HBCU's working to increase voter turnout, engage students ahead of 2020 election

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- As the voter registration deadline approaches, HBCU's are continuing to find ways to make sure students stay connected with the voting process.

"We started in September with registration. We teamed up with the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to go out to students. We were there three times a week, sometimes twice a week, just registering students. We mailed in those registration forms and now we are switching to ensure students request those absentee ballot forms. So we're reaching out to them through social media, through e-mail," said Jameliah Pinder, a sophomore at Shaw University who serves as the Vice President of External Affairs for the Student Government Association.

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Pinder, who is from the Bahamas, cannot vote herself in the upcoming election. Still, she feels it's important to encourage those who are able to vote to take part in the elections.

"I always taught that it's important to use your voice. It's important to make sure your opinion is counted. (When I was) young, that's what my parents taught me. I was raised in a household where I was always allowed to voice my opinion on why I didn't like this or didn't like that. So coming here to a country I'm not from, I wanted to share that," said Pinder.

This month, she estimated the Student Government Association helped sign up 50 students.

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"I believe it's just that (students) are not aware of the problem that they have, and we need to work on educating students between the ages of 18-21 on the power they have," Pinder said.

Earlier this month, Shaw University took part in the first-ever HBCU Voting Summit, a collaborative effort that reviewed outreach strategies and ideas to increase participation.

"How do you get messages across in enough time so that people would be able to be informed," explained Valerie Ann Johnson, the university's Dean of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities.
As Pinder noted, part of that is a natural focus on education.

"When you get down to those really close thin margins, it makes you feel that you do have that power. And part of it is telling that narrative," Johnson said.

Johnson noted that this is an ongoing process.

"You don't just have one discussion and then that's it. If you keep the information on the tips of the students tongues, they're hearing about it all the time, they're going to be engaged more. And they will push it out through their platforms. And I think that's important to trust young people. Trust them to organize themselves in a way to make sense for them," Johnson said, crediting the work of the Student Government Association.

Next week, a group of Shaw students are set to release a video as part of an experiential learning project to maximize voter turn-out in November that will target 18-25-year-olds.

Shaw is not the only local HBCU to take part in efforts to enhance voting outreach efforts. NC Central is one of seven HBCU's to participate in the HBCU Heroes Lyft Rides Access Program, which provides students with donated ride codes to use on Election Day. The effort is funded in part by Chris Paul's Social Change Fund. Paul, a North Carolina native and Wake Forest alum, is partnering with Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony on the program.
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