Illinois State University is being recognized nationally as one of 231 institutions in the country designated as a Voter Friendly Campus. The designation is awarded by the Voter Friendly Campus initiative, led by national nonpartisan organizations the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project (CVP) and NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education).
“This national designation highlights the extensive efforts that took place across campus last year to promote civic and political engagement among Illinois State University students,” said Dr. Larry Dietz, president of Illinois State University. “I’m proud of our campus efforts and the strong response from our students to be involved and engaged in the political process. Together, we are all continuing to uplift the University’s core value of civic engagement.”
The designation comes after intensive work over the last year and a half by the University’s Voter Engagement Coalition. To earn the designation, campuses were evaluated on their individual plans to register, educate, and encourage turnout by student voters; how they facilitated voter engagement efforts on campus; and a final analysis of their efforts in the face of a global pandemic. The designation is valid through 2022.
“NASPA has named Illinois State University a Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement lead institution each year since 2012,” said Dr. Levester Johnson, vice president for Student Affairs at Illinois State. “Now, the Voter Friendly Campus designation further proves our campus commitment to civic engagement and that Illinois State continues to excel as a leader in higher education for civic learning and democratic engagement efforts.”
The University’s Voter Engagement Coalition was formed in 2019 to help support the University’s core value of civic engagement through a particular focus on political engagement. The coalition’s duties have been to design and implement plans to increase student participation in the political process.
“Political engagement, like civic engagement, is very interdisciplinary,” said Dr. Jacqueline Lanier, associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences and co-chair of the Voter Engagement Coalition. “It was important to us when establishing the Coalition that it include representation across campus.”
Lanier is also quick to note that the Voter Friendly Campus designation is a recognition of those campus-wide efforts too, and not just an award for the Coalition. “This designation was truly a campus effort,” Lanier continued, “and it’s an honor for faculty, staff, and students throughout the entire campus. Every single person who talked to a student about voting, reminded them to register, pointed out resources to learn about candidates, or assisted them on Election Day helped ISU earn this designation.”
While official data on voter turnout for Illinois State University will not be available until the fall, preliminary data from the McLean County Clerk’s office showed that 1,988 of 2,698 (74 percent) of those registered in Illinois State’s three precincts (mostly populated by students) voted. That was about seven points higher than the projected national average, according to The Washington Post.
Harriett Steinbach, assistant director of the Center for Civic Engagement and co-chair of the Voter Engagement Coalition with Lanier, points at those preliminary numbers as definite successes for the University.
“With the pandemic and the majority of courses being offered online, we know that many students were at their permanent addresses last fall,” said Steinbach. “Students living on campus might have voted elsewhere by mailing in their ballots too. Considering that many students likely voted elsewhere, seeing such a high turnout around campus is definitely a strong indication of the success of our efforts.”
In the final report for the Voter Friendly Campus designation, the Voter Engagement Coalition also pointed out other important successes from the University’s 2020 efforts: voter education through the Redbird Voter Guide; partnerships and collaborations both on- and off-campus; and a focus on equity, inclusion, and access.
“We’ve established a great foundation over the last year,” said Lanier. “The Coalition will continue to build upon the work already done and expand our efforts moving forward. We hope to encourage and support political engagement in the classroom year-round, regardless of whether there is an election currently taking place.”
Steinbach added: “Through this work we’re strengthening the core value of civic engagement, but more importantly, we’re encouraging students to be engaged and active in their communities.”