Miami nationally recognized for increasing student civic engagement

Photo from 1964 Freedom Summer training.

Singing We Shall Overcome, this group of Freedom Summer volunteers in 1964 begins its journey from Oxford, Ohio to Mississippi. Despite the dangers, more than 1,000 college students volunteered to canvass, teach and establish community centers. (Photo, Ted Polumbaum, Newseum Collection)

Miami University received a Champion Award for its Freedom Summer App at the first-ever ALL IN Challenge Awards Ceremony on Oct. 19. The awards recognize colleges and universities committed to increasing college student voting rates and civic participation.

The app was designated as “most innovative” by the members of the ALL IN Challenge advisory board. Miami also earned a Bronze Seal for achieving a student voting rate between 50 and 59 percent. More than 30 awards were announced.

Freedom Summer refers to the summer of 1964, when nearly 800 volunteers trained at then-Western College for Women in Oxford (Western campus is now part of Miami) before heading south to register black voters and set up Freedom Schools and community centers. The app, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, uses mobile technology and interactive media to transport users to 1964 to train as Freedom Summer volunteers. As participants follow in the footsteps of freedom fighters on the site where events took place, they unlock the story of a Freedom Summer volunteer. Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, associate professor of theatre, spearheaded the project with a recent class and accepted the award on Miami’s behalf.

“In the spirit of Freedom Summer and aligned with our Code of Love and Honor, Miami’s faculty, staff, administration and students are committed to working to create an awareness of societal issues and concerns of the day,” said Gregory Crawford, president of Miami University. “The work of Dr. Armstrong and the active engagement of our students is evidence of the path we follow.”

Students sign up during voter registration.

Miami also earned a Bronze Seal for achieving a student voting rate between 50 and 59 percent.

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge encourages higher education institutions to help students form habits of active and informed citizenship and make democratic participation a core value on their campus. By joining the challenge, campuses commit to:

  • Convening a campuswide committee that includes members from academic affairs, student affairs, and the student body, as well as any other relevant stakeholders.
  • Developing and implementing an action plan to improve democratic engagement.
  • Participating in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) in order to measure student voting rates.
  • Sharing their campus’ action plan and NSLVE results in order to be eligible for a recognition seal and/or awards.

“We deeply value the important role the ALL IN Democracy Challenge plays in supporting increased civic engagement in college students,” said Christie Zwahlen, Miami’s director of community engagement and service. “We strive to cultivate active citizenship across the political spectrum and provide avenues for students' voices to be heard.”

Student participation in elections has increased in recent years. A report, “Democracy Counts: A Report on U.S. College and University Student Voting,” from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement at Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy in Higher Education shows that between the two most recent presidential elections, student voting went from 45.1 percent of eligible voters in 2012 to 48.3 percent in 2016 – a 7 percent improvement. Miami’s data reveals a voting rate higher than national averages, with 51.0 percent in 2012 and 55.9 percent in 2016.

“Miami is not only ensuring that a more representative population participates in our nation’s democracy but is educating students to be civic-minded. They are an example to be emulated,” said Zaneeta E. Daver, director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.

Nearly 300 campuses enrolling more than 4 million students have joined the challenge since its launch in summer 2016.  A full list of award winners is now available.