Creating ‘Civically Engaged Human Beings’

USFVotes volunteer table at Voter Registration “Pop-Up.” 
Photo courtesy of Angeline Vuong/Leo T. McCarthy Center

As California enters election season this fall, San Francisco residents will have the opportunity to make their voices heard by voting for representatives and state and local ballot propositions.  

In anticipation of this, the University’s largest election advocacy group on campus, USFVotes, spent Sept. 20 tabling on campus for National Voter Registration Day. 

National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan holiday that celebrates and encourages voting. Since its foundation in 2012, it has registered nearly 4.7 million voters, according to their website

USFVotes, housed in the Leo T. McCarthy Center, has been participating in this event for the past five years, and has 30,000 partners. According to Angeline Vuong, the associate director of public service and community engagement at the McCarthy Center, their goal is to make sure every eligible voter on campus is informed and registered to vote.

National data is aligning with USFVotes’ mission. USF was recently named one of the best colleges in the United States for student voting by the Washington Monthly, due to its voter registration and turnout rates. 

Student volunteers tabled for seven hours at USFVotes’ election 2022 “pop-ups.” They distributed materials, voting guides, and shared QR codes where students could register to vote or check their voter registration status. 

Jadia Johnson, a first-year psychology major, was one of the students tabling. “We want to inform people who might not know about the election, or might not be registered, or maybe are a little hesitant because voting is quite an intricate process that can seem very intimidating.”

Johnson said that voting is the best way to create societal change. “Regardless of whether the government will be perfect, or perfectly aligning with your views, I don’t think that would ever happen, but voting is a way you can get involved and have a say in what happens, holding your party accountable. It concerns your own rights, what you do as a person and how your society functions.” 

Vuong found a similar purpose in her work registering young voters. “Politics and policy are interwoven into everything. Whether it’s the price you pay at the cafeteria, how much money you pay for apartment housing in San Francisco, it’s your MUNI route, it determines how much scholarship and financial aid you get at school, it’s about access to reproductive justice, and I think all of these things affect young people. If you are not engaged, I think that it is more challenging to create the future that you want, if you don’t start early on.” 

Research from Tufts University finds that the education young people recieve in regards to voting is inadequate, leading to discrepancies in voting rates by race, educational status, and other socioeconomic factors. 

“I think that it’s important to make sure that organizations and programs like ours reduce those barriers,” Vuong said. “Young people, Millennials and Gen Z, are the biggest cohort in this upcoming election, so it’s really important to get young people engaged. There’s research that shows that students who vote in the first three elections when they turn 18 in the US, become lifelong voters, lifelong civically engaged human beings.” 

Students around campus are reflecting on what voting means to them as the first midterm under the Biden-Harris administration approaches. 

Nisha Rupral, a fourth-year business marketing major from Dublin, California, has known the importance of voting from a young age. “Me and my family all sit together and make sure that we vote, before the day that it’s due,” she said.“We’ve always had the general sense that we need to get our word out and we need to get our opinions out there, even though it’s a blue state here. Every vote matters.” 

For other students from states where their political party is not the majority, voting can mean something else. Nadia Gonzales is a second-year chemistry major, Phoenix, Arizona. 

“Being from Arizona right now, it’s very on the border. My voice truly matters. It really motivates me to keep voting and do my research.” 

Some students on campus recognize the importance of voting but take issue with the systems in which it exists. “We also have to acknowledge the limitations of a representative democracy and realize that the functioning of the political system is inherently flawed,” said Celeste Baird, a third-year international studies major from Portland, Oregon. “We need to use this recognition to bring activism into the social sphere beyond just annual elections.”

While the USF community continues to champion comprehensive civic engagement, Vuong acknowledges that voting is the first step. 

“This is a really important, pivotal moment in our lives, when there is so much polarization,” Vuong said. “In order to live the motto of this University, it’s important to encourage everyone in our community to register to vote. If they can’t, encourage friends, families, and communities.” 

Students wanting to get involved with USFVotes can email usfvotes@usfca.edu or message their Instagram @usfvotes.The Foghorn will continue its coverage of the midterm elections this fall. 

Megan Robertson is the Foghorn’s news editor and a third-year media studies and performing arts and social justice double major. She covers breaking campus news and can be reached at mrrobertson2@dons.usfca.edu

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