April 29, 2019

Get out the vote: Wayne State receives voter-friendly designation, sees increased student election activity

At Wayne State University, student success is supported in a multitude of ways. Campuswide tutoring, advising and scholarship opportunities are all aimed at ensuring that Warriors get the ultimate college experience. While all of these help motivate students, WSU Dean of Students David Strauss has found that at the heart of success is engagement outside of the classroom.

One of the most impactful ways that the student body has shown its dedication to student success and civic engagement is through voter awareness. The influx of voter participation on campus resulted in national recognition. In February, Wayne State was designated a “Voter Friendly Campus” through a program sponsored by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Fair Election Center’s Campus Vote Project. Wayne State University is one of 123 colleges across 31 states to earn this designation for promoting voter registration and engaging the student body as a part of its institutional mission.

“I think one of the challenges with college students is that they are busy,” said Strauss. “They are working and going to school, but they understand the priority to vote — and our students, especially, have shown that they make voting a priority.”

Wayne State’s student dedication to civic engagement doesn’t end at registering to vote. In collaboration with Campus Vote Project, two student fellows will work to raise awareness on where and how to vote as well as educate students on all facets of the electoral process for the upcoming 2020 election. Together, they will develop a plan of action that outlines improvements and methods to increase student voter participation and education.

“Student engagement is crucial to student success,” said Strauss. “A student who’s involved, engaged and connected on campus is going to be that much more likely to be successful in college.”

Strauss noted that the connection between student and voter participation isn’t only being seen in local and national elections, but in on-campus elections as well. Just as national political interest has surged among students, so has interest in Wayne State University’s Student Senate. The most recent election on campus drew record numbers of students both running and voting for student government.

Student Senate President Stuart Baum said that the Student Senate has been working with the Campus Vote Project and other student organizations to increase year-round voter participation among students and think beyond national elections.

“We’re working to broaden the definition of civic engagement,” said Baum, “and broadening the understanding of how students can get civically engaged. Voting is key, but it is not enough, and it’s not the only thing.”

Currently, the Student Senate is working to bring an on-campus polling location to make voting more accessible. The proposal for an on-campus polling location followed the 2016 election, when students shared their experiences with trying to vote off campus. The Student Senate has put together a proposal and gained support from Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López, who has gained the support of the city clerk. Approval for the proposed location is needed before moving forward.

The addition of the Campus Vote Project fellows, in conjunction with the work of the Student Senate, the support of the Dean of Students Office, and the potential addition of an on-campus polling location will help drive student engagement — both at the polls and in the classroom.

“Students want to be involved,” said Strauss. “They want to have their voice heard, they want to be change agents, they want to be a part of the future. This is how change is being reflected on our campus.”