Column: Let’s HuskyEngage in democracy with USG and UConnPIRG!

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An example of UConnPIRG’s work around campus: Members of PIRG hand out T-shirts on Fairfield way. Students who passed by their table were asked to complete a survey about how much they paid for textbooks this year.  Photo by Erin Knapp / The Daily Campus.
An example of UConnPIRG’s work around campus: Members of PIRG hand out T-shirts on Fairfield way. Students who passed by their table were asked to complete a survey about how much they paid for textbooks this year. Photo by Erin Knapp / The Daily Campus.

On Sept. 28, UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG) will co-host the on-campus HuskyEngage Summit in McHugh Hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This event will expose students to each organization’s initiatives, but more importantly it’s meant to provide a point of entry for civic engagement and leadership development and demonstrate the benefits of organizational collaboration for both the organizations themselves and their constituents. 

UConnPIRG’s New Voters Project has been the definitive nonpartisan civic engagement group statewide. In fall 2018, its efforts led to over 2,000 new voter registrations and a 90 percent increase in voter turnout at the Mansfield Community Center from that for the 2014 midterm elections. As has been covered extensively by The Daily Campus and The Hartford Courant, volunteers held a voter registration table in commemoration of National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 24. Accounting for municipal, statewide and federal races, every year is an election year; therefore this tactic remains essential. 

But let’s not lose sight of USG’s role in encouraging its constituents to engage civically. On Sept. 25, its senate held residential seat elections (it holds academic seat elections every spring). As a fellow advocacy group, USG stresses upon its constituency the importance of voting for representatives whose values and desires align with their own. Such a philosophy is readily applicable to the nationwide political scene. 

So, why am I harping on so much about civic engagement? And why am I portraying USG and UConnPIRG’s work within this realm in such a positive light? Well, it’s an incredibly urgent issue! It’s critical that we take advantage of our right to vote, especially because many of our ancestors—particularly women and African Americans—weren’t granted that privilege initially. Despite its flaws, democracy—at least theoretically speaking—affords everyone with an equal say, and we’re incredibly fortunate to live in one. Also, our voting demographic is the largest—and one of the most passionate, contrary to popular opinion—yet suffers the lowest turnout rates come Election Day! We must have greater strength in numbers and become better-informed if we want to effect positive societal change and have representatives who actually, you know, represent us. Heck, this semester I’m even working on a capstone multimedia project for my Media Publishing class with the express intent of facilitating voter registration nationwide! Regardless of your sentiments surrounding their other initiatives, you can’t deny that USG and UConnPIRG offer a great benefit to students by advocating civic engagement. 

The general aspect of organizational collaboration should prove valuable to all relevant parties, too. For one, USG and UConnPIRG are crafting students to become well-rounded leaders within their respective organizations and throughout their everyday lives post-graduation. Also, organizers and attendees alike will encounter various perspectives and implement diverse approaches to fulfill an explicit, common purpose. 

Last but not least, such an informed vantage point will provide a golden opportunity for these student-run organizations—and for many of their constituents within this politically polarized country—to diffuse any contention among themselves. Coincidentally, I attended a meeting on Sept. 24, during which I learned about effective collaboration among recognized student organizations (RSOs). I’ve already applied many of its points, but it might be opportune to cite the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s guide for any interested readers, regardless of their RSO affiliation (or lack thereof). 

If you’d like to attend the HuskyEngage Summit or learn more about it, contact co-coordinators Damani Douglas from USG and Emily O’Hara from UConnPIRG for a signup link and more extensive details. You can also express your interest in the event and view its agenda by visiting the HuskyEngage Facebook page. I hope to see all of you Huskies engaging in democracy throughout and beyond this summit! 

Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at [email protected].