Who are we? This action plan was developed over the fall 2019 semester at Clemson University through a coalition that we collectively named "Clemson Votes: Democracy in Action." We are students, staff members, faculty members, and community members on the leadership group, also connecting and working with our local election board. As we moved from planning to implementation, we invited others to join us, building a network of those working toward the common goal of improving student democratic engagement. This plan goes through the Nov 2020 election, and we will continue to revisit, revise, adapt, and set new goals in spring 2021 and after.
What do we seek to do? We seek to initiate and sustain broad-based, nonpartisan efforts aimed at improving the democratic engagement of our student population - graduate and undergraduate.
Where do we seek to make an impact? Our main campus of Clemson University is in the Upstate region of South Carolina, and the majority of our students are connected in face-to-face educational activities here. Through training, curriculum, co-curriculum, programming, and collaborative messaging, we aim to also reach the smaller numbers of students embedded in our innovation campuses throughout the state.
Why now? Prior to this year, Clemson University has had no broader group working to improve student democratic engagement. Delving into our institutional data helps us identify areas to address.
When will we make an impact? We have established short-term goals and long-term goals. Our Clemson Votes leadership coalition will be tracking and reporting to each other regularly to hold ourselves accountable for both types of goals. A number of initiatives will be in operation for the 2020 election, but we will also be working on democratic engagement more broadly and will extend beyond 2020.
How? Our co-leaders from academic and student affairs will facilitate the continued coalition meetings during the implementation phases of our campus action plan. Leaders from individual offices and units will be accomplishing their tasks according to our strategies outlined below. We will be working short-term and long-term.
Clemson Votes consists of students, faculty, staff, and community members comprising a diverse cross-section of the Clemson University community and surrounding area. The co-leaders are academic Associate Dean Dr. Bridget Trogden and student affairs Associate Director for Student Leadership & Engagement Kate Radford, who navigated the group through fall 2019 brainstorming meetings and coordination to create the action plan, now in the implementation phases.
The coalition includes students representing the organizations of Clemson University Undergraduate and Graduate Student Government, the student-run newsletter The Sensible Tiger, the Information Technology Advisory Board, Greek life, departmental clubs and organizations, campus interns, student affiliates of national parties, and the Pearce Center for Professional Communication.
Faculty representatives come from disciplines of political science, sociology, English, economics, science, business, women's leadership, mathematics, and University Libraries. The Director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation provides coalition input, and a faculty Teaching Fellow is instrumental in carrying our work forward.
Staff and faculty representatives from the Clemson Home unit, the Gantt Multicultural Center, the Center for Student Engagement & Leadership, the Office of Student Transitions, College advising centers, and Student Athlete Development are part of the coalition. The faculty and staff on our coalition are advisors for student organizations. They teach classes. They are involved in community organizations and have a dedication to diversity and inclusion. They are leaders on and off campus.
Furthermore, we feel especially fortunate to have the support of the Pickens County NAACP and the local League of Women Voters with specific representation on our coalition. Our community experts provide much depth and breadth of experience to our first ever campus plan and have established connections with the local elections board and elections officials.
To create this plan, we had a series of five focused meetings over the fall of 2019 for vetting and sorting ideas into strategies. We used a modified version of the "Votes and Ballots" templates to guide our planning. These strategies were then utilized to create our five central short-term and long-term goals. Since January 2020, the Clemson Clemson leadership coalition has moved to the implementation phase.
Clemson University is a public-land grant institution. Our founding and values are inherently related to the concepts of citizenship, with a mission where "Our primary purpose is educating undergraduate and graduate students to think deeply about and engage in the social, scientific, economic, and professional challenges of our times."
We are currently in an era of unprecedented growth and demand, along with a recent Carnegie reclassification as a Doctoral University - Very high research activity (R01), up from an R02 less than five years ago. Many things are changing. Examining our institutional landscape helps us to continue to grow and serve our students' needs.
