BLACKSBURG, Va. – Engaging our youngest voters in a time of disinformation. That’s the idea behind a new program at Virginia Tech where students learn why their voice matters and then can engage in meaningful conversations across different viewpoints.
“If we can get college students registered to vote and in the habit, then they will be active voters and citizens from then on,” said Beth Obenshain with the League of Women Voters in Montgomery County.
The group partnered with Virginia Tech for a conversation on women and politics.
“One of the things we want is for college students and younger voters to realize that they are a powerful block if they just get together and register and believe that their vote matters,” said Obenshain. “Who you elect as mayor and town council probably has a more immediate impact on your life than who you vote for as president of the United States but that’s a very hard message.”
But it’s a message that students like sophomore Eisha KC want their peers to hear.
“Change comes from voting. They talk about this and that and that, but they’re not voting out here. They’re not like civically engaged. None of my friends were back at home and I want to make that an important thing everywhere, even on campus,” said KC, who is also part of the Hokies Vote Caucus.
This event is part of deliberative dialogues. The series started this semester.
Opal Lee, known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, was at Tech talking to students earlier this year.
“I think you’re seeing a group of students that are motivated, you know, we have Ut Prosim as the university motto,” said Jes Davis, VT Assistant Director for Leadership and Civic Engagement.
These are forums where Davis says everyone can learn about issues and differences.
“I think we’re seeing a lot more divisiveness in society broadly. There’s a lot of mis and disinformation that is out there. This allows students to come together, have a conversation about a topic and really kind of walk away and think through ‘What does this mean for my community?’ Because we also know that solutions look different for every community, right? It’s not going to be the same. So how can we talk through what those look like for our community here?” said Davis.
“I feel like our young minds are very important because we’re not going to see change without voting and from voting, we’ll see change in the future, you know,” said KC.
Davis says Virginia Tech is starting a citizen democracy leadership program in the fall semester. It will teach students about what does democracy look like? What does it look like to be civically engaged?
We’ll have more later this month in our Solutionaries series on how Virginia Tech has 90% voter registration on campus.
This story is part of a series called “Solutionaries,” where we set out to explore innovative ways people are working to fight problems we’re all facing. Inflation, affordable housing, the climate crisis, and much more. You can find hours of stories here.