As the semester begins and midterm elections draw near, student organizations are beginning mobilization efforts and engaging in political activism both on and off campus. Through their commitment to political participation, students at the College of William and Mary are working to raise political awareness and advocate for change.
Student organizations at the College have always been heavily involved with politics, especially since the 2016 presidential election and during the presidency of Donald Trump. During the general election, organizations such as VOX: Planned Parenthood Generation Action were working to get out the vote for reproductive rights and justice. In partnership with the Young Democrats, VOX helped to get its members involved with on-the-ground political action.
“We were … trying to get our members of our organization more interested in canvassing and phone banking,” VOX Co-president Jioni Tuck ’19 said.
The nonpartisan student education group Virginia21 was also involved with voter registration drives.
“[Virginia21 and NextGen] actually got a lot of people registered … around 1500 students,” Virginia21 President Will Parada ’19 said.
In direct response to the Trump administration’s rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act and the subsequent student DACA rally Sept. 5, 2017, the immigrant and undocumented rights advocacy group UndocuTribe was formed. UndocuTribe endeavors to create a safe space for immigrant students and educate the student population on issues concerning immigrants and undocumented peoples.
“People just feel happy that’s there a space where they can feel safe,” UndocuTribe Outreach Chair Aida Campos ’20 said. “Especially with current news … it’s nice to create a space for people and put research and education out for people who don’t know about the issues.”
Going forward, VOX, Virginia21 and UndocuTribe are all making plans for continued political action. UndocuTribe is continuing its lobbying work with the Virginia General Assembly and members of the organization have been carpooling to Richmond to fight for immigrant and undocumented rights in the state legislature.
“A lot of it does involve speaking personal stories in front of delegates, so that they can vote on bills,” Campos said. “As well as, phone bank for those bills kind of just to put that pressure on them to make votes that reflect what their constituents want.”
VOX currently has plans to get students involved with women’s rights issues in the greater Williamsburg area.
“We are working … to translate documents from English to Spanish for local OBGYN clinics,” VOX Co-president Emma Silverman ’20 said. “That’s something that we’re trying to do to be more intersectional and also confront issues that are happening for women who don’t speak in English.”
VOX is also working on a Pleasure 101 workshop with Planned Parenthood to highlight the importance of safe and consensual pleasure. The organization is also arranging multiple talks to highlight pro-abortion views and women’s rights, specifically in regards to accessibility to abortions and increased transparency on women’s rights issues.
This semester, Virginia21 is continuing its efforts to increase student knowledge of and participation in political issues. Virginia21 is currently working to establish a new polling station and lighten the assignment and test load on election days for students.
“We are planning for this semester to establish a polling location on campus,” Parada said. “We think that it would be a good idea to put one on campus to make it more convenient for students to vote.”
UndocuTribe currently has an interactive display in the Sadler Center and is planning an UndocuTribe Ally training session to inform students on how to be better allies to undocumented peoples. Virginia21 will be holding “What’s In Your Ballot” events to inform students about what political candidates stand for.
VOX will hold a “Pro-Choice Talk” Oct. 10 and an “Abortion Speak-Out” session Nov. 8, during which its members will talk about their experiences with women’s rights and pro-abortion issues.
VOX, Virginia21 and UndocuTribe demonstrate the intensity and dedication of students to participation in politics and activism. As the midterm elections approach, student groups like these are dedicated to their missions to encourage students to become politically conscious and active.
“There’s this view that millennials and young people just don’t care enough to learn about politics or vote …,” Parada said. “We’re trying to break that perception. When you think about it, we’re the generation that has the most to gain and the most to lose from either engaging [or] not engaging with politics.”