For the past 18 months, Winthrop University has worked together to prepare, engage and encourage the young — perhaps first-time — voters at Winthrop to exercise the primary responsibility of citizenship: voting. Student life, the College of Arts and Sciences and the John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy have hosted 10 presidential candidates and presented a number of of events, collectively called Decision 2016, to help students understand the importance of fulfilling their civic responsibility.
We have long recognized that our mission lies in preparing students not only to master their disciplines but also to become informed, engaged and conscientious citizens. In fact, one of our four competencies mandates that we graduate men and women who are “personally and socially responsible.”
We want students not only to identify the candidates for federal, state and local offices but to understand where the candidates stand on the issues.
While approximately 80 percent of Winthrop students were registered to vote in 2012, only 53 percent of them voted. Although this exceeds the 49 percent at all public master’s granting institutions, our goal is to do better this year.
We have worked to register students to vote and trained a cadre of student ambassadors to encourage voting, and over fall break, students received an email encouraging them to get an absentee ballot.
With the negative rhetoric of this year’s federal election threatening to discourage voting, we focus on the historical and current significance of participating in this cornerstone of our democracy.
Beginning in September with Constitution Day and continuing until election night, we aim to receive the designation of a voter-friendly campus given by the Student Affairs Professions in Higher Education.
Recognizing that civic engagement is vital to the health and well-being of our democracy, Winthrop strives to teach, encourage, motivate and model behaviors that create “habits of mind,” knowing that an 18-year-old who votes is more likely to vote in later elections.
The vote of a new voter counts as much as the one of a long-time voter. Instilling the importance and value of this civic responsibility in an educated populace helps to ensure the continuance of a strong democracy and the health of our state. We hope you see our students at the polls on Tuesday carrying out their role in the democratic process.
Dean of University College, Winthrop