Student political involvement on the rise

Alice Shelly (left) and Charlie Letts (right) are members of political groups on campus. Shelly attends a women's march in Austin in January 2020, and Letts greets people at the polls in Killeen and Salado with Dr. Brad Buckley. Photos Courtesy of Alice Shelly and Charlie Letts

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

Student involvement in politics is continuing on an upward trend with more registered voters and activism participants than previous years. College Pulse predicts that 71% of college students will vote in the Nov. 3 election.

In the 2016 election, 48.3% of students voted, which was about three percentage points higher than the 45.1% who voted in the 2012 election. In between the past two elections, the percentage of students who have participated in protests tripled.

Tenino, Wash., sophomore Charlie Letts is Vice Chair of Baylor College Republicans and said students get involved in politics because “it affects your everyday life.” Even though “a lot of people don’t realize it,” Letts said politics influences everything from international affairs to local taxes.

“It’s always important,” Letts said. “But it’s more important now because it’s an election year and all candidates need your help. It’s also important to get the word out about what you believe. It makes a difference. What people see online and what people read about — it all makes a difference.”

San Antonio sophomore Alice Shelly is Vice President of Baylor College Democrats. One of the biggest reasons she said students get involved with politics is because they want to find other students with aligned beliefs.

“I got involved with the College Democrats of Baylor when I was a freshman because I was passionate about progressive issues, and I wanted to find a group of like-minded students,” Shelly said. “I loved that they did voter drives and different talk sessions about issues that I am passionate about.”

Letts also joined a political organization because she wanted to find a like-minded community. Before she moved to Texas, Letts lived in Washington and “was surrounded by people who had different views” than she did. Now a part of Baylor College Republicans, Letts said she is better equipped for pursuing her future career.

“I’m a political science major, and I want that to be my career someday,” Letts said. “I don’t necessarily want to be a congressional candidate, but in my 10-year plan from high school, I wanted to work for the Republican Party of Texas.”

Shelly also said getting involved with politics has been important to developing her career. As a premedical student, Shelly said she wants to go into gynecology.

“I am really passionate about access to birth control and reproductive justice and that is something that is not really talked about on Baylor’s campus,” Shelly said. “Those are issues that the College Democrats of Baylor like to talk about, and I find that I have outlets there to work on those issues.”

Another perk of getting involved with politics is the connections and internship opportunities available for students. Many local campaigns pull students from Baylor’s political organizations for assistance during the election process.

“I’ve made so many connections,” Letts said. At “any College Repubilican event that I attend, I always meet somebody in a head position, and I give them my name or number and … they can get you hooked up with jobs, whether now or in the future, and it’s all really relevant. They can get you connected with higher-ups too.”

Shelly said being involved in politics has also strengthened her beliefs and expanded her knowledge on “the big policies that shape our lives right now.” She said she is encouraged to interact with students whose ideas differ from her own, which allows her to have “dialogue or debate with students that challenge” her.

Especially for college students, Shelly said getting involved in voting is more important than ever.

“Politics is something we should be getting involved in because we are eligible voters,” Shelly said. “Especially in this election cycle, to get involved and to get informed on political issues so that you can make an educated vote is integral to being a college student.”

Letts said students can get involved in big ways like joining a political organization on campus or in smaller ways, like researching important topics and attending events where speakers come to talk on campus. She also said involvement can extend off campus and into local Waco government.

To get involved in politics on campus, contact organizations through the Baylor Connect platform. To get involved in McLennan County politics, visit their website.

Letts said no matter how students choose to get involved, politics is something that influences every student’s life. To her, it is important to learn more and take part in making a difference.

“Who we elect now and what we do now will affect our generation in the future,” Letts said. “And it will also affect the younger generations.”