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#JWUVotes: 5 Ways to Get (and Stay) Involved

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10/14/16 | How can we all make a difference during election season? The ninth session of JWU Providence’s Global Speakers series, titled Civic Engagement & Informed Citizenship, took a head-on approach to demystify the current political climate — and offer strategic methods to ensure that all JWU students can make their voices heard.

The 4 panelists represented 3 generations of political activism and brought a collective wealth of lived experience to the table:

  • Nellie Gorbea, RI Secretary of State
  • Jane Koster, president, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island
  • Emily Lynch, assistant professor, Political Science, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Lexy Parsons, president, JWU Providence Student Government Association
  • Moderator: Sierra Barter, JWU Providence social media coordinator

Their advice to students was straightforward, encouraging and practical.

Being an asset to your community is really important.” -Lexy Parsons

1) Define your own level of engagement.

All of the panelists emphasized starting small (and within your comfort zone), then building upon/expanding actions from there.

SECRETARY GORBEA: Civics with a small ‘c’ really means being a part of things. It’s asking questions and engaging in conversation in a constructive way. “Can we do this better?”

LEXY PARSONS: Making a difference in your community — whether it’s in your classroom, your campus or the state itself — is about living up to your full potential. Being an asset to your community is really important.

2) Passionate about a cause? Find a like-minded group to work with.

GORBEA: If you’re an RI resident, find boards or commissions you can be a part of. As a non-resident, get involved in the nonprofit sector. I learned so much serving as a board member, particularly about how things work. It’s also a good way to learn about yourself — what do you want to do? You want to be in rooms where things are happening. Listen, then ask, “How can I help?”

PRESIDENT KOSTER: We all have our heart set on certain issues. When you’re part of a group, listening is important, as is coming to an agreement you can all believe in — that’s necessary if you’re going to be an advocate for a cause. Have a voice, respect the mission and get involved now!

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT PANELISTS (L-R): JWU PROVIDENCE SGA PRESIDENT LEXY PARSONS, JWU POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EMILY LYNCH, LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS PRESIDENT JANE KOSTER AND RI SECRETARY OF STATE NELLIE GORBEA.

Civic Engagement panelists at JWU BRIDGE

PARSONS: Being engaged with the JWU community is a good first step. There are now more than 130 student-run organizations on campus — start making connections.

PROFESSOR LYNCH: If there isn’t an existing club that addresses your interests, start one!

PARSONS: And hopefully, student government on campus isn’t intimidating. Use the assets and resources at your disposal to their fullest!

GORBEA: I’d also say that informational interviews [where you reach out to an organization that interests you to learn more about their mission and expertise] are a very freeing exercise. You will gain a whole new vantage point, both about the industry or field you’re learning about, and your own interests.

3) Stay informed.

GORBEA: Elections are not meant to be pop quizzes. But staying informed should not feel like a burden — you can download the ballot ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the issues. Google stuff you don’t know. Come in ready.

KOSTER: Go to the League of Women Voter’s website (either Rhode Island or national). We outline the big issues there.

LYNCH: I recommend downloading an app from a trusted national news source.

BARTER: I’m obsessed with “The Skimm,” a daily newsletter that breaks down the most essential news stories.

4) Take part in campus and community events — it’s a great way to network.

GORBEA: Getting involved is actually really good for your careers. It’s a fantastic way to meet people. I can tell you that I would not be RI Secretary of State if I hadn’t gotten involved early. My comfort zone early on was getting involved in my community. They gave me a place to feel out my skills — strengths and weaknesses alike.

5) Don’t get discouraged by heated political debate or confusing rhetoric — get the facts.

LYNCH: Go to nonpartisan sites like FactCheck.org.

GORBEA: Politifact.com is another good one. The RI Department of State has also developed a website, RIVotes.org, to get people excited about voting. It was created by millennials and for millennials. We’d love your feedback!

CIVICS LESSON ON THE BACK PAGE OF RI VOTER INFO HANDBOOK. DESIGN: LAKUNA DESIGN, NEWPORT

RI Voter Info Handbook. Design by Lakuna Design in Newport, RI.

Topics: Political Science