Wisconsin Fellows faced a series of unique challenges in the Fall 2020 semester as they worked to engage their peers in the electoral process: a worsening public health crisis that forced many institutions to significantly alter their operations mid-semester (and resulted in many students moving off campus) and a polarized political climate that led some administrators to approach civic engagement with a higher degree of caution than in the past. As a result, many Fellows needed to quickly rethink their most ambitious and creative ideas to be carried out in a hybrid or fully virtual/online format. Some Fellows also needed to make additional revisions in order to receive administrator buy-in to help promote their events via institutional channels, often a necessary trade-off given that these events were mostly carried out in a hybrid or fully virtual/online format and could not rely on students stumbling upon their events on the way to class.
Despite these challenges, Wisconsin Fellows engaged thousands of their peers in the electoral process and created an impact that will long outlast their time as students. Here are just a few examples that illustrate these students’ impact:
- Morgan Snyder, Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led an effort to register all eligible student-athletes to vote. With support from the BadgersVote coalition, Morgan helped recruit a group of volunteers to walk the student-athletes through the voter registration process via Zoom. Through this effort, Morgan built new relationships with university athletics, laying the groundwork for future engagement with student-athletes.
- Lauren Tatum, Fellow at Alverno College in Milwaukee, organized an outdoor and socially-distanced event for students who had requested an absentee ballot to complete their ballot in the presence of a witness. (Under state law, voters must complete their absentee ballot with a witness present, who then must sign and write their address on the certificate envelope.) The event featured live music and ended with the students walking to the nearby ballot drop box to return their ballots. Many students in attendance were first-time voters who were excited to make their voices heard.
- Jonathan Hogan, Fellow at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., wrote a letter to the university president, asking him to cancel classes on Election Day. Jonathan argued that doing so would allow students who hadn’t voted early to cast their ballots without having to miss class. The university president agreed and promptly canceled classes on Nov. 3.
Wisconsin Fellows consistently impressed me with their ambition and creativity as well as their resilience during a difficult time when they were experiencing significant disruptions in their academic and personal lives. These students inspired me to be a better State Director and reminded me of the importance of civic engagement and the role young people play in fostering an active and engaged citizenry. I am filled with hope, knowing that these students will continue to be leaders and voices for change, continuing to inspire their peers along the way.