Three fellows with the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement — two of them undergraduates — spoke at a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C., in the wake of the November midterm elections about what motivates college students to vote.
Anna Connole, Aaliyah McLean and Shelby Taraba (’18) shared their insights on “Motivating Student Civic Engagement” with approximately 30 higher-education reporters from around the country, both in person and via live stream. The session was part of the Education Writers Association’s annual conference.
One of the goals of the nonpartisan Center for Civic Engagement is to facilitate Dukes Vote and work with other campus partners, as well as national supporting organizations like Campus Vote Project and the American Democracy Project, to eliminate barriers to student voting by providing education, programming and assistance. During the fall election cycle, the center conducted classroom visits, hosted informal political discussions and helped with voter registration drives.
“For a long period of time throughout our history, young voters have been ignored and left behind as a demographic and just expected to learn these things on their own,“ said Anna Connole, a sophomore Honors student double majoring in political science and communication studies and one of two Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellows at the center.
Turnout among JMU voters was up significantly in the 2018 midterms, mirroring national data. At the campus precinct, which serves mostly underclassmen who live in residence halls, turnout increased by 50 percent over 2017 levels, and overall campus turnout is expected to far exceed the 8.8 percent rate in 2014.
Some of the issues that resonated with young people during the 2018 midterms included immigration, the environment, health care, women’s rights, student debt and gun control.
For the center’s fellows, the prospect of fielding questions from reporters was a little intimidating.
“When someone from Politico or The Washington Post stands up and you don't know if the question is going to come to you, that got my hand shaking a little bit,“ Connole said.
Taraba, a JMU Engagement Fellow, said the group felt an obligation to represent “not only the Center for Civic Engagement, but James Madison University more broadly“ on a national stage.
McLean, a junior media arts and design major and the center’s Community Engagement and Outreach Fellow, said she didn’t know what to expect going in, but once she answered a question from a reporter, “I felt that I had faced my fears and was so accomplished. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.“
For more on the experience, see the Spring/Summer print issue of Madison.