Lasting Impact: An Andrew Goodman Alumni Q&A With Zoë Williamson, Louisiana State University
Zoë Williamson was an Andrew Goodman Ambassador at Louisiana State University from 2018-2019, where she also served as President of Geaux Vote LSU. Zoë majored in Political Communication with a minor in Political Science. During her time at LSU, she served as a Governor’s Fellow in Louisiana Government and worked in the governor’s communication office. In addition, Zoë served as LSU Student Government’s Director of Communications. As an Andrew Goodman Ambassador, Williamson helped lead Geaux Vote in expanding the organization’s structure, social media presence, and volunteer program. During her tenure, Geaux Vote registered 2,500 students to vote and successfully created one centralized polling place on LSU’s campus to make casting a ballot more accessible for all of LSU’s students.
Tell us about your experience as an Andrew Goodman Ambassador. Was there a campaign you championed as an Ambassador that you are particularly proud of?
I was an Ambassador at Louisiana State University from 2018-2019 and was President of Geaux Vote LSU in 2018. Another Andrew Goodman Alumna, Valencia Richardson, had started the program a few years prior and had already done incredible work to get student IDs accepted as voter ID in the Louisiana Legislature. When I took on the role, the greatest challenge we faced was that our campus was split into two different precincts and two different legislative districts. Half of students registered on campus had to vote at a polling location that was off campus with no sidewalks or bus route. This split of the student vote caused confusion about who should vote where, and it made it nearly impossible for on-campus GOTV groups, like Geaux Vote, to advertise an on-campus polling place because there isn’t an on-campus polling place for all students. But because of the legislative district split, we couldn’t consolidate the precincts, and we didn’t want to disenfranchise the community members in the surrounding areas. So we worked with the local city council to redraw the precincts so that students could all vote on campus without disrupting the legislative districts. Dozens of Geaux Vote LSU members showed up to a city council meeting to propose the changes, I testified before the city council, and the measure passed unanimously!
What legacy did you leave on campus for future generations of Ambassadors to continue?
Geaux Vote LSU is a student-led group — there is no campus staff dedicated to civic engagement — and voter registration, education, and mobilization at LSU is purely done through student volunteers. We started as a ragtag bunch of only two Andrew Goodman Ambassadors, but through grassroots organizing, were able to grow our organization to nearly 100 volunteers by the end of 2018, representing all majors, student organization interests, and reaching all corners of the campus community. Through our work in 2018, we solidified Geaux Vote LSU’s reputation on campus as a trustworthy, friendly, and nonpartisan group of people that any student could approach to get information about elections. We established the organization as a power player on campus, sitting in on the administration’s strategic planning meetings, serving in the highest levels of student government, and using that power to institutionalize student voting into every aspect of campus life.
As an Ambassador, how did you contribute to creating lasting change and a more democratic culture on your campus?
Before 2018, nobody talked about voting or democracy on our campus, it just wasn’t part of the cultural zeitgeist like football or Greek life were. And as we know, reaching students where they are is one of the best ways to make them see the importance of participating in our democracy, which is why we integrated voter registration into places where students already were. Not only did we do class visits and speak at student organization meetings, but we also registered voters at fraternities, football tailgates, and bars near campus. When students who would normally never be asked “are you registered to vote?” are asked in a comfortable way that feels familiar, they are able to incorporate voting into their own life, not the other way around.
How did your time in the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program impact your development as a leader and community member?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Vote Everywhere program changed the trajectory of my life. Though I was already interested in civic engagement, AGF really invested in me and my campus organization and made sure we had all of the resources we needed to thrive and grow. I was lucky enough to attend both the 2018 and 2019 in-person National Civic Leadership Training Summits, and I met so many incredible organizers that I am still colleagues and friends with to this day. The leadership skills and networking opportunities offered to me by AGF solidified my interest in youth civic engagement and lit a fire in me to continue fighting for a more equitable democracy.
Tell us about what you’re doing today. How did your time as an Ambassador inform your continuing education, work, or volunteerism?
I am currently the Communications Manager for the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition (SLSV), the largest national nonpartisan network dedicated to increasing student voter participation. Through my role, I create resources that I would have loved to use when I was an Ambassador, and I support and uplift local leaders’ efforts on college campuses across the country to mobilize the student vote. I use the grassroots strategies and tactics that I learned as an Andrew Goodman Ambassador every single day to inform my work and use my platform to spread that knowledge to student leaders and campus administrators who may be just getting started in the student voting movement. My on-the-ground experience really helps me to put myself in the shoes of the leaders that are using the resources we create and build them in a way that is useful and makes a tangible impact in the way they execute the work.
As an Alumni of our program, how are you continuing to reflect on our story and to carry forward the Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner legacy today?
Through my work at the SLSV Coalition, I carry forward the legacy of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner every single day. By focusing our efforts on college communities that are underserved in this work — MSIs, community colleges, and colleges that serve rural communities — we are able to continue the work of those three brave men. States have been attempting for decades to take away the right to vote for young people and people of color — it did not end with the Civil Rights Movement. In 2023, student leaders are constantly fighting unjust legislation that would take away their access to the ballot — from inequitable voter ID laws to removing polling locations from college campuses. I take pride in being able to support students’ efforts on the ground to speak out publicly against this legislation in a nonpartisan way and provide them with the language to articulate the injustices being inflicted upon them by the state. Though student leaders are no longer faced with the same physical danger as Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, they face major systemic and societal hurdles and challenges in advocating for youth voter access.
What advice would you give to our current Ambassadors?
No matter how tough the grind can get, especially in Southern states, your work is more important now than ever. We’ve seen how much progress can be made when people in every community are dedicated to educating young people about the democratic process. We’ve seen historic youth turnout in three federal elections in a row, and young people are turning out in record numbers for local elections in 2023 — just look at Wisconsin. You are the front lines and your voices are louder than you think! Gen Z is the largest and most diverse generation in history, and we have the power to change our nation and our democracy for the better, but we must stay strong and visible.
Learn more about Zoë’s experience as an Andrew Goodman Ambassador and her current work with the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition by listening to her episode on the Live The Legacy Podcast.
Stay tuned as we continue our Lasting Impact series, featuring alumni of our Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program, what they’re doing today, and how they are still living the legacy.