Carnegie Mellon University
November 02, 2020

CMU Students Work To Get Out The Vote

By Mandi Semple

Mandi Semple
  • Student Affairs
  • 412-268-3437

While millennials and Generation Z represent the largest share of eligible voters in 2020, college-aged students have not been the largest share of the electorate in previous elections due to low voting rates. The Carnegie Mellon University community has set out to change that.

"The students have been the heart of our voter engagement efforts this year," said Sam Waltemeyer, assistant director of the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Civic Engagement (SLICE), housefellow and a member of CMU's Voter Engagement Committee. "They have built coalitions, held virtual voter registration drives, advocated and petitioned, hosted educational programs and championed civil discourse."

Carnegie Mellon students have participated in several national and statewide non-partisan networks and initiatives including the All In Democracy Challenge, Students Learn Students Vote, the Campus Elections Engagement Project (CEEP), Student PIRGs and the PA Student Voter Coalition.

Two CMU students were hired as CEEP fellows and were trained to develop and deliver voter registration and voter engagement events and trainings for the campus. A CMU student fellow for Student PIRGs is doing similar work.

"While these networks have been a huge asset to dramatically grow our voter engagement efforts, CMU students have also worked to be strong contributors," said Liz Vaughan, associate dean of Student Affairs, director of SLICE, and the James and Sharon Rohr director of civic engagement. "The ingenuity and grassroots nature of our student-led approach to voter engagement has positioned CMU as the leader in student-driven initiatives among the Pennsylvania institutions part of the PA Student Voter Coalition."

In January 2020, CMU launched the Voter Engagement Committee, a group of more than 20 faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate students, to facilitate engagement in voter registration, create voter education initiatives, centralize voter engagement efforts and empower students to participate in the civic process.

The Voting Engagement Committee developed a Voter Engagement Discussion Guide, which is being utilized by five different Pennsylvania universities. The committee has hosted or promoted more than 40 events including student conferences, film screenings, text banking and virtual voter registration drives, concerts and music festivals, and workshops, webinars and watch parties. It has collaborated with groups like Gamers.Vote, Drag Out The Vote, Hillel & MitzVote, the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Headcount, Rock The Vote, NASPA and ACLU.

Nicole Shi, a senior majoring in engineering and public policy and materials science and engineering, is a member of the Voter Engagement Committee. After taking classes in the Engineering and Public Policy Department and working a 2019 summer internship in Washington, D.C., she began to understand the true difference people in office make on the issue of climate change, a cause that she is passionate about.

"As last year's co-president of Sustainable Earth, CMU's student environmental organization, I made our theme 'political involvement,' and we began attending protests and writing letters to our local constituents."

Her involvement in the Voter Engagement Committee goes beyond encouraging students to vote in the presidential election.

"I want to stress how important down-ballot votes in elections are — the local constituents we vote for are often our first point of entry to getting our voices heard and acknowledged," Shi said.

In addition to the Voter Engagement Committee, CMU Votes is a coalition of student organizations dedicated to organizing civic engagement events and conversations at CMU. Members of the coalition include Roosevelt at CMU, Sustainable Earth, Women in Politics, CMU Dems, the Alexander Hamilton Society, FEMME and the CMU Model United Nations. The coalition also partners with the Graduate Student Assembly and CMU Hillel.

“The ingenuity and grassroots nature of our student-led approach to voter engagement has positioned CMU as the leader in student-driven initiatives among the Pennsylvania institutions part of the PA Student Voter Coalition.” —Liz Vaughan

Science and Humanities Scholar Jacob Feldgoise, a senior majoring in engineering and public policy, is a member of CMU Votes and has been inspired by the community's commitment to civic engagement.

"It has been amazing to see the sheer number of events, social media campaigns, and other voter engagement initiatives that our members have created on such a short timeline," Feldgoise said. "I'm so proud of how CMU Votes, only a month old, has facilitated resource sharing and event collaboration among its member organizations."

CMU Votes has hosted debate watch parties, which have included interactive elements such as channels with specific topics, bingo, a meme competition, polls and facilitated post-show discussions.

"Each member of the coalition has its individual focus, for example sustainability, but then we come together to focus on the priorities that matter to all of us: civil discourse, voter engagement and educating students about issues that matter. I'm so excited by the progress we've already made in turning CMU Votes into a permanent fixture of the CMU community, and I can't wait to see how our coalition develops after the election!"

Post-Election Events & Resources

The CMU community will find a vast number of resources on the SLICE website for post-election discussion and civil discourse. There are specific resources for faculty about bringing election conversations into the classroom. This webpage is also a centralized resource for the many post-election events and programs geared toward discussion and support across campus and beyond. Here are just a few of the events and offerings on the horizon.

"United: An Analysis and Discussion of the 2020 Election"
Wednesday, November 4, Noon - 1 p.m.
Join experts from academia and government for a virtual moderated discussion, analysis and audience Q&A featuring a range of views on the election and Pennsylvania's role in the outcome. Heinz College Professor Rick Stafford will moderate the discussion and Q&A with former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Duquesne University law professor Joseph Mistick. All participants must register for the event. A Zoom login link will be provided before the virtual session in a confirmation email.

Mosaic Conference Workshop
Thursday, November 5, 6:30 - 7:30 p.m.
1Hood Media C-Founder Celeste C. Smith and members of their extended activist family will guide a conversation on activism, personal political accountability, the importance of arts and culture, and the impact of it all on self and family. Register for Mosaic 2020 here.

Post-Election Burnout: Centering Care for Self While Caring for the Collective
Thursday, November 5, 3 p.m.
This program is part of Counseling and Psychological Services' (CAPS) routine offerings on anxiety management and coping with grief and loss. They also host Immigration Connection sessions where any concerns in relation to the election can be discussed. Learn more and register for this event.

You can submit your election-related event to the CMU and SLICE calendar

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