New Student Orientations: A Creative Way to Institutionalize Voter Registration

Registering voters without the immediacy of an upcoming election is difficult. Vote Everywhere Ambassadors combat this by making sure voter registration is a permanent part of the college experience.

This summer, Vote Everywhere Ambassadors at ten schools registered voters at new student orientations. As a result, thousands of newly registered students are prepared to vote in the next election.

Vote Everywhere Ambassadors at SUNY Stony Brook registered over 1,000 students during new student orientations this summer.

SUNY Stony Brook, led by Team Leader Yark Beyan, had tremendous success, registering hundreds of students at each orientation. Over a span of 14 days, Yark and her co-Ambassador Anthony Calzetta-Raymond registered a total of 2,008 students. According to Yark, “Orientation is the best time to capture unregistered voters because it’s one of the few events throughout the year that nearly all (new) students attend.”

Incoming students are also eager opportunities to participate in the campus community. Yark observed that many students view registering to vote as a rite of passage, just like beginning college. “They’re excited to become adults and vote for the first time,” Yark says.

According to Yark, Vote Everywhere’s participation in new student orientations makes a difference in the way students view their college experience. “It’s paramount that incoming students understand that we’re a voting community. Stony Brook University students vote.”

Phillip Rich, Vote Everywhere Team Leader at Bowling Green State University, also feels it’s important to show students the importance of civic engagement from their first day on campus. Phillip’s team faces several challenges, making it more difficult to register large numbers of students at orientation. Phillip has found that since there are many booths assembled in the Student Union, fewer students stop at Vote Everywhere’s table. Beyond this, BGSU students are not able to register at their campus addresses at orientation, since they have not moved in yet. Furthermore, Ohio only allows pre-registration for 17-year-olds if they will have turned 18 before the next general election. Since not all incoming students fulfill this requirement, some are unable to register.

Despite the challenges, Phillip feels it’s important to start conversations about voting and civic engagement at orientation. He’s introduced himself to hundreds of students. He wants to make sure each student knows how to register and where to find the Vote Everywhere team when they need help. Phillip believes this is the start of a conversation. “University is about more than academics. For me, it’s really important to show people what it means to be a citizen. What it means to be informed. What it means to be a voter,” Phillip says. “I’ve gone through a substantial change during my college career, so I think it’s important to show students from day one that this is what college is all about.”

About the Author

Emily Curran is the Communications and Development Manager of The Andrew Goodman Foundation. Emily holds a Ph.D. in History and Culture from Drew University, where she focused on twentieth-century American cultural history, culminating in a dissertation entitled, “Natural and Technological Wonders: Embracing Modernity at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.” She received her Bachelor’s degree in History and American Studies from Ramapo College, where she now teaches as an adjunct professor. Prior to joining AGF, she worked as the Visitor Services Coordinator at the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, and she remains an active volunteer with the museum.