By Jonah Grinkewitz

Ahead of this November’s election, Old Dominion University has been recognized for its efforts to increase nonpartisan civic engagement and voter participation on its campus.

The University is one of 93 to receive the 2024 Highly Established Action Plan seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for its nonpartisan democratic engagement action plan – earning 34.7 out of 36 possible points. Colleges and universities that implement these types of plans see up to a 5.2% increase in student voter turnout, according to ALL IN.

“As educators of our future leaders and citizens, it is our duty as a university to help students learn how our government works and how policies affect our everyday lives,” said Jenn Grimm, director of ODU’s Office of Leadership & Learning. “Voting in elections, whether local, state, or federal, allows us to have a say in what policies are supported and written into law.”

Students, faculty and staff from across the University formed the ODU Votes Coalition this past fall to create the “2024-2025 ODU Votes Campus Action Plan for Nonpartisan Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement.” The group included representatives from Student Engagement and Enrollment Services (SEES), Academic Affairs, Human Resources, Institutional Equity and Diversity, Administration and Finances, University Communications and ODU Athletics.

To develop the plan, the group looked at the University’s most recent National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement Report, graduating seniors’ responses to civic engagement questions on the Senior Satisfaction Survey, student usage of ODU’s new voter registration portal and past and present efforts to foster civic learning and democratic engagement among students via curriculum and co-curriculum. Using this information, the ODU Votes Coalition identified long- and short-term goals, student- and campus-facing strategies to be implemented this year and reporting and evaluation plans.

Grimm said the University’s efforts will be most visible in the lead-up to this fall’s U.S. presidential election and that they have implemented similar strategies in past elections.

Through the Office of Leadership & Learning and student Democracy Fellows (who are funded by the Campus Vote Project), there will be a number of educational efforts such as on-campus tabling, a social media campaign and campuswide messages regarding important dates and reminders around voter registration and engagement.

The ODU Votes Coalition is also planning opportunities to bring local nonprofits to campus that will promote nonpartisan voter education, facilitate a Walk to the Polls Day at nearby Lambert’s Point Community Center, which is an early voting satellite location in Norfolk, and host nonpartisan student voter engagement events with leadership from the Department of Political Science & Geography and ODU Student Government Association.

In addition, Grimm said the coalition is working with faculty to embed constructive dialogue into academic courses this fall to support positive student discourse around controversial topics.

“Institutions of higher education play a vital role in shaping our society through the development of civically engaged individuals,” Grimm said. “By helping our students recognize the importance of voting, educating them on different policies around voting practices and directing them to resources that help them learn more about important political issues, students learn the value of informed decision-making, the social impact of policies and a fundamental form of representation and advocacy.”