Amaya Fox ’21, blogs this week about her experience as a lead ambassador in the USFVotes program on campus. Amaya was a McCarthy Fellow in Washington, D.C., an Andrew Goodman Foundation Vote Everywhere Ambassador for USFVotes, and through her leadership, earned the Gold Medal Award designation from the All-In Campus Challenge by registering over 5,000 students to vote and was instrumental in building a campus voter identity at USF.
This past semester, my USFVotes co-ambassador Ariana Robert Martinez and I were selected to serve as California Campus Compact Youth Voice Youth Vote student fellows. This fellowship, which focuses on increasing voter engagement and youth voices on college campuses across California, aligned perfectly with our current roles as the USFVotes lead ambassadors on campus.
Our university poses some pretty unique challenges when it comes to student voter engagement because while we have no shortage of passion for social justice issues, and we are immersed in this city that has such a rich history of civic engagement and activism, our voting rates remain barely above the national average. Along with this, the fact that USF has such a large commuter population also makes it difficult to make contact with a large portion of the student body. This lack of voter turnout and need to find creative ways to reach more of our student body in order to create a genuine culture of civic engagement is why the USFVotes program was created through the Andrew Goodman Foundation. As a USFVotes ambassador, I have worked with our entire team to establish our presence on campus, increase voter registration and turnout rates, work with key university stakeholders to institutionalize voter registration, and hold regular events on campus.
This past semester in particular, as a CESF-Youth Voice Youth Vote fellow, our team was able to continue our work registering students to vote and holding a number of on campus events, yet this time we had the additional support of California Campus Compact. We began this semester focused intently on Super Tuesday, and making sure we could register and engage as many students as possible before California’s pivotal primary. This meant holding weekly Elections 101 tabling pop-ups in the University Center, hosting democratic debate watch parties, having weekly all-team meetings, registering students to vote at nearly every on campus event, and increasing our social media presence. All of this was done in the lead-up to Super Tuesday, when we then had an Election Day extravaganza, complete with Election headquarters outside Lo Schiavo where students could be directed to their polling place or have any questions they have answered and a watch party where we watched the results roll in.
We also focused our efforts on doing Census work throughout the semester. We held weekly Census tabling pop-ups, again in the University Center, and also worked with other student organizations and the university to make sure we had concrete plans when it came to getting an accurate census count. Social media was also an important part of this campaign, and became even more important in the middle of the semester when Covid-19 forced us to transition everything online.
This immediate need to go completely digital dramatically changed what we had hoped to accomplish over the second half of the semester but we just had to be flexible, and I think that we were able to make the transition and continue our efforts via social media. We relied on our Instagram and Twitter more to spread important dates, election information, and Census information. We also used zoom to host several discussions led by myself and other USFVotes team members regarding things like “Student Voting in the Age of Covid-19″ and “Voter Suppression in the Age of Covid-19”. These zoom discussions ended up being pretty successful, and allowed us to continue to connect with students despite not being able to do so in-person.
My work as a CESF-Youth Voice Youth Vote fellow and USFVotes/Andrew Goodman Foundation lead ambassador has led me to see both the problems that persist in our voting and electoral systems as well as the incredible potential my generation has to create genuine change by using our voice and our vote at the polls. Yet, this change can only come if we put in the work to ensure every eligible voter has the ability to practice their right to vote. This means registering students to vote on campuses and reminding them of election dates, fighting against unjust voter ID and registration laws that disproportionately discount the votes of communities of color and student voters, pushing for things like nation-wide vote-by-mail (especially in the time of a global pandemic), and so much more. Organizations like California Campus Compact are doing just that, and helping students like myself and Ariana build communities of empowerment and engagement here at USF to ensure that our generation is influencing the decisions that we are going to have to live with.
Check out Amaya’s award recognition in our congratulatory video here.