On June 9, 2016 Dr. Lusharon Wiley and the committee for Spotlight Inclusion/SPLC on Campus began the planning for the fall and spring semester. We decided to take a different approach from the traditional speaker event and instead create weeklong events to register students and community members to vote. I was elated because, for me, there is no greater civic responsibility than to exercise the vote.
We began our quest to register voters with the assistance of the Escambia county Supervisor of Elections office of and students from the Social Work department. We met in the Commons at the University of West Florida to begin the process of registering voters. I was excited to find many students stated they were already registered. Volunteers stopped students, approached them in the dining hall, and asked them if they were registered to vote. Many students had questions on how to vote, where to vote, and why they should vote. The first day of registration 31 students registered to vote!
Screening SPLC’s Doc on Voting Rights
Later that evening the Spotlight Inclusion/SPLC on Campus event welcomed several speakers, including Dr. Susan Jans-Thomas. She shared the extraordinary account of her recent walk to Montgomery on the anniversary of the Selma march. The night would not have been complete without viewing the moving and informative SPLC documentary “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot.” The movie shared the enormous courage, and selflessness of young African American students who took it upon themselves to help secure the right to vote for so many. Our guest speaker Reverend H.K. Matthews, had a personal message that could not be ignored. Reverend Matthews account of Selma was personal, he stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to rally as a teen. I caught myself imaging the strength and courage he must have had, to deny the fear he must have had, when facing the armed police of Selma. I wondered for a moment, if I would have been able to do the same. The young men of 1965, such as Reverend Matthews, were in my mind all week as we registered voters.
Each day that week, we met in the commons from eleven o’clock in the morning to one o’clock in the afternoon with different volunteers such as; the League Women Voters, Graduate Students from the Social Work department, UWF Professors such as Dr. Cotton, and Julie Patton, UWF staff such as Dawn Rocky and Rachel Blakesley and the most helpful Student Government Association. The push to get students registered was a great success by the end of the week we had a total of 107 students registered!
Each day of the drive I had in the back of my mind the enormous sacrifices so many have endured to secure the rights for voters in America. From the Nineteenth Amendment that secured the women’s right to vote to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Americans have fought hard to secure the right to have a voice in the way they are governed. I look around at the news today and I see how voting rights are be challenged in some states with strict voter I.D. laws. It is most important that those who are registered to vote get out and vote on election day. I heard several times from students that they didn’t want to vote because they don’t like either candidate running for president. I quickly reminded them that the election includes many others running for office, as well as amendments to vote on.
I want to say a special thank you, as none of this would be possible without the tireless efforts of Dr. Lusharon Wiley, our advisor. She inspires us to be more thoughtful, more genuine and of course more inclusive.
I want to end with this, do not squander your right to vote! Many have bled, and died for your right to vote and we should honor them by voting this November.
Jane Montavon, MSW student and member of the Graduate Student Social Work Association, University of West Florida