Lory Student Center: Supporting a history of student engagement in our democracy

A national study reports that Colorado State University’s student participation in recent presidential elections exceeded other colleges and universities across the country. And helping students engage in our democracy has long been a priority of the Lory Student Center and departments and individuals across campus.

In normal years, CSU student organizations and departments would host information tables on the active LSC plaza, schedule in-person events in the LSC Theatre or Ballrooms, and plan debate and election night watch parties to encourage students to register to vote and be engaged in our democratic process.

This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, large gatherings are off limits and fewer students are walking through the campus, and faculty, staff and students have been forced to think of new and creative ways for staying informed and engaging in the democratic process.

CSU has a strong and progressive history of students exercising their right to vote.  According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), the first and only study to objectively examine student and institutional-level data on college student voting, with more than 1,100 campuses and 30 million student records, CSU’s student participation in recent presidential elections exceeded other colleges and universities across the country.  In 2012, the voting rate for CSU students was 57.2% (compared to 46.9% for all institutions), and in 2016, the voting rate for CSU students was 60.1% (compared to 50.4% for all institutions).

Mike Ellis portrait

Michael Ellis is Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Executive Director 0f the Lory Student Center.

Voting is fundamental

Voting by Colorado State students regularly exceeds the national average of other universities. Source: National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement

While voting is by no means the only indicator of civic engagement, it is fundamental to any democracy.  Understanding the voting rates of CSU students provides an important measure that can catalyze improvements in academic programs, co-curricular experiences, and ultimately student learning and engagement.  The message is clear for those CSU students eligible to cast a ballot. Historically, CSU students have done so, and the hope is we can do better in this and future elections.

The Lory Student Center’s goal, among others in the Division of Student Affairs and across campus, has been to create and support a culture of voting and civic engagement so that everywhere a student turns, someone is reinforcing its importance.

Central to the purpose of the LSC is providing learning opportunities in communal context with other people, whether through student employment, intentionality in programs and services, involvement in diverse student organizations, or serendipitously within the LSC’s lounges, galleries and meeting spaces. What we know is community-oriented environments, whether in-person or online, have a catalyzing effect as they encourage students to interact in meaningful ways that deepen their understanding of one another and lead to deeper learning.

These interactions help students become more aware of their own values and how to apply them to their lives on campus, in their communities, and for application later in life.  For all of us, there’s no better way to apply what we learn, including understanding the privileges associated with participating in our civic responsibilities, than exercising one’s right to vote.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for all of us, know the Lory Student Center and our campus community will continue to embrace opportunities to change in response to changing student needs in a democratic society.

In anticipation of expanding student expectations as they relate to a global democratic society, shifting from elections and voting as episodic flashpoints every two or four years to embracing political dialog, learning, and equity will be more educationally substantive and sustainable year-round.