Founding Fifteen Campus Connections: Tufts University

Photo Credit: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University

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 Tufts University reflected on the past ten years and their hopes for the future of civic engagement on the campus in Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts.

Tufts University 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?

Tufts has worked to address or reduce several key barriers that existed at that time, including: increasing access to clear and concise information via in-person events and online tools; embedding (non-partisan) messaging in campus-wide messaging, including from our president(s); sharing information with faculty; establishing a voting hotline; getting information to students about their polling places—since the main undergraduate campus is divided between two communities, Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts; working with Mail Services to ensure that all elections-related mail is picked up in a timely and safe manner; and collaborating with our host communities to facilitate voter registration and voting at the polling locations that are on or near our campuses.

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?

Our engagement, participation and student voting rates have increased. We know this because Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life is the home to the preeminent college-voting study in the nation, the National Study of Learning, Voting & Engagement (NSLVE)—and we are also a participant. We know, for example, that our campus voting rate increased at least 16 percentage points between 2012 and 2020 (from 51% to above 67%). We have also established and supported (with funding) a non-partisan, voter engagement group, run by students, called JumboVote; and we convene a university-wide Elections Coalition in every presidential election year. We are part of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and the NESCAC Votes group. We have also vastly expanded our student participation in civic engagement programs and courses on all our campuses, and we have established the first-of-its-kind Civic Studies co-major for undergraduates at Tufts, a collaboration of the School of Arts & Sciences and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

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?

The legacy of these American heroes goes beyond voting. In fact, as the AGF promotes: voting is just the beginning. Civic leadership is for everyone. And we all have a stake in our democracy, however imperfect and frail it may be. We hope to use voting and elections as a jumping off point for a lifetime of deep civic engagement. Their legacy is particular resonant at this time, as our democratic systems seem to be under attack. At Tufts University’s Tisch College, we have articulated a bold vision for this moment. We call it our “North Star:” Building robust, inclusive democracy for an increasingly multiracial society.

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

Grants, in prior years, from The Andrew Goodman Foundation program have supported events, training events, promotional opportunities and stipends for student leaders (in our non-partisan voter engagement organization).

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

We hope that our level of engagement is even deeper and broader—and more inclusive. Right now, we are prioritizing everyone’s involvement: from undergraduates to graduate students, staff and faculty, including students who may not be eligible to vote (but who can be involved in other ways, including events, dialogues and support). At Tufts University, we believe that every student has a pathway to civic engagement.

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

Our goals fall into two general categories: decreasing barriers to vote, and increasing motivation to participate in elections. We also want our participation opportunities to be robust, inclusive and supported, especially as this election year will be polarizing. As mentioned above, we have already convened a campus-wide Elections Coalition, and our Jumbo Vote student group is active. We have a particular intention around closing gaps in our voting participation. One area of focus will be our graduate schools and campuses (in Boston, MA and Grafton, MA). We hope to increase our collaboration with faculty members across Tufts, as faculty often are the most trusted sources for our students. And, we will also continue to work on logistics: with our partners in local government and with our Mail Services team, as vote-by-mail will be very prevalent in 2024. Finally, we hope to infuse some joy and connection into this election season!

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.