At the Arizona Town Hall Forum on Civic Engagement Thursday night, discussions focused on how to encourage student engagement both politically and civically.
With less than two months until the general election, both panelists and community members focused on the issue of engaging voters, especially young ones.
Panelist and ASU alumna Jaynie Parrish works for Rock the Vote Southwest, a nonprofit organization working specifically to engage minority student voters.
Parrish said the key to involving young voters is personalizing the issues and making them applicable to students’ lives.
“It motivates them to say ‘I want to improve (the situation),’” Parrish said.
Simply telling young voters to vote because it is their civic duty does not make a difference, said Parrish.
Rock the Vote tries to reach young voters where they are, showing up at events such as Coachella and Lollapalooza, said Parrish.
Parrish works with young Native American voters. She said their history and the issues surrounding their community helps them understand the need to vote.
Panelist Casey Dreher, a member of the advocacy group Arizona Students’ Association, said peer influence is an important part of student voter engagement.
Students are more likely to vote if a friend talks to them about it than if they see an ad or commercial, Dreher said.
“College students are not apathetic,” Dreher said. “We are not the leaders for tomorrow, we are the leaders of today.”
Making students actively participate in civic processes, rather than passively learning about them, fosters civic engagement, Dreher said.
She encourages students to sit in on public meetings and learn how to be civic participants through experience.
Panelist Corey Woods, a City of Tempe councilmember who also graduated from ASU, said when young people do not vote, they are separating themselves from a system meant to help them.
Woods said he has helped provide the City of Tempe with more affordable housing options for students and recent graduates.
The forum was divided into four sections: political and government systems, educations and civics, civil discourse and individual action.
Each section had four panel members with experience or employment in each field. After briefly introducing themselves, the panelists opened themselves up for questions.
The goal of the forum is to provide an opportunity for civil discourse and honest discussion of the issues facing Arizona.
Arizona Town Hall, now in its 50th year, aims to build stronger, more involved communities and connect students with elected officials, said Tara Jackson, the organization’s president.
The mission of the Arizona Town Hall is to “inform, inspire, and engage those in attendance to become more involved,” Jackson said.
“I hope to see people that are more informed and inspired (by this event),” she said.
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