of women’s involvement in political and societal campaigns. As stated by Michael Hais and Morley Winograd in their review for the Brookings Institution called “The future is female: How the growing political power of women will remake American politics”:
“…women’s opposition to sexual harassment has been responsible for the downfall of many powerful men. Witnessing the type of change their numbers have brought in other parts of society in the last few years has only further whetted women’s appetite for using their political power to wipe out the remaining vestiges of male privilege and the type of behavior it condones.”
To this end, women have the majority in the college sector to push forward their views by voting for candidates and issues that align with their values.
Is there anything else that you’d like members of Alpha Chi Omega to know?
Stephanie: Share information about Election Protection, 866-OUR-VOTE. The national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Made up of more than 100 local, state and national partners, Election Protection works year-round to advance and defend the right to vote.
Visit allintovote.org to register to vote, check your registration status, pledge to vote or make a plan to vote today.