The St. Thomas community recently received high recognition for its increased voter registration engagement during the 2020 presidential election. St. Thomas earned the 2021 Platinum seal from the national, nonpartisan nonprofit Civic Nation for its efforts in civic engagement.
The university’s name was presented in November 2021 at the virtual ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge third biennial awards ceremony that recognized select higher education institutions, educators and students for their extraordinary work in student voter engagement.
St. Thomas students were not deterred by the COVID-19 pandemic when it came to casting their ballots. The university’s student voting rate increased in 2020 to 82.2% from 77.3% in 2016. In comparison, 66% of college students nationwide voted in the 2020 elections , according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). More than 840 institutions enrolling close to 9 million students participated in the ALL IN Challenge.
Volunteer students at St. Thomas led the charge. Kate Ostaffe '22 and Katelyn Padden '22 were granted fellowships through St. Thomas’ Campus Engagement Election Project.
“These two Tommies were the brains behind social media campaigns, all the voter outreach and programming efforts,” said Director of Innovation, Creative Content and Changemaking Manuela Hill-Muñoz, who works in Student Affairs and the Center for the Common Good.
Other students, including civil engineering major Sophia Faacks and criminal justice and sociology student Abby Johnson, pictured, handed out voter registration information and stickers to students from a station that was set up on St. Paul’s south campus in September 2020. There were five stations in all that were also outside of Tommie North, Anderson Student Center, John P. Monahan Plaza, O'Shaughnessy and Owens science halls, and in front of Murray-Herrick Campus Center.
The registration drive also involved the foresight and hard work of faculty and staff who came together under the Civic Engagement Voter Education and Advocacy Task Force (CEVEA), which was created to unify the voter education, civic engagement efforts.
“St. Thomas is lucky to have a leadership group that educates students about voting and promotes civic engagement across campus,” said Amy McDonough, chief of staff for President Julie Sullivan. “The Civic Engagement Voter Education and Advocacy Task Force has been instrumental in ensuring that we make nonpartisan civic engagement efforts a priority at St. Thomas, and their work played a role in increasing this participation of Tommies during a tumultuous and wild political year!”
The leadership team for the voter engagement involved more than 40 individuals across campus, including Hill-Muñoz, as well as Associate Vice Provost and Director of the School of Social Work Katharine Hill, Executive Director for the Center for the Common Good Theresa Ricke-Kiely, Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations Amy Gage and Assistant Professor of Social Work Roberto Aspholm.
“The efforts and work of CEVEA, the CEEP fellows and the passionate students over the 2020 elections cycle ensured that as a campus community that practices changemaking, we focused on developing democratic engaged Tommies that hosted educational panels with the Minnesota secretary of state, created ‘get out to vote’ social media campaigns and built voting campaigns that had community engagement and buy-in,” Hill-Muñoz said. “Notable was our partnerships with Athletics and the SAC group, which allowed us to host larger engagements with extensive reach.”
“The rise in voter participation and engagement for college students in last year’s presidential election amid a global pandemic was tremendous and will undoubtedly be tied to the tireless efforts of the dedicated students, faculty, administrators, and partner organizations that are part of the ALL IN Challenge network,” said Jen Domagal-Goldman, executive director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. “The hard work of these trailblazing honorees will help support many of the country’s future leaders in fulfilling the equitable, engaged vision of democracy to which we aspire.”