This summer and fall CVP is writing profiles of colleges and universities and their efforts to educate students about voter registration, casting a ballot and developing democratic engagement. These campuses are a part of the Voter Friendly Campus designation project offered by CVP and NASPA.
by Matt Camarda, CVP Intern
Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) faces the same challenges as any two-year college in trying to engage its students: many students are part-time, and many are older than traditional college students. PVCC’s engagement efforts succeed because it provides leadership opportunities for its most passionate students and holds creative events open to the public.
A team of political science and sociology students hold registration drives in high traffic areas. This includes National Voter Registration Day, which PVCC expanded to Voter Registration Week; students partnered with Rock the Vote for an Instagram photo contest and took pictures with their proof of registration. Before the March primary, political science and journalism students teamed up to make a nonpartisan voter guide and distributed them via email and paper copies. Students also joined with professors to register students in their classes and encourage them to attend civic engagement events. Last year, students registered 320 voters.
Recruited by a political science professor, four students planned a weekend civic leadership conference to increase awareness of local issues. It attracted members of the Virginia General Assembly, local office holders, members of state advocacy groups, and over 80 students. Faculty and staff moderated panels on topics such as LGBT rights, policing, and women in politics. The event was a big success: a survey conducted after the event found that 81% of respondents learned something they could use in their daily lives.
In an impressive display of leadership, a group of geology and political science students lobbied the Virginia General Assembly to designate a local rock, Nelsonite, as the official state rock. The students collected hundreds of signatures and found a cosponsor, Senator Creigh Deeds. They convinced the legislature, and Governor Terry McAuliffe approved the measure, which took effect July 1.
To engage more casual students, PVCC hosts Free Speech Week. Last year, PVCC invited students to share their ideas on the Mobile Free Speech Monument, a shipping container provided by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. PVCC hosted that group’s director, Josh Wheeler, who gave a talk on the history and significance of the Confederate flag. On Constitution Day, PVCC held a presentation with the hosts of NPR’s “Your Weekly Constitutional.”
PVCC students are excited to participate in politics and can see the products of their work – from a highly attended conference, to hundreds of registered voters, to making history. While PVCC is only just beginning a coordinated effort to democratically engage their students, they have already had tremendous success.