USC community making final push to get out the vote

With less than a week to go until the election, the university is turning two buildings into voting centers and is encouraging the entire Trojan community to exercise their civic duty.

October 28, 2020 Grayson Schmidt

For months, multiple organizations at USC have been encouraging students and community members to register to vote. Now, with less than a week until Election Day, the message has shifted: Just vote.

In recent weeks, political discussions and forums have been held, information on how to register and vote early has been distributed and prominent university buildings have been announced as voting centers.

“All of these things are being supported by leaders, administrators and the nonstudent population, but it really started with the students,” said Kambiz “Kamy” Akhavan, executive director of the Center for the Political Future at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “They are really pushing this effort, and we’re getting behind it and encouraging it because we all need this.”

University administrators, including USC President Carol L. Folt, have also made a priority of encouraging Trojans to vote.

The Center for the Political Future has hosted numerous events to help voters and the campus community understand what’s at stake in the election, from weekly “Election R&D Dialogues” to the Climate Forward event held earlier this month. The events have also featured experts in the field such as USC professors, former governors, former presidential candidate Tom Steyer and the center’s own teaching fellows — former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, former U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters and former California State Treasurer John Chiang.

“We’re doing a lot to increase voter information,” Akhavan said, noting the key role played by VoteSC, a nonpartisan student organization that encourages students to civically engage during elections. “Our efforts, coupled with VoteSC, coupled with USC Athletics and Black Lives Matter, and so many of the different schools and departments — USC Annenberg has programs, USC Gould has programs — there’s just a lot of leaning into this.”

Civic engagement rises at USC and beyond

VoteSC has been working with other campus organizations all semester to host programming like a Q&A with the Viterbi Graduate Student Association at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Co-President Christian Burks said that, with the bulk of classes being online this semester, the organization had to get creative with its outreach efforts to engage students virtually.

“This has been a tumultuous year to say the least, which seems to have inspired a lot of civic engagement throughout USC,” he said. “USC Athletics spearheaded their own voter registration initiative to get all student-athletes registered to vote, and we found many student groups on campus were leading voter registration efforts. One of the things we tried to do this semester — and will continue to do in future semesters — is make VoteSC’s presence known and offer the resources we have to bolster and unify voter registration efforts on campus.”

Twenty of 21 USC’s varsity sports teams are at 100% in terms of student-athlete voter registration, according to Julie Rousseau, adjunct professor of gender and sexuality studies and chair of USC Athletics’ Black Lives Matter Action Team.

We just want them to vote, and we try to make that process as easy as possible.

Kambiz Akhavan

After hearing about the efforts of the More Than a Vote movement, Rousseau worked to get Galen Center to be a voting center, joining other L.A. landmarks like Dodger Stadium, Banc of California Stadium and Staples Center. The Soto 1 building on the Health Sciences Campus will also serve as a voting center.

“Just in terms of being in Los Angeles and the USC brand, I think that we are in a position of influence,” Rousseau said. “Using our platform for good is what the USC Athletics Black Lives Matter Action Team is about: supporting our students as they amplify their voices and supporting our community.”

USC community rallies around the voting process

In addition to opening Galen Center for voting, USC Athletics and the Black Lives Matter team have held several voter literacy workshops aimed beyond student-athletes. USC’s athletic activities have also been halted on Election Day.

“We’re in an athletic environment and you know that athletes love to compete, so it’s just about making it fun and finding different ways that we can encourage our student-athletes to be a part of this whole process and exercise their civic duty,” Rousseau said. “We’re doing it in fun ways to continue to reach out to our fan base, and people see that we are fully engaged in the process.”

Akhavan and Rousseau both emphasized turning the registering and voting process into a community event, so USC students and student-athletes will be volunteering at Galen Center on Election Day. It’s a combined effort to bring the USC community together.

“We just want the USC community to know that this university is all in for making sure that we’re encouraging civic engagement, regardless of how our students, staff and faculty vote,” Akhavan said. “We just want them to vote, and we try to make that process as easy as possible.”