Founding Fifteen Campus Connections: Bard College

This year, AGF is celebrating ten years of impact with the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Program. One of “Founding Fifteen” campuses, the Campus Team at Bard College reflected on the past ten years and their hopes for the future of civic engagement on the campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Bard College has been an Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere campus since the program began back in 2014! What barriers to voting existed on campus prior to 2014?

Bard College students faced over a decade of voter discrimination prior to the Bard and The Andrew Goodman Foundation partnership. This can be found documented in our local newspaper (the Poughkeepsie Journal) starting in 1999, when our students and Vassar students teamed up to fight against a specialized “residence” questionnaire. This discrimination continued in 2009, when our students were being forced by the Dutchess County Board of Elections to vote through an affidavit ballot based on their residence. And again, in 2012, our students faced discrimination over their residence (specifically, the Board of Elections claimed that students had to list their dormitory names as a part of their mailing address, even though Bard students do not receive mail at their dorms), which led to a class action lawsuit. It was in the years following this lawsuit that our partnership with The Andrew Goodman Foundation was born, and we started fighting against residency discrimination with additional allies in AGF.

From what you know of how things were in 2014, when it comes to voting and civic engagement on campus, what are some of the most noticeable changes?

The Bard Center for Civic Engagement was founded in 2012, just two short years prior to our partnership with AGF beginning.  While Bard has a strong history of activism pre-dating our CCE’s founding, our civic engagement mission and programs were strengthened with the launch of a Center. The CCE created Bard’s service learning program (called “Engaged Liberal Arts and Sciences”), which has led to increased engagement inside the classroom.

Sample ELAS Courses, to display this:

  • Politics of Citizenship

  • All Politics is Local

  • Civic Engagement (core course for certificate)

  • Pedagogy and Practice in Civic Engagement

  • Visual Storytelling for Civic Engagement

  • Archaeology of African American Farms, Yards, and Gardens

  • Divided Cities

  • Public Access and the Local Groove

  • Asylum

  • Labor and Democracy

  • Women and Leadership

  • Reproductive Rights and Human Health

  • Digital Literacies

Additionally, many classes have incorporated voter engagement (either directly or indirectly) and voter education (who/what is on the ballot, understanding global political movements, etc.) into their syllabus that technically are not included under the ELAS umbrella. Through this umbrella, civics awareness inside the classroom has exploded exponentially.

Sample Courses:

  • The Supreme Court and (your) Human Rights

  • Human Rights Advocacy

  • Foundation of Law

  • Copaganda? Media and the History of Police Reform in the United States

  • Human Rights to Civil Rights

  • Global Citizenship

  • Women’s Rights, Human Rights

  • Telling Stories About Rights

  • Human Rights at the Border

  • Labor Economics

  • The History of Development since 1945: Global and Transnational Histories

  • Technology, Labor, Capitalism

  • The Making of the Modern Middle East

Lastly, the CCE and Politics program have launched the Civics Initiative to make civics a class  providing funding for faculty who are interested in integrating a civics focus for at least one class a semester. Connected to these efforts is a recent initiative within Bard’s First Year Seminar (FYSEM) course that has received funding to support integration of relevant topics. Dr. Simon Gilhooley, one of the directors of FYSEM, sits on Election@Bard’s planning team.

Through such a cohesive civics awareness campaign, we have witnessed such a culture shift for our student body, especially with non-voting students (foreign nationals, asylum seekers, formerly incarcerated students, etc) who might never have engaged with Election@Bard otherwise.

How has the general campus’ perception of voting and civic engagement evolved since 2014?

Generally, we have witnessed spikes in student body engagement during Republican presidents (this was especially true at Bard during the Bush presidency). However, since 2016, we have witnessed a plateau in that engagement spike, which Election@Bard continues to cultivate that interest in staying engaged. Bard students keep up-to-date on current events and policy changes. However, we have seen an inverse effect in our students understanding the technology and policies that facilitate voting. For example, students ask us if they can register to vote or vote online. They also ask us about same day voter registration, usually on Election Day itself. We usually try to reframe these questions as good ideas for the future, and tell our students that we hope New York State does one day vote in same day voter registration!

How has your Campus Team reflected on the legacy of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Freedom Summer 1964 over these ten years?

We continue to remind ourselves how thankful we are for the work of those who participated in (and those who died because of their work during) Freedom Summer 1964. We understand our privilege in working and studying at a predominantly white institution in a largely democratic state. However, it is our duty as a Vote Everywhere school to ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to register to vote, especially in places that student voters are more likely to be challenged (like in Georgia). Our current Andrew Goodman Ambassador, Sierra, is from Georgia, and knows distinctly the challenges that Southern voters face. We continue to reflect on how our Bard resources can bridge support for our students, both in difficult states as well as states with more stealthy voter suppression (like New York, which many students and their families are surprised to hear that New York State deals with voter suppression)!

What are some ways that the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program has supported your efforts on campus to increase voter and civic engagement?

We have vastly appreciated the funding support, guidance on social media, and technological assistance for outreach (SimpleTexting). We have also loved connecting with other AGF Vote Everywhere schools, especially through building a network collaborative course in Fall 2023 through our Mellon Foundation grant. We look forward to continued guidance, to help increase our voter outreach and civic engagement for our trans and non-binary students. We intend to set-up better resources for their protection in the voter education and the Election Day process. Lastly, we would like to once again thank the Andrew Goodman Foundation for their support throughout our many lawsuits. We would not have our on-campus polling place without AGF’s incredible support.

What are your hopes and dreams for what civic engagement will look like on campus ten years from now?

We hope for our voters to understand what’s at stake and how to fight for what they believe in. We want to make sure our students truly understand that there are more ways to fight injustices than protests, “voting blank” on Election Day, and voting down single issue candidates. We dream of ALL eligible on-campus voters to be registered AND actively voting.

What are the team’s main goals to increase and support voter engagement and turnout in 2024?

Our goals for 2024 include:

  • More collaborative events with popular on-campus organizations and professors
  • More utilization of communication distribution (we are utilizing some of our Mellon Foundation funding to have a trial year of Motivote)
  • More presence and name recognition (both for Election@Bard as a group + individuals on the team, to promote question answerability)

Stay tuned as we continue our Campus Connections series, featuring each of our Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Campus Teams, the impact made on campus, and how they are living the legacy during this pivotal point in our nation’s history.