We would describe our institutional commitment in two ways: through positional leader support and through structural support. Positionally, our Provost/Chief Academic Officer and our Vice President of Student Affairs are both aware of and in support of our democratic engagement initiative. Furthermore, Provost Jones helped to champion the creation of the DemocrACCy challenge with all of the ACC-AC (Atlantic Coast Conference-Academic Consortium) Provosts in the fall of 2019, a challenge that Clemson is helping to lead and orchestrate. In terms of our structural support, building our Clemson Votes coalition was not difficult; we have multiple campus leaders who are "all in" for democratic engagement initiatives. As a large campus, our biggest challenge to the coalition will be in continuing to coordinate across units, but we are committed to doing so and working toward our goals and strategies outlined in the sections below.
In the process of our Clemson Votes planning and creating this document, we have realized that we do not have explicit democratic engagement goals or student learning outcomes at the institutional level. As a result, we have created a long-term goal (Goal 5) to establish these outcomes, embed them in the student experience, and hold ourselves accountable through our regular annual reporting mechanisms (Campus Labs).
We are glad to have the opportunity to make our NSLVE data public. (Links are at the very top of this document.) Prior to the 2018 midterms, Clemson had never acquired the NSLVE data. In both our Clemson Votes coalition meetings and in talking with stakeholders, we see the value of this data to help us better understand our students, their habits, and where we should focus our efforts.
Like the rest of the nation, we are optimistic in learning that student voting rates drastically improved from 2014 to 2018. It is with both pleasure and humility that we accept our Gold Seal for a greater than average student voting rate from the 2018 election. Pleasure because things are better than we thought...humility because we have only just now begun the hard work of improving democratic engagement.
We found our data to be surprising in some ways and not in others. With regard to the 2018 midterms, a large number of our students are registered to vote (80%). However, of those who are registered, only a little over half (51.3%) actually voted. For the 2016 election, nearly 80% of the students voted, but voter registration was lower (72.8%). We believe - based on this data and evidence from the literature - that focusing our efforts on voter education and voter turnout will be most important for our students, along with providing students with accurate and reliable information on registering to vote either in our local precinct or at their permanent home addresses.
We explicitly utilized our NSLVE data in setting our goals and will explicitly use our NSLVE data in measuring our progress on those goals.
Because of how our National Student Clearinghouse data is reported, we could not extrapolate from the NSLVE reports much meaningful data on a number of student demographic variables, including race and gender. However, we found the voter breakdown by discipline/major to be quite enlightening. Clemson student data seems to follow national trends: students studying education, history, and public service professions vote at the highest rates. STEM students vote at the lowest rates, which is especially problematic at a school such as ours where these fields constitute a large percentage of our student population.
As one result of analyzing this data, our coalition has developed strategies specifically aimed toward improving the infusion of real-world issues into our STEM courses and STEM curricula. We are in the midst of curricular revisions (general education revision, high-impact practices and engaged learning), and using our NSLVE data as both an indicator and a lever provides an opportunity for preparing better citizens.
Strategies for Goal 1
Orientation and advising: a.) Student Orientation Ambassadors will have training about the importance of registering to vote and how-to for sharing with new students. b.) Advisors will be prepared with training to incorporate conversations about voter registration/education/turn-out into advising sessions. c.) Table at summer advising resource fair. d.) Incorporate voter registration information into University-level graduate student orientation.
Technology and support: a.) Cultivate the use of TurboVote through Tiger Quest. b.) Add TurboVote to the MyClemson app.
Involvement pathways: a.) Voter registration tables at Tiger Prowl. (Background information: this is the campus involvement fair, held every January and August). b.) Voter registration tables at all service events. c.) Develop and deliver student organization presentations and registration challenges.
Strategies for Goal 2
Reducing barriers: a.) Incorporate absentee ballot module into study abroad pre-departure orientation. b.) Work with faculty & staff taking University-sponsored trips over fall break to prepare absentee ballot information. (Background information: election day is a no-school holiday in South Carolina, as per state statute. However, Clemson University moves fall break back to accommodate election day every two years, so many social and academic trips are held over fall break.) c.) Relay state-specific information to students about registration and absentee voting during out-of-state socials during new student Welcome Week.
