President Virjee: Memory Lane Meets National Voter Registration Day
Sept. 23, 2020
President Fram Virjee
Dear Titan Family:
People often ask me what my favorite Cal State Fullerton moment is. There are so many — from academic achievements and athletic championships to groundbreaking research and inclusive excellence — so it is difficult to choose one. But when I stop to consider that our mission calls upon us to produce graduates that are just as civically engaged as they are academically excellent, culturally agile and workforce ready, one Titan memory does rise to the top.
And that memory especially stands out today (Sept. 22), National Voter Registration Day, as we launch our Cal State Fullerton election website and the numerous resources it provides — including how to register to vote today through the collegiate Ballot Bowl competition. This memory was born on Nov. 6, 2018, after several months of campus-wide efforts to mobilize all Titans to vote in the midterm elections. That evening, I left my office in College Park and ambled over to Golleher Alumni House (our 2018 on-campus polling location) to see if all our work bore fruit.
I will never forget the moment I turned the corner and came into full view of the Alumni House, but because of my journaling habit (and keeping said journal open to our campus community), I don't have to rely on memory alone. I need only to go back to the message I sent to all faculty, staff and students on the morning of Nov. 7, 2018, a portion of which I am proud to re-share with you now.
There, wrapped around our Alumni House and teeming with the energy and exhilaration that summarizes the promise and potential of the Titan family, was a line.
Not just any line. No, this one rivaled the hordes of humanity that surround Space Mountain on a Saturday — in terms of both its ridiculous length and the sheer joy radiating from it.
Truth be told, it was far more than a line.
It was hope personified. It was the physical manifestation of what so many have fought for and died to protect. It was democracy and higher education at work.
It was our diverse students waiting to vote.
Giddy and exhilarated, I ambled up and down the massive trail of Titans only to discover something as or more powerful than the line itself: The majority of the students in it were voting for the very first time. This despite the fact that many of them were old enough to have voted in two or three other elections.
Indeed, something had finally stirred in them, and their very presence meant that something was also stirring in our country: the need and responsibility to vote.
Not even 15% of college students voted in the 2016 election, and we at Cal State Fullerton have endeavored to correct that calamity through a variety of voter registration initiatives and programs.
And after all of our tireless work, here was this incredible line of students, answering our call with their voter books in hand, their hearts on their sleeves and democracy at their fingertips …
Today, we have endless data that corroborates the anecdotal power of that Space Mountain-esque voting line: In the fall of 2018, we registered more than 2,600 voters in the few months before the election (a feat that made us No. 1 in the CSU in terms of number of students registered), AND we improved our voter turnout rate by over 200% from 2014.
I could go on with more points of voting pride from 2018, but the bottom line is, we not only know where the bar is set (because we are the ones who put it there); we know how and when to raise that bar even further.
The "when" is now, of course, and the "who" begins with the faculty, staff and students of our Civic Engagement Working Group who have been reigniting our 2018 voter awareness hashtag — #TitansTurnOut — and everything that comes with it. Indeed, this cross-campus group has collaborated with countless other Titans to organize numerous programs and initiatives centered around voter registration, voting integrity and ballot propositions. Perhaps most importantly, they have and continue to emphasize the importance of civility as Titans from both sides of the aisle exercise their constitutional right to campaign, advocate and vote for the candidates and issues they support and believe in.
Already, these efforts have placed Cal State Fullerton atop the Ballot Bowl Rankings as the California campus with the highest student voter registrations overall so far, and a recent self-assessment confirmed that the majority of Titans are indeed registered to vote. However, the same data shows that there are still many among us who have not taken the time to register, and others still who have the right to vote but inexplicably do not plan on exercising it.
Titan Family, if we are to live up to and fulfill our mission to create the next generation of socially aware and civically-engaged graduates, then it is on all of us — faculty, staff and students — to empower our colleagues, friends, students and classmates to get involved in this election process. Not just by encouraging them to register and vote if they are able, but by supporting them to become informed on the issues and candidates. Indeed, as I repeatedly wrote to our students back in 2018, voting is essential, but informed voting is true democracy in action.
So check out our new voter website, explore its many resources, and no matter where you stand on the issues or which candidates you support, remember what it takes to fuel our democracy and change the world.
It takes equitable pathways to voter registration.
It takes resources that support informed voting.
And it takes the belief that every voice is integral to our democracy.
In other words, It Takes a Titan, and during this election season, all of us are the Titans it will take.
Let's get to it, beginning with honoring National Voter Registration Day by registering to vote and then showing the world that #TitansTurnOut!