The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith earned a coveted bronze seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C.
The 2019 ALL IN Challenge Awards Ceremony recognized colleges and universities committed to increasing college student voting rates. UAFS earned a bronze seal for achieving a student voting rate between 20-29 percent during the 2018 midterm elections.
“It takes an educated citizenry for a democracy to be vibrant,” explained Dr. Williams Yamkam, assistant professor of political science and advisor of the university’s chapter of the American Democracy Project. “The UAFS American Democracy Project endeavors to enhance the citizenry aspect of our university’s educational mission. By fostering a habit of civic engagement and political participation in our students, we empower them to pair the education they receive in the classroom with the practical civic skills they need to be proactive citizens – all for the benefit of the local community, the state and the country.”
“This recognition is indicative of the excellent work Dr. Yamkam and the American Democracy Project do year-round to promote civic engagement and education at UAFS,” said Dr. Terisa Riley, chancellor of UAFS. “As we work toward our goal of graduating students who will be exceptional citizens, we know that their participation in the democratic process is vital to their futures and to the continued success of our region.”
According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, an initiative of Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, voter turnout at the more than 1,000 institutions participating in the study increased by 21 points from 2014 to 2018, moving from 19 percent to 40 percent.
“We are excited to honor the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith with an ALL IN Challenge bronze seal in recognition of their intentional efforts to increase democratic engagement and full voter participation,” said Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, executive director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. “More institutions like UAFS are changing the culture on campus by institutionalizing nonpartisan democratic engagement efforts that are resulting in the incredible student voter turnout rates that we’ve seen across the country.”
“Though this award recognizes the great strides that UAFS has made in enhancing students’ civic engagement and political participation over the past few years, we at the UAFS American Democracy Project don’t intend to rest on our laurels,” said Yamkam. “We plan on ramping up our activities to take advantage of the upcoming electoral year and provide our students with the tools necessary to make an informed decision when casting their ballots during the primaries and the general election.”
Although full implementation will likely take several academic years, Yamkam has crafted a strategic engagement plan for the university moving forward. Civic information campaigns, voter registration drives and election fairs will be hosted with the direct intent of driving students to the polls. Besides direct voter engagement, the American Democracy Project also hosts numerous events to engage students civically, including town hall series that bring public officials and political candidates to the UAFS campus; a mentorship program in its pilot season that pairs students with local political and policy leaders; and the Up to Us Project which shepherds students through the national competition to raise awareness about the national debt.
“It is quite gratifying for us to receive institutional support from Chancellor Terisa Riley’s office, academic guidance from Provost Georgia Hale’s office, strategic assistance from the Student Affairs department, enthusiastic participation from students, faculty and staff and help from our community partners,” said Yamkam, who expects to see even greater student-voter turnout in the coming years.
The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is a nonpartisan, national initiative recognizing and supporting campuses as they work to increase nonpartisan democratic engagement and full student-voter participation. The Challenge encourages higher education institutions to help students form the habits of active and informed citizenship and make democratic participation a core value on their campus.
A full list of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge 2019 awardees can be viewed here.
More than 560 campuses enrolling more than 6.2 million students have joined The Challenge since its launch in 2016.