Webster students are reported as highly-engaged voters. The voting rate has gone up 20% from 2014.
Jennifer Stewart, director of Webster University’s Office of Student Engagement, points to Webster University students’ voting record with pride. Data published in the National Study of Learning Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) in September 2019, shows Webster University’s student voting rate at 54.7%. The voting rate is up 20.7% from 2014 and is above the 2018 student voting rate for all institutions: 39.1%. Stewart is working to keep this voting momentum climbing.
Stewart is a permanent member of the WebsterVOTES organization. One goal of the group is to earn the designation of “Voter Friendly Campus” for 2020-2021. If Webster earns this distinction, strategies and plans now being put in place will long be part of Webster University’s future. Ashton Rogers, of Wentzville, Missouri, is one Webster University student who exemplifies the student voting engagement the group wishes to encourage.
A few days before the 2020 Presidential Election, Rogers admitted to being nervous about the results of the election and questioned how much his vote will actually matter. Yet, he drove 40 miles to vote in-person at his home polling place on Election Day.
“I’m worried about the rights of minorities in this country and how the current President is insensitive to said issues,” Rogers said.
Additionally, Rogers is among those voters who are critical of the President’s response to the pandemic.
Rogers said that the candidate and the candidate’s policies influence his vote much more than party affiliation. In fact, he acknowledges a deep personal motivation to vote.
“The fact that my rights as a queer person will be taken away with another four years of our current administration [motivates me to vote],” Rogers said.
The greater influence on his political outlook, Rogers maintains, is not parental traditions, but certain peers.
“The biggest influence is probably those around me, because 95% of the people close to me are queer,” Rogers said.
Rogers is concerned with how much his vote will matter knowing that he’s voting in a red state, but he feels it is his responsibility.
“I know that I did my civil duty as an American and there’s nothing more that I can personally do,” Rogers said.
Stewart lists the actions the WebsterVOTES initiative takes to nurture just this kind of thoughtful voting behavior. The organization supports both voter registration and student voting.
The activities the group sponsors include creating a module during new student orientation to help students register to vote, working with the St. Louis County Board of Elections to centralize all Webster University addresses, offering voter registration email campaigns to all students and specifics to resident students, providing on-campus notary services for absentee and mail-in ballots, hosting an Absen-Tea party to distribute tea supplies when students get their ballots notarized and providing free coffee, tea, and hot cocoa on Election Day.
The campus has also partnered with the Dance the Vote for Representative John Lewis social media contest and it will host post-election chats immediately following Election Day and later, as needed.
Although Stewart cannot really know the particular ways in which Webster University students will vote this year, she suggests that at Webster University there is a good mixture of students voting at Webster University and at their permanent home address. Her comments suggest students’ political awareness when she indicates that students are likely to vote where they think it is most important. For example, there may be candidates or a ballot initiative at home that students want their home vote to influence. Others will find it convenient to vote at their campus address.
All of this – Webster University’s sponsored activities and Rogers’ analysis – supports NSLVE’s data showing that Webster University students are highly engaged voters – voters who, perhaps, benefit from the supporting activities of the WebsterVOTES organization. When he distinguishes between the political concerns of his parents’ generation and his own generation, Rogers’ statement indicates the complexity and the responsibility voters of his generation face.
“I feel younger people, since having access to social media, are much more aware of the things happening across the country. More than our parents were. But we also have so many different media forums that can make things worse than they may be on a different medium,” Rogers wrote in an email. His statement points to the continuing need for efforts like those of WebsterVOTES to boost voting engagement.