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Many colleges celebrate their homecoming season in the fall, and at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), homecoming is truly a holiday.
But among all the typical excitement, the N.C. A&T Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement (OLCE) is using this time for voter education — emphasizing the importance of Black voices at the polls.
Vote-coming: The Livest Poll ‘Darty’
On Oct. 21, the Friday before homecoming week, N.C. A&T’s OLCE, in collaboration with the North Carolina Black Alliance, celebrated “Votecoming: The Livest Poll Darty” as a part of the HBCU Get Out the Vote Tour 2022.
“Darties,” or day-parties, are a staple in HBCU culture. Hosted by Juss Mikey, A&T’s unofficial campus host, this event featured a DJ, free food, inflatables, games, a photo booth, and a station to talk with students on the importance of voting. Students can then cast their vote after carpooling to a nearby polling site.
The OLCE leadership team — Tiffany Seawright, LeKeisha Franklin, Dr. Dawn Murphy, and LaTanya Ruff — worked on organization and logistics, while the student Civic Fellows created and posted call-to-action videos and other promotional material to encourage peers to attend.
Seawright, in reflecting on the event, was proud of its success, especially in the midst of planning other homecoming activities. She said she wanted to impress upon students that if they should show up for any election, let it be the midterms.
“The reason why this is so important — the midterms are so important — we’ve got all 14 of our (congressional) seats that need to be filled, right? And then our senator and U.S. House, that’s important,” she said.
Student civic engagement
The OCLE has been holding various Vote-coming for weeks leading up to the election.
The office hosted an Open Mic Night dedicated to highlighting Black voices in politics and civic engagement, and educating Black students on the importance of expressing their voices through their ballot. Performances included raps, poems, and songs written by students on the topic at hand.
Austen Hill, a first-year psychology student, said he was exposed to new voices and perspectives. Hill added that the Open Mic Night “dispelled any thought that my voice as a young African American at the polls will go unheard.”
Other events hosted by OLCE this semester included a National Voter Registration Day Block Party and a Ballot Business Declassified Voter Education Fair. The office frequently collaborates with other civic engagement organizations like the N.C. Black Alliance, You Can Vote N.C., Common Cause N.C., and the university’s Divine Nine chapters.
The office also held a What’s On the Ballot Town Hall, in collaboration with the Grandiflora Chapter of The Links, Inc., and the school’s history and political science department.
The event spotlighted issues like felon disenfranchisement, HBCU funding, and student debt, and asked students to weigh in on who these issues impact. “Ballot Advisers” consisting of political officers, political scientists, professors, and financial professionals addressed the students.
“I got involved with OLCE because I love the field of work they do,” said sophomore journalism student Re’Onna Vines, who said she was inspired by the representation of Black women in leadership. “And I knew my creative leadership would bring diversity to (their) cause.”
Why is voting a hot topic at N.C. A&T?
N.C. A&T has a long history of motivating students to become active in the political process. The university has high voter turnout compared to other institutions. The university is also well known for its participation in the Civil Rights Movement era sit-ins, most notably the Greensboro Four, igniting more protests across other campuses.
More recently, students protested the splitting of their campus into two separate voting districts. Laurel Street, which runs through N.C. A&T’s campus, became the dividing line between N.C. District 6 and N.C. District 13 and split up votes of the 13,000 students at the HBCU.
N.C. A&T students also advocated for an on-campus polling site, which they got before the 2020 election but have since lost. Now that the district lines have been redrawn and the campus is contained in one district, OLCE said it wants to give students tools to ensure their voices are heard.
During the 2020 election, 92% of students registered to vote, and 71% of them voted. While closing that gap is the current goal, OLCE knows it has an impact on the university’s surrounding community also.
“I definitely have been seeing the fruits of my labor in OLCE because people are starting to get educated on the topics and getting excited to learn,” Civic Fellow co-lead and junior economics student Jasmine Amaniampong said. “And the events are really fun that we have, and I think that’s great that we can have a collaboration of fun and seriousness.”