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SUNY Cortland recognized for engaged student voting

SUNY Cortland was nationally recognized recently as a 2022 ALL IN Most Engaged Campuses for College Student Voting.

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, a national, nonpartisan program promoting college voter registration and turnout efforts, strives to strengthen civic culture by institutionalizing democratic engagement activities and programs on college campuses, making voter participation a defining feature of campus life.

This national voter engagement honor, Cortland’s second since August, spotlights colleges and universities that take concrete actions to increase student voter participation. SUNY Cortland joins a group of 394 colleges and universities recognized by the nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C.

“Thank you for the intentional work you and your institution did in 2022 to institutionalize nonpartisan democratic engagement to increase student voter turnout,” wrote Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, executive director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge/Civic Nation, in a recent letter to the university’s president, Erik J. Bitterbaum.

“These students registered voters, served on their campus voting coalitions, spearheaded voter education efforts, advocated for campus polling locations and organized other voter engagement efforts to ensure their peers were confident and informed voters,” she said.

ALL IN representatives noted that national college student voter turnout has increased since 2016, including a strong showing in the 2022 midterm elections.

“This award recognizes that SUNY Cortland’s culture embodies democratic engagement,” said John Suarez, who directs SUNY Cortland’s Institute for Civic Engagement, one of several groups active in campus voter engagement.

This milestone acknowledges Cortland’s more focused and comprehensive two-year action plan for increasing students’ democratic engagement. The current plan works with faculty to include current events and democratic engagement in class lessons, collaborates with a wide variety of offices, pursues an ambitious goal of 90% voter registration and turnout by the 2024 general election, maintains support from senior administration, includes moderator training for the institute’s periodic deliberative dialogues and works for diversity by reaching out to various student groups, including seeking to relaunch the College Republicans Club.

To qualify for the most recent award, SUNY Cortland needed to complete four additional actions:

  • Participate in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge
  • Share 2020 National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement reports containing campus voting data with ALL IN
  • Develop and submit a 2022 democratic engagement action plan with ALL IN
  • Have a current signatory to ALL IN’s Higher Education Presidents’ Commitment to Full Student Voter Participation

The Cortland chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group played a major role in the project to motivating students to register to vote, vote or otherwise become involved in democratic elections.

“There are plenty of other folks on campus who are working on democratic engagement,” besides the institute, Suarez said. “Just one example comes from the School of Education. And that’s both for the school with its approach to elementary education and for the secondary education curriculum in the History Department (in the School of Arts and Sciences).”

SUNY Cortland is one of only three New York state campuses with two prior awards from All IN, Suarez said.

In August, the campus was recognized with ALL In’s Highly Established Action Plan Seal of Recognition, as one of only 82 institutions of higher education in the U.S. recognized for ambitious, detailed and campus-wide action plans that included community involvement in the promotion of student participation in elections.

Additionally, SUNY Cortland previously was honored for numbering among only 184 campuses that participate in ALL IN’s Ask Every Student initiative.

Students engaged in a deliberative dialog, hosted in 2020 by the Institute for Civic Engagement in Corey Union, to practice negotiating solutions to difficult and emotional issues.

Ultimately, Suarez noted, most of the skills that students develop by participating in these civic activities overlap with their potential for career success, as identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). That includes career and self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism and teamwork.

“Regardless of the issue, we need to be able to collaborate on addressing issues in civil and productive ways,” Suarez said. “That includes engaging in informed, civil and productive dialogues at the local, state and national levels. Those dialogues need to address intensifying issues that range from climate change to challenges to democracy. The university’s efforts in this area represent our faith in our younger generations to address these challenges, if we give them the tools to do so.”

The ALL IN effort currently engages more than 9 million students from more than 960 institutions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Campuses can visit the organization’s website to join the ALL IN Challenge.