Guest Blog Post by Victoria Womack, Student, Middle Tennessee State University
Raising Recycling Awareness and Voter Participation
American Democracy Project seeks to solve problems within our local community and on campus, and during 2011 and on into this year, we the students of American Democracy Project at Middle Tennessee State University identified two major problems affecting MTSU that we wanted to try to begin to tackle on our campus.
One problem has been a lack of awareness about campus recycling. We saw the recycling bins often getting underused, while at the same time the trash bins seemed to pile up and overflow! So we brainstormed, talked to a lot of facilities people on campus and to other campus organizations, and decided on a few tactics we wanted to undertake toward improving the current situation.
The new student orientation program that MTSU hosts every spring and summer for incoming freshmen and transfer students is called CUSTOMS on our campus, during which new students are given tours of campus and are treated to presentations about every aspect of how the campus operates. Of course the students leave orientation loaded with brochures and handouts about organizations, programs, and student services. ADP decided to create a brochure to go in the CUSTOMS packets that will be given to all new students this coming summer that will inform them about MTSU’s recycling services. We wanted to stress to the new students the importance of recycling; to work toward building a healthier campus culture by starting early with our incoming students; and also to simply provide new students with basic, introductory recycling information that they all need to know. We wanted to supply answers to straightforward questions. Do all the dorms have bins? Does every floor? Does every academic hall and classroom? How often are the bins collected? Where is the main campus recycling center? Where are hazardous waste and electronic equipment recycled? What does Facilities Services collect on campus, v. what does each individual student need to transport personally to the larger campus recycling center? Questions like that.
We hope our new brochure will be a good addition to help students start off on the right foot here. We were not provided that sort of information when we arrived at MTSU, and we think we should have been. So we’re handling it ourselves because it’s something we care about.
The other problem we are taking on is a serious attempt to increase the student voting base at MTSU in preparation for the 2012 presidential election. Due to the lack of heavy student participation in the fall 2010 elections, during which election cycle Tennessee selected our current governor, we were discouraged by the general apathy toward voting by many of our students. We have read the national data on this issue, as have you, about poor voter turnout among our age group, but we are interpreting some of the disengagement on our campus, and maybe much of it, in part to the lack of prepared registration: to students generally being uninformed about registration. We hope that receiving information about how to register will increase the numbers of students getting registered, to be ready to vote November 6th!
We are using a multi-pronged approach in dealing with this issue in the months ahead. Just one of our approaches is an attempt at tackling the problem in a similar way in which we are dealing with recycling: we have decided to also include an informational flyer in the CUSTOMS packets this summer about voter registration. We compiled a list of the recurring questions that were asked of us throughout the past year when we had voter registration tables set up on campus. We set out to answer those questions in the best, most efficient ways we can, writing down our tips in simple responses for our freshmen, most of whom will be first time voters this coming fall. We want to show them that registering to vote is easy. We want them to be sure they know that registration is the required first step in being able to participate in the election to put forth their voice in the political arena. We want to help them get registered – and then get to the polls.
Information is power. We respect our fellow students and presume they genuinely want to do the right thing. They just need to be encouraged. We think information about a subject leads to action. Ideally we would love for everyone on campus to participate in voting this fall. We know the sheer act of flipping the levers in the voting booth can be life changing. Voting makes a citizen of even the very cynical. If we can raise the voter participation numbers among our campus population by the slightest percentage come fall 2012, we’ll have accomplished a lot. But even if we’re able to facilitate just one more MTSU student becoming a participatory citizen, we’ll feel good about our efforts and know that our goal has been accomplished! We’re working on it, and we hope we’re modeling civic agency and civic action in the process.
Victoria Womack is a soldier in the Tennessee National Guard and a full time student at Middle Tennessee State University. She is majoring in Digital Animation and hopes to one day start her own company. She became involved in civic engagement through her experiences in the military as well as her involvement with the American Democracy Project. She hopes to promote the importance of voting as well as staying actively involved with government issues.