On May 15, Stony Brook University was recognized by The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) as one of just five Leader Campuses within its national, nonpartisan Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Network that includes more than 70 college campuses across the United States.
The AGF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to increase student voter participation on college and university campuses across the nation. The organization is named after Andrew Goodman, a 20-year old Freedom Summer volunteer and champion of equality and voting rights who was murdered by the KKK in 1964 while registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.
Last year, Stony Brook was one of 123 institutions to receive the Voter Friendly Campus award by NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) and the Fair Election Center’s Campus Vote Project for its continued commitment to increasing the student voting rate on campus. According to Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, between 2012 and 2016, SBU increased its eligible student voting rate from 43.2 percent to 53.2 percent in presidential elections, with much higher goals for student voting in 2020. These impressive results are due to the sophisticated voter registration, education and mobilization efforts led by the University’s Center for Civic Justice.
The Center for Civic Justice is an integral part of the Division of Student Affairs at Stony Brook. Rick Gatteau, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, said, “Exercising our right to vote is a fundamental responsibility of living in a democracy. At Stony Brook, we remain committed to building the culture of voting among our students. We are grateful for the outstanding work of our Center for Civic Justice and appreciate the recognition of our collective efforts.”
Impacting Change in the Community
Not only has SBU’s program been recognized by NASPA with the Excellence Award for Civic Learning, Democratic Engagement, Service-Learning, and Community Service, but the Center for Civic Justice also developed a nationally renowned student orientation voter registration model and has registered more than 25,000 students to vote, establishing itself as one of the highest achieving programs in the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Network.
“We are so proud of the Andrew Goodman Ambassadors at SBU as they have expanded their fellow students’ access to the ballot through effective organizing and advocacy. As part of their new status, AGF’s annual grant to the University will increase from $1,000 to $5,000 to assist in their ability to play a leadership role within our Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Network. We have every confidence that they will model the way for more of our campus programs to achieve Leader Campus status,” said Karena Cronin, Program Director at The Andrew Goodman Foundation.
COVID-19 has changed how to get out the student vote, but the Center for Civic Justice has evolved their approach, relying on digital platforms such as social media and Zoom meetings and discussions to engage and mobilize students on an ongoing basis, not only helping them to register for voting and request absentee ballots, but also educating them on current voting issues such as absentee voting.
The Center for Civic Justice will be hosting a virtual Community Dialogue on September 16 on the topic of The Right to Vote.
“I am so incredibly proud of our team at the Center for Civic Justice. Our student leaders continue to make voter engagement an important part of the campus experience, ensuring their peers have everything they need to safely and successfully vote in upcoming elections,” said Steven Adelson, Coordinator for the Center for Civic Justice. “Our partnership and friendship with the Andrew Goodman Foundation allows us to take our work to the next level, and being recognized as an Elite Leader Campus demonstrates how far we have come as a University and reminds us that we must continue to do our best to preserve and protect the right to vote.”
Strategies for Change
Adelson said a key reason for the program’s success is institutionalization, a strategy of incorporating voter registration into preexisting aspects of campus life.
At Stony Brook, the Campus Team chose to institutionalize voter registration into new student orientation, and subsequently into the orientations for transfer and graduate students and more.
By institutionalizing voter registration into SBU’s various orientation programs, the Campus Team is ensuring that 100 percent of students have the opportunity to register to vote upon first setting foot on campus. The team has also pioneered the concept of “bottlenecking,” where all traffic in a high foot-traffic area must pass by a voter registration table.
“As a result of implementing this promising practice, we are able to ensure that almost all undergraduate students have an opportunity to successfully register to vote before their first day of classes,” Adelson said. “Looking forward, we are committed to refining and perfecting our model by summer 2021 to include all graduate and professional students as well.”