With the combination of the hectic life of a college student and the seeming inescapability of the Wheaton bubble, it can be difficult for students to find the time and resources to vote. As part of a continuing trend from years past, Wheaton’s own Roosevelt Institute has been hoping to change the trend of student political apathy by encouraging students to vote, and helping them to register. This year, Roosevelt Institute, with the help of SGA and SSSR, has helped register 187 Wheaton students to vote through its Voting Initiative, not including the over 300 students that the Institute has helped to register over the past couple of years.
The Roosevelt Institute, which is the largest student-run policy organization in the country, has over 120 chapters at different schools. Wheaton’s chapter is somewhat unique in that it leads a voting initiative on campus. Sarah Estrela ’15, an executive board member and an organizer of the Voting Initiative, said, “It [the voting initiative] is unique to Wheaton in that we don’t have active Democrats and Republicans clubs, so this kind of fell onto Roosevelt because we’re really the only resource on campus for people who are interested in politics and policy.” Through on-campus advertisements, Twitter updates, and email reminders, Roosevelt Institute has been able to register about 50% of the campus, including those who have registered not through Roosevelt but did so because they were encouraged to by the initiative, said Estrela.
Wheaton’s Voting Initiative is in part a response to the lack of college student voters throughout the country. Estrela notes that the lack of voting among college students is not just a trend within the Millennial generation, but within past generations of college students as well. “Statistically speaking, college students just don’t vote,” said Estrela. “A lot of people become really disillusioned with the political process. They don’t feel like they have as much of a voice, especially because the people voted into office don’t always look like us, speak like us, or come from the same backgrounds as us. So it’s really hard for students to identify with the policies that are being put forth.”
The Voting Initiative is not just about encouraging students to vote as an end in itself, however. By encouraging students to vote, Roosevelt Institute hopes to make students more politically engaged and politically aware in general. Estrela noted, “Studies show that people who vote from an earlier age actually become a lot more politically engaged and are more informed as citizens and are more invested in the political system.” Estrela expressed her belief that students who vote will hold their elected official more accountable for their policies and decisions, and they will therefore become more actively engaged with politics.
Estrela emphasized that Roosevelt Institute did not work alone in organizing the Voting Initiative. SSSR and SGA, and particularly the help of both Dean Kate McCaffrey and Dean Vereene Parnell, were all instrumental in ensuring the success of this project.