By: Jennifer Boehm
I’m constantly impressed by the IUPUI students I meet who are committed to educating others about voting and activism. But, unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them. Recently released data from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University ranked states by the difference in the number of newest eligible voters (ages 18-19) who were registered to vote in each state in August 2020 vs. November 2016. Only nine states were in the positive. Indiana was in last place, down by 54%.
Our National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) data reflects this trend too. In 2016, 44.5% of First Year students voted, 49.8% of Sophomores and 55.5% of Upperclassmen.
Now voting is only one aspect of civic engagement, but it is an important one. Research has shown that voting is a habitual behavior[i]. The best indicator of whether a person will vote in the future is whether they have done it in the past. So, if we can create a pattern of voting among college students, we should expect that they will continue to do so after they graduate.
Political Learning and Democratic Engagement
In the fall of 2016, IUPUI was invited to participate in a pilot project out of Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy in Higher Education (IDHE) that looked at campus climates for political learning and democratic engagement. The framework was based on IDHE’s study of nine campuses that identified five factors as contributing to a campus climate for political learning and democratic engagement: social cohesion, diversity as realized practice, pervasive political discussions, students with shared institutional responsibility, and political action.
Following a series of focus groups and dialogues with students, faculty and staff, the project identified some key findings and recommendations. Three themes emerged from the process that are incorporated into the recommendations:
- Engagement in political learning and democratic engagement needs to take place in and outside the classroom.
- There is a need for more opportunities for dialogue and understanding of public policies not framed around political parties, elected officials and/or candidates for office.
- Many of these efforts need to be incentivized or required. Otherwise, those who are already inclined toward political learning will do so, and those who aren’t inclined won’t.
This fall, many efforts have been made to make voter registration and engagement more easily accessible. These include an updated voter information guide, Canvas modules for Electoral Engagement and Information Literacy, a political engagement calendar of events, and the student organization Women4Change is holding open office hours to help students with questions about voting.
Aside from voting, there are myriad ways to incorporate civic engagement in the classroom and get students to connect with issues and current events. These include:
- Encourage participation in Diplomacy Labs, a program of the US State Department
- Promote deliberative dialogues, consider ones created by the National Issues Forums or World 101
- Invite elected officials to participate in your class (although there are policies to abide by during elections)
- Make an assignment to follow legislation on the local, state and federal level
- Request a presentation from Civic Engagement Assistants, who are available to present on civil discourse, building a culture of change or understanding government
- Provide educational workshops on diversity and equity, bias and stereotypes, power and privilege and more
- Visit the engage.iupui.edu/vote site and follow JagsVote on Instagram for upcoming events, and tag @engageiupui and @jagsvote with your activities
With the election quickly approaching, the resources and opportunities to promote civic engagement are plentiful and, at times, overwhelming. Start with something simple like reminding students to register to vote; having them complete the Electoral Engagement module in Canvas, especially if you teach first year students; or making a connection in the classroom between voting and public policy implications. We can all play a role in preparing our students for lives of engaged citizenship.
Jennifer Boehm Biography
Jennifer Boehm is an Assistant Vice Chancellor in the IUPUI Office of Community Engagement. In this position she oversees communications, operations, assessment, government relations, events, sponsorships, and strategic planning for the office.
Jennifer joined IUPUI in September 2004 as the Director of Community Relations. Previously she has held the position of Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Indiana Housing Finance Authority, Associate Producer at Middlemarch Films, Legislative Assistant to Congresswoman Jill Long of Indiana, and Campaign Coordinator at the Commission for Downtown, Inc. in Indianapolis. She received a BA in Marketing from Michigan State University and an MA in Media Studies from the New School University in New York City.
Jennifer has a strong commitment to the community and has served on the boards of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Rebuilding Together Indianapolis, the Nora Northside Community Council, and the International Association of Business Communicators Indianapolis Chapter among others.