ETSU is "most improved" in SoCon Voter Participation Championship

Hannah Swayze • Updated Oct 28, 2017 at 10:35 AM

Last year, East Tennessee State University participated in the Southern Conference’s very first NCAA Division 1 conference championship for democratic involvement, “SoCon Votes.”

Just a few weeks ago ETSU received news it was the winner of the conference championship for “Most Improved Student Voter Participation,” with a 9.5 percent increase.

Numbers rose from 37.8 percent participation in 2012 to 47.3 percent in 2016.

Schools were required to sign up for the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, create a “playbook” detailing what actions the school would take to increase democratic engagement, and then implement the plans in the playbook. 

Carla Warner, director of Adult, Commuter and Transfer services, led the initiative. She was joined by a 12-member team that created the playbook and made the plan come to fruition on the ETSU campus in a span of two-and-a-half months. The team included members of the Student Government Association and other campus organizations as well as members of the ETSU faculty and staff from a variety of departments and offices.

Warner said the plan had two phases. The first phase was education. This helped students figure out if there were registered, how to register and when they needed to vote. Considering ETSU has many students from outside the area, many of whom are very young and would be voting in their first election, the team did a lot of finding polling places and registration.

The team had a particular focus on getting students to vote early, a focus that paid off considering the number of early voters saw a 9.5 percent increase.

The second phase of the plan is best described as encouragement.

This was the part of the plan that pushed students to get out and vote after being registered. It came in the form of 30 different events, like debate watch parties that drew droves of students, panel discussions with professors and even t-shirts and yard signs with the election date on them.

Warner also emphasized that the events were all politically neutral.

“I think an important thing it shows is with a concerted group effort like this, we can really have an impact on students and their lives and on their individual growth and helping them become better citizens. It was really a good thing,” said Warner.

Nathan Farnor, senior at ETSU and a member of the ETSU Board of Trustees, was vice president of the Student Government Association at the time was one of the student on the team for the voting initiative. He said that it was amazing to hear the news and an honor to be recognized, but added he wasn’t surprised because of the university’s emphasis on civic engagement as one of their strategic goals over the past few years.

“We really had a community and a university that supported us 110 percent,” said Farnor. “And I know that’s not the reality that every school has and I think that really aided us. And like I said, I’m really happy and glad that we won and ecstatic, but I also recognize that we’re very lucky that we have a school that puts that much faith and that much investment into civic engagement.”

An awards ceremony for ETSU will take place during the first half of the school’s football game against SoCon rival Wofford College Saturday. Warner said ETSU will be presented with an trophy and a monetary prize to continue similar activities in the the future. 

The game begins at 1 p.m. at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium, and the award will be presented right after the first quarter.

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