GOTV communication: a.) Develop clear and consistent messaging about voter education through our PR platforms. b.) Implement our social media plan, including student Instagram take-overs. c.) Partner with CAT Bus and the Parking & Transportation Services Unit for signage/PR and GOTV transportation.
GOTV education: a.) Create modules for Residential Education to include voting decisions for residential students. b.) Work with League of Women Voters for training and presentations from the local election boards.
Strategies for Goal 3
Teaching development for faculty: a.) Develop faculty reading group around teaching for democracy and/or incorporating social issues into courses. b.) Host teaching roundtables specifically for STEM faculty around teaching for democracy and/or incorporating social issues into courses. c.) Create Canvas modules (learning management system) and post in Canvas Commons for any faculty member to incorporate.
Course-based projects and training: a.) Coordinate with the Women's Leadership program on issues-based and service-learning projects in the capstone coruse. b.) Advertise to faculty a menu of project-based learning opportunities for democratic engagement. c.) Develop materials and training for new faculty and graduate student teachers of record on student voter registration/education/participation and democratic engagement.
Strategies for Goal 4
Resources for student organizations: a.) Develop a manual for student organizations to share guidelines for bringing political candidates to campus. b.) Develop a packet to loan out to student organizations for democratic engagement activities.
Cultural programming and diversity emphasis: a.) Voter registration & education during cultural months, with emphasis on issues impacting specific populations (Black History Month, Women's History Month, Pride Week, Latinx Heritage Month, Asian American/Pacific Islanders Month; b.) Feature social and democratic engagement issues through Clemson Libraries displays; c.) Develop democratic engagement night series at Barnes Center. (Background information: this is the after-hours student programming hub on campus.)
Strategies for Goal 5
Collaboration: Start working toward this goal through alignment of current initiatives.
We have intentionally used this Adobe Spark Page format for creating our campus plan, not only for the visual appeal, but also because it allows for:
- The use of URLs for public posting of our NSLVE and institutional data related to democratic engagement;
- The inclusion of our Google Doc, tracking real-time strategies and key contacts;
- Continuous updating as we determine what works for us and what tweaks need to be made to our action plan over time.
Furthermore, we have:
- Established Clemson Votes as a group within our student organizations database (Tiger Quest) so that the coalition is searchable and trackable;
- Created a blog for faculty on sharing resources;
- Created the necessary links to the aforementioned website from the Office of Teaching and Effectiveness and Innovation webpage for a faculty audience.
- All of the above have access to this SparkPage for the most up-to-date information on our plan.
In the 2020-2021 academic year, we will start:
- creating the infrastructure for a regular reporting of our activities within Campus Labs. This helps with continuity, accountability, and visibility.
- collecting and reporting our campus voter activities through the "DemocrACCy" challenge Qualtrics form, which will be used by all ACC institutions for reporting and elevating our collective work.
Information is collected and analyzed as we receive NSLVE data (Goal 1 and Goal 2), work with faculty and students (Goal 3), work across units for programming (Goal 4), and create our long-term outcomes (Goal 5). The three institution-wide surveys discussed in Section IV also guide our work and provide data on areas where we will establish action.
We believe that our short-term goals all fulfill the SMARTIE (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timebound, inclusive, and equitable) recommendations and we will have regular evaluation to ensure that we are reaching them on an annual basis. We will have regular check-ins three times each semester (beginning, middle, end) with our Clemson Votes leadership coalition to make sure we are on track with our strategies that contribute to the success of our goals.
Our long-term goal is more comprehensive. As we work on institutionalizing goals 1-4, we will be laying the groundwork for goal 5. As mentioned in the commitment section, much strategic planning and much change is currently underway at Clemson. Rather than starting an entirely new area for democratic engagement and civic learning student learning outcomes, we will be working toward aligning this goal with other strategic initiatives.