By Dr. Mary A. Papazian
The current election cycle, which has not yet quite concluded as of this writing, has generated a mixed array of emotions for many of us.
With more than 100 million votes cast even before Nov. 3, the overall turnout for these elections will likely equal or surpass any others in our nation’s history. Even more impressive, perhaps, is the number of first-time and young voters who cast a vote or were active at the local level. Adjusting so well in the midst of a global pandemic demonstrates the power of our democracy.
This period has reminded me what an extraordinary community of people I am privileged to serve and work with here at San José State.
Millennials and Generation Z voters, clearly, have stepped up and are finding their voice on issues that matter to them. Our students engaged in the democratic process with energy and enthusiasm through opportunities provided by Student Involvement, Associated Students, student success centers, Solidarity Network and academic units such as the School of Journalism and Mass Communications and Department of Political Science.
Members of our campus community organized watch parties, get-out-the-vote campaigns and a variety of other pre- and post-election-related activities that helped to educate and provide social support for our students, staff and faculty. Even before the first ballot was cast, we emphasized the importance of voting and supporting educational and civic engagement activities, even for those who are not eligible to vote. This, of course, is a key component of our mission and has been inspiring to witness!
The active participation we have seen from our students and other new voters energizes all who recognize the privilege and impact of voting. SJSU students historically have been highly engaged in civic matters, and it has been heartening to see this manifested in something as tangible as voting. It is clear that our students sense the urgency of the current political and social landscape in this country, and that they want to be a part of the national conversation.
The current election cycle will soon end, though we cannot yet be sure whether it will conclude in a matter of hours, days or even weeks. In many ways, however, the more pressing question for our students may be: “what comes next?”
No matter the outcome of national, state and local races, there is much work to be done to ensure that all of our communities thrive. Our elected leaders can set an example by working together to strengthen, not weaken, our democratic principles and institutions and by engaging and collaborating across communities.
The demand for change we have seen—both during this election cycle but also throughout the summer—does not end when the final ballots are counted. In many ways, the work is just beginning.
SJSU’s students represent our next generation of leaders and will be the ones to help us move forward as a nation. Though our democracy and its institutions are, perhaps, more fragile at the moment than we had previously assumed, I am confident that we are, collectively, committed to strengthening them.