Baylor pushes for increased voter awareness ahead of 2020

Dr. Kristen Pond and her daughter Ellie commemorate a vote for a female candidate with their "I Voted" stickers.

By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer

Baylor University has expanded efforts to increase voter registration within the student body. The efforts come ahead of the 2020 presidential election and coincides with the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment.

Baylor is affiliated with campaigns and groups such as the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, the Big XII Voting Challenge and the League of Women Voters Waco Area, as well the Vote Everywhere program and the Andrew Goodman Foundation this year.

McKinney senior Chantal Canales, president of Baylor’s Her Campus, said that she appreciates the university striving for voter participation among its student body. Her Campus is an online magazine written by college women with chapters across multiple college campuses.

“I think this is a really great way to get our voice out there,” Canales said. “It’s wonderful that Baylor is doing this and I hope that other colleges around the country would implement this, too.”

Dr. Mito Diaz-Espinoza, associate director for civic learning initiatives in the academy for leadership development, said both his current position and background contribute to why he is passionate about student voting.

“I think a big population voice isn’t heard in younger individuals, either because of voter apathy or not understanding issues and not understanding how voting impacts them,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “If we don’t hear the issues and the concerns from students or younger people or anyone, we don’t know how to express them as leaders, so that is why I really enjoy getting students to learn about the voting process.”

Diaz-Espinoza said he encourages all students to take the opportunity they are given to get out and express their voices through voting because of the struggle of those who once didn’t have that right.

“Coming up on the anniversary of the 19th amendment, and the passing of John Lewis, you know that people have fought and died and struggled and denied odds, just to be able to have that power to vote,” he said. “For us not to participate in that we’re doing a disservice to those legacies.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the landmark addition to the U.S. Constitution that prohibited the federal government and states from withholding voting rights from a citizen on the basis of sex, and as of now, Baylor has no planned efforts to commemorate the event.

Despite the change to the Constitution, laws were placed in Southern and Western administrations that disenfranchised African American women in the early 1920s.

Threats of lynching and intimidation of those working the polls, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and poll taxes disabled Black women from voting, making the 19th Amendment a win primarily for white women.

Diaz-Espinoza said he understands that on college campuses nationwide, the Aug. 18 anniversary is timed unfortunately, but that it does not excuse the lack of response by Baylor.

“In my opinion, the lack of celebration for the 19th also is telling because of misogyny and not acknowledging the work that women did for the amendment,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “We as Americans, also don’t learn much about the history of voting because it is messy. We like to live the ideal and idea that ‘all men [are] created equally’ and the American idea of ‘democracy’ means we as a nation embraced it from the start, so we tend not to examine those questionable parts of us because it is hard for us to face sometimes.”

Canales shared the same beliefs as Diaz-Espinoza on the disappointment of Baylor’s failure to recognize the anniversary.

“As a female student of Baylor, a school that prides itself in having a female president, I would love to see the university acknowledge the anniversary of the 19th Amendment,” Canales said. “The university is already taking great measures to encourage all Baylor students to vote in this year’s election, but I think celebrating this important event will encourage the female population to vote and celebrate their freedom to do so.”

Dr. Kristen Pond, assistant professor of English and member of the women’s and gender studies advisory council at Baylor, said the lack of acknowledgment of the anniversary on the university’s behalf could be a result of COVID-19.

Throughout her life, Pond said she has realized that being a woman has impacted the way that she views voting and women’s rights. She remembers that political discussion was always avoided at home.

“Honestly, I don’t know if that is because I am female … If I had been a son or a male, would I have felt like I had more of a right to say what I really did think?” Pond said.

Pond said this questioning of gender roles in politics often brought her back to her studies of women in the 19th century, and how women’s fight for equality can often be overlooked in modern times.

“The 19th century does strike me that, in a sense, I do take it for granted that it, that I have the right to vote,” Pond said. “I realized my ability to say ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter that I’m a female and voting is built on the backs of these women who fought really hard for a right that they did not have,’ and then that’s when I start realizing what an honor and a privilege it is.”

Canales said she can also relate to Pond’s feelings of gratitude with the upcoming presidential election fast approaching.

“It feels good to have that kind of power, to share your voice with the government, and it’s something that we shouldn’t take lightly,” Canales said.

Canales also said that due to the ratio of women to men at Baylor, she wants to emphasize the immense duty Baylor women have to enact change through voting.

“We have such a large number of women on our campus, we even have a better voice, a larger voice, to share and talk about issues that are important to us,” Canales said.

Pond said she realized the gravity of the privilege to vote when she took her then daughter who was then 8 months old with her to the polls to vote in 2016.

“Hillary Clinton was a presidential nominee; it also made me realize it is important for people to have a visual and an actual representation of what they could someday be. And so I realized it does matter for my daughter Ellie to see that a woman, in this case, could run for president,” she said. “But it did feel very symbolic to me when I took her, you know, here I was, as a woman, going with my daughter who will someday vote and we were going to vote for a female president.”

Pond said that she hopes that Baylor’s voting encouragement efforts will motivate students, especially in such a chaotic and unprecedented time.

“Voting could be a really great way of making sure that we’re not so inward in this moment and so self-protective and just trying to survive these weird times, but that we’re actually looking about us and looking around us,” Pond said.

In Texas, the voter registration deadline is Oct. 5, and early voting by appearance begins Oct. 13.