Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Promising Practices: Building a Coalition
Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere’s promising practices are a key set of recommendations for cultivating civic engagement and access on campus and ultimately sustaining inclusive and equitable campus cultures. This is the seventh post in a Q&A series with Andrew Goodman Campus Champions about our promising practices and how to implement them on campus.
A Q&A with Erin Byrnes, Andrew Goodman Campus Champion at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Because the University of Michigan (UM) is such a large institution—with a total combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment of nearly 50,000—creating a centralized coalition was essential for cultivating and coordinating a community passionate about students’ voting rights. And that’s just what our Andrew Goodman Campus Team did, with the leadership of Andrew Goodman Campus Champion Erin Byrnes.
In fact, the UM Campus Team plays a role in not just one, but two, coalitions. The first is composed of various student organizations, faculty, and staff who, in an orchestrated effort, plan and execute all things civic and voter engagement on UM’s campus. A development of the Big Ten Voting Challenge, the second includes each member institution of the Big Ten Conference and helps to foreground civic life as part of each institution’s campus culture.
The efforts of these coalitions have not only garnered the collaboration of UM’s Athletic Department and Marching Band, but also the support of UM’s upper administrators. To learn more about how the University of Michigan’s Campus Team used the law of attraction to build such powerful coalitions and get results, read our Q&A with Erin Byrnes below.
What led the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at the University of Michigan to pursue coalition building?
Our campus is large and decentralized, which makes the establishment of a core team critically important. UM’s campus coalition is integral to everything we do, from student voter registration and education, to GOTV efforts and the planning of major events around Election Day. Our coalition of student organizations, staff members, and faculty empowers us to reach students via peer-to-peer events focused on voter registration, while also having a robust digital presence via Wolverine Access (our student gateway), digital signage screens, and social media.
UM is also home to the Big Ten Voting Challenge, and the coalition across the athletic conference has provided wonderful opportunities for connection, strategy sharing, and grant funding for all of our campuses.
How did you and the Andrew Goodman Campus Team implement this promising practice? What partnerships or resources did you engage?
Our Andrew Goodman Campus Team built on an established relationship between the Ginsberg Center, which is where the Big Ten Voting Challenge is based, and Turn Up Turnout (TUT), a nonpartisan group of students organized by Professor Edie Goldenberg. Our Andrew Goodman Ambassadors have worked to reach out to affinity-based student organizations, while also partnering the UM Museum of Art to provide regular voter registration opportunities, host a voting-themed fashion show (in 2018), and a Dance for Democracy on the night of our 2020 Presidential Primary.
The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s support empowered our team to host multiple events and print nonpartisan informative materials for our student population, while our Ambassadors took the lead on our September Voter Registration Week and our February I Heart Voting Week. Guidance from our AGF Program Manager was incredibly helpful as our Ambassadors worked to engage students across campus, using effective strategies for event planning and messaging.
Plus, the Office of New Student Programs has allowed us to talk with incoming first-year and transfer students about voter registration and how to vote either on campus or at home. The Athletic Department and Michigan Marching Band have also served as close partners in our coalition and elevated the scope of our work through their broad public platform.
What challenges or obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome these to achieve your goal?
One challenge we face consistently is the size of our campus, both in terms of the number of students and with regard to geography. UM has a large central campus, and a north campus as well, and our Campus Team works to engage students in both areas by connecting with interested staff and faculty in Engineering and the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. From that point, we reach out to the students they support or teach to train them on voter registration and to provide an outlet for their talents and creativity with regard to digital design and event hosting.
The launch of the Big Ten Voting Challenge back in 2017 came with a need to establish the appropriate contacts on each campus, which took several months and involved reaching to initial contacts provided by each campus president, and then determining who was doing the work on the ground. After establishing the right contacts, we began having monthly planning calls to connect everyone and discuss successes, challenges, and next steps.
Since implementing this promising practice, what impact has it had on your campus?
Coalition building on campus and across the Conference has allowed us to make the case for our work and for continued support at the upper administrative level. As we work to weave democratic engagement and student voting into the fabric of our campus culture, a broad coalition that more recently includes the International Center has allowed us to bring together students from dozens of countries who study on our campus. Lunch and learns focused on not only U.S. elections and our democratic system and processes, but more broadly focused on learning about forms of government around the world, have proven to be meaningful. Coalition building has also created synergy and a positive forward momentum around major elections that we hope to expand to include local elections as well.
What advice do you have for other colleges and universities trying to build a coalition?
My advice for campuses looking to build a coalition would be to start with the law of attraction: what you focus on expands, and you will draw people with similar energies together. Determine how your passion for your work can best translate into your outreach, whether that be via in-person meeting, email or social media, and be concise in your focus so that your coalition will have clear objectives. Authenticity and a willingness to listen to others and create space for their talents to emerge are key to creating a positive coalition. I would also encourage campuses to think about unlikely allies in the work, as those people and spaces on campus may offer the most fruitful opportunities for collaboration.
Now that you have achieved this promising practice, what opportunities will the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Michigan explore next to advance civic engagement on your campus?
UM’s Andrew Goodman Campus Team will be working to register and educate students leading up to the 2020 election, with a special focus on the second Presidential Debate, which our campus will host in October. We will be looking for ways to broaden our existing coalition and to strengthen our existing partnerships by seeking out new ways to promote our nonpartisan message around access to the ballot and engagement in the democratic process for all students, inclusive of multiple citizenship statuses.
By creating spaces for campus stakeholders to connect and collaborate, our Andrew Goodman Campus Team has fostered the growth of not one, but two, coalitions that are enhancing student civic and voter engagement on UM’s campus and across the Big Ten Conference. To learn from Andrew Goodman Campus Champions about other promising practices like this one, check out the other interviews in our series.
About The Authors
Erin Byrnes is the Lead for Democratic Engagement at the University of Michigan’s Edward Ginsberg Center. In her role, Erin leads the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a competition to increase student voter registration and turnout across the Big Ten Conference.
Margaret Sasser is AGF’s Senior Communications Manager. Margaret is passionate about civil rights issues, storytelling, and helping students to become active members of their communities.