During one of my rummages through emails obtained from FOIA requests, I stumbled across the National Study on Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) from Tufts University. This study combines enrollment data with voting records to determine the student voter turnout of participating campuses. Because of the controversy over the long line at the polls in the Holmes Student Center during the past midterm election, I thought this study was very important to the community and decided to do some digging. When I tried to find the results for NIU, however, I quickly ran into a roadblock. The executive report for the study doesn’t provide a breakdown of each individual campus.
The researchers leave the decision over whether to publicly release campus reports up to each of the participating institutions. Fortunately, public institutions are subject to FOIA, and so I submitted requests to every public university in Illinois. But, unfortunately, I hit another roadblock. NIU wasn’t a participating institution.
Well, that needed to change. Given my history of giving criticism of the university, I believed that I would not be the best person to be advocating for it. For the sake of getting the senior administration open and receptive to it, I suggested to our other, kinder, gentler, but tough-as-nails “You can’t scare me. I taught middle school!” city barb Bessie Chronopolous that instead she have a conversation with NIU’s president Lisa Freeman. Which she did, and she finally received an email back from her last week stating:
“Thank you so much for bringing our attention to the NSLVE initiative to encourage civic engagement on college campuses. After a review of the program, we are happy to share that we have decided to move forward with our participation.”
So, in the future we can begin to have conversations informed by the NSLVE about which students are voting and which are not and act accordingly, but until then there still needs to be a general effort to encourage students to register, vote, and be civically engaged. Because good governance starts with participation.
One of the things I observed during this most recent municipal election was a common refrain that enrollment was down and that students are not shopping in DeKalb or choosing to live here. But I did not hear much about connecting students with the local area or addressing their wants and needs. As a younger alum who served as a student leader, it upsets me to continually see this patronizing attitude which treats students as merely transient wallets to empty. Now that NIU has already taken steps, I hope it is not too progressive of an idea for me to suggest that if businesses want students’ dollars in their establishments, then perhaps they should do some work to convince those students that they have a stake in this community.