A unified belief in the importance of civic engagement in higher education connects students to leadership all the way to the top of the Texas A&M University System. Ideas diverge over how best to encourage active participation and who shoulders responsibility for creating an educated citizenry.
Who should be leading the charge at Texas A&M Univeristy?
With all eyes on the November election, student inboxes are filled with emails from partisan, nonpartisan and bipartisan organizations reminding college students of voter registration deadlines and events designed to engage students in the democratic process. Many professors incorporate the upcoming election in their hybridized classes. The question remains: is enough being done to promote an active and educated citizenry at Texas A&M?
According to Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, the effectiveness of instructors in creating an informed citizenry determines the future of the nation. As such, it is the responsibility of the System to graduate educated individuals.
“Land grant universities were created ... to feed the country, to build a better world and to protect it,” wrote Sharp in an email statement. “We take ordinary kids and turn them into extraordinary young adults.”
The free, robust dialogue encouraged by Texas A&M is a fulfillment of its natural responsibility toward civic duty, Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young said.
“Voting really is a critical thing, and it fits Texas A&M because we are about service and engagement,” Young said, adding that student focus had to be on local, not just national, issues and elections.
“You have to pay attention, especially to local government,” Young said. “If you really want schools to be integrated and deal with issues of disparity and opportunity, that’s a local decision. If there’s a change you want to see, you need to go out and vote — every election — not just this year.”
Young said he believes the process of voter engagement is effectively facilitated by administrators with the presence of voting locations on campus, ongoing discussions about making parking free for voters and added safety precautions in light of COVID-19.
Student leaders said voting initiatives could be better supported by administration.
Texas A&M does not actively encourage voter registration because there are no direct initiatives that come from the administrative level, said Helena MacCrossan, Student Government Association vice president of municipal affairs.
“The best thing they do is allow so many different organizations to promote political ideas and engagement,” MacCrossan said. “If the administrative and system levels were able to get involved and really promote, it would definitely help.”
MacCrossan said there is a nationwide initiative for universities to provide one-click voter information from the school’s main website.
“That would definitely make a change and make voting more accessible,” MacCrossan said.
Gig the Vote, the SGA voting initiative that MacCrossan oversees, historically has not been effective in promoting civic engagement or voter registration, she said.
“I don’t know if we’ve been super successful or made that much of an impact,” MacCrossan said. “That’s something that our organization is really trying to change this year.”
Political science senior Sofia Lozano said she started a nonpartisan organization, Aggies Vote, to increase Brazos County voter turnout in 2018 with only limited success.
“We are grateful that there’s a polling location on campus – most campuses don’t have a polling location – but other than that, we don’t really get a lot of help from A&M itself or from student government,” Lozano said.
Partisan organizations active on campus include Aggies For Joe, Texas A&M Moderates and Texas A&M College Republicans. Among the groups, some are working to register voters, others to train poll workers while all are sharing their perspective on policies and positions at stake in the upcoming election. Overall, numerous campus organizations are working to promote an active citizenry, and many do the work with little external assistance.
“Texas A&M, from 2018, showed a great voter registration rate of 82 percent with just shy of 50 percent of students going out and voting,” MacCrossan said. “The biggest thing is trying to get to those students who aren’t actively looking for ways to be engaged.
“We are hoping to see a good rise in turnout with the passion revolving around the November elections,” MacCrossan said. “But it really does start with registration.”
This story is a collaboration between The Battalion and upperclassmen in Texas A&M's journalism degree. To see the online copy of the "All Things Voting" print edition, click here.