A panel of students and faculty presented summaries of Penn's voter engagement initiatives to the Board of Trustees Student Life Committee on Thursday. The panel explored a series of student and university programs increasing voting awareness among both college students and high school students in the city.
The end goal of voter engagement was to teach students about democracy, said Cory Bowman, the Associate Director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
"More than voter turnout, our work is about advancing the democratic development of students, and particularly doing so through projects that have to do with teaching, learning, and research here at Penn," Bowman said.
The Netter Center is “the hub” of Penn Leads the Vote, a student-run program to increase voter turnout. PLTV's director, 2019 College graduate Benjamin Oh, talked about the immense success of the PLTV initiatives.
There was a 465% increase in on-campus voter turnout in 2018, followed by an approximate 400% increase in the recent elections on Nov. 5, Oh said.
He added that the success is in part as a result of events with celebrities such as Mike Birbiglia and John Legend, in which they “talk about voting in a more accessible way.”
These events, “which don’t cater exclusively to people interested in politics already, are really the way that we can drive increases in student voter turnout beyond what we see now," Oh said.
Communications professor Emily Falk talked about her class, Communications 310, that examined how to improve voter turnout. She said the class is “completely and totally oriented around real-world problem solving and doing real research.”
Nursing junior Sukie Chek talked about the Civic Youth Action Partnership program, which has “a focus on education and its role in society."
She said the initiative teaches civics to grade school students at the Benjamin B. Comegys School. The curriculum includes democracy, branches of government, and the impact of public policy on the neighborhood, schools, and the city.
College sophomore Jay Falk spoke about the Ballot Z project, which is designed to “energize and get … students from Generation Z to the polls.”
Regarding voter engagement in general, Oh said it “affect[s] the power students believe they have to truly make a difference."
"It permeates not only in their civic engagement, but also impacts the way that they approach challenges in life, support each other, and value themselves," he said.