Gator Day on Election Day: Improving Access To The Ballot At Allegheny College

After attending the annual National Civic Leadership Training Summit in 2019, two Andrew Goodman Ambassadors at Allegheny College opted to spend the summer working together to make voting more accessible on the campus in Meadville, Pennsylvania. After reviewing the barriers to voting on campus, Ambassadors Amaya Ruiz and George Ackerman settled on the goal of making election day free of classes. 

Amaya and George spent weeks seeking a meeting with various administrators with no success, slipping a memo about why students should have the day off to vote under their doors and showing up to speak with those present in their offices as frequently as they could for weeks to no avail. With a lack of response in person or by email, they opted to attend the Provost’s open office hours, who offered to set up a meeting, to which Amaya replied, “How’s now?” 

Luckily, the Provost agreed and mentioned having read their memo. Amaya and George proposed the three options:

  1. Simply allowing students to have Election Day free from classes to vote.
  2. If students could prove they went to the polls, there would be no academic penalty for missing class.
  3. Moving Gator Day, a day already free from classes, to Election Day.

Like many colleges and universities, Allegheny College has an academic calendar with many stipulations: a set number of days for instruction, religious holidays, etc., meaning the first option would be the most challenging to make a reality. Given that the second option would infringe upon a professor’s academic freedoms, explaining it would be left up to each individual professor to decide if they would penalize students for voting or not, this left only the third option. 

Historically, Gator Day on Allegheny College’s campus has been known as a ‘party day’ during the mid-point of each academic year. So when Amaya and George proposed moving a day that already was free from classes to Election Day, they described how “the Provost’s entire tone shifted, and we began to discuss how we could make this happen.” 

After meeting with the Provost, the Registrar’s office was key to changing the academic calendar by facilitating the change being put to a faculty vote. The vote decided Allegheny College would pilot Gator Day on Election Day in the 2020 Election. Following the vote, various faculty members expressed their support of the change, pointing out how incorporating a civic element to Gator Day programming would not only fulfill the College’s civic mission but would also add a greater meaning to the previously known ‘party day’ free of classes.

Like many plans in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Along with numerous changes to the academic calendar, the planned pilot was canceled, and Amaya and George both graduated within the following year in the thick of COVID-altered classes and programming. The Campus Champion, Andrew Bloeser, guided Amaya and George during their Ambassadorship, witnessed the committee vote, and then canceled the proposed pilot, all while welcoming various cohorts of Andrew Goodman Ambassadors to the network during this time. 

At the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year, Andrew suggested reviving the project pilot having Gator Day on Election Day changed to the College’s academic calendar. Ambassadors with significant organizing experience on their team, Bintou Fofana, Bianca Sanchez, and India McCruter, each led the team in leveraging their commitment to this effort for 4+ years and Bloeser’s connections to regain the support of the Curriculum Committee. 

Pictured left to right: Amani Green, Bianca Sanchez, Kaylan Parker, Bintou Fofana, and India McCruter

The change to the calendar was brought to a faculty vote again this year and was again approved. Andrew Bloeser said, “This is one of the most significant accomplishments of the Andrew Goodman Ambassadors at Allegheny. Later this month, I’ll be involved in some planning with a number of other folks at the college about what Gator Day programming is going to look like, and how we promote Election Day activities at Allegheny is going to be part of that conversation about Gator Day for the first time ever.” 

With many team members fully expecting to be met with further resistance in proposing this change, their success showcases the power of a sustained commitment to putting in the time and effort needed, performing all the “little” tasks that add up to make a big difference. If the piloted change is made permanent, Gator Day celebrations taking place on Election Day will alter the civic engagement culture on campus for the better, enabling students to have a say in the greater Meadville community they are a part of, and creating life-long voters. 

Young people have always been at the forefront of movements for change, and that rings true for multiple cohorts of Andrew Goodman Ambassadors at Allegheny College. Remarkable moments come from young people gathering to create a shared vision for our future. Like Amaya and George did at the 2019 National Civic Leadership Training Summit (NCLTS), get inspired for the semester and election season ahead at the 2024 NCLTS: ‘64 to ‘24: The 60th Anniversary of Freedom Summer on July 31-August 1st. Click here to register! For more Campus success stories, stay tuned on our blog and read the Spring ‘24 Vote Everywhere Campus Highlights for more from this past Spring semester. 


Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications surrounding their work. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.