Election day can be intimidating for new voters, but at Lawrence, students’ concerns are being eased by the efforts of Eliza Peetz, a gender studies and psychology double major.
A sophomore from Fall River, Wisconsin, Peetz is working to make voting easier and more accessible for students. Her work has been critical in preparing Lawrentians for the general election on Nov. 8.
She is Lawrence University’s first Civics & Society coordinator, a new student position in the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) that aims to connect students with civic engagement activities in the Appleton area. The position was originally intended to connect students with community-building organizations, but its focus shifted.
“The CCE needed more support on student voter initiatives,” said Garrett Singer, special assistant to the president.
The new duties suit Peetz perfectly.
“I've always been a very civically active person, whether that be in participating in things that follow my own views or just attempting to get others civically engaged,” she said.
The Civics & Society program in the CCE now provides opportunities for students to get involved with democratic engagement in the Appleton community. It also helped students get registered to vote during the first half of Fall Term.
Peetz helped raise awareness of voter registration and voter issues during the recent Community Engagement Fair. The Civics & Society program organized 10 hours’ worth of tabling events across multiple days. Students were invited to drop in and chat with volunteer and voter groups, such as the League of Women Voters and ESTHER, an interfaith social justice group. Peetz and the CCE also collaborated with the information technology help desk to get printed voter ID cards for students.
Peetz said she understands how busy students are. But that isn’t the only thing stopping student engagement.
“More and more restrictions are being put on voting that harm marginalized communities,” Peetz said. “I really want to bring more voting access to campus so that people who normally wouldn't be able to vote can.”
She said interest in gender studies has spurred action for her.
“I'll be in class and I'll hear so many different things about how people are affected,” she said. “I’m really passionate about doing those little teeny tiny things that you may not think about but that can basically open up a whole avenue of civic engagement for more marginalized students.”
As the LU Democracy Fellow, Peetz was instrumental in creating Lawrence’s Democratic Engagement Plan, a document that outlines Lawrence’s events and initiatives that make voting and registering to vote easier. It was submitted to the Campus Vote Project with hopes of earning a “Voter Friendly Campus” designation. A decision on that is still a few months away.
“Even the small things like having the service shuttles run back and forth [to the polls] makes us more and more voter friendly,” Peetz said.
She is determined to go even further.
“You don't become a voter-friendly campus and then just stop and stay stagnant; continue just doing what you're doing,” Peetz said. “You're always constantly building upon that and being like, ‘OK, so what else can we do?’”
On Nov. 8, the CCE will be hosting an Election Night Celebration. The event will begin after the polls close and will provide a place for students to celebrate their civic engagement. Peetz is leading the planning. More details to come.
“I’m hoping it’ll be something that will happen every single year, even after I no longer work in the CCE,” she said.
Peetz is laying groundwork outside of the election season too.
“My goal is to have at least one or two student education events on campus, things like bringing elected officials here,” she said.
She wants to help improve students’ understanding of the functions of governing offices and the policies elected officials aim to enact. Through it all, she hopes to see that sense of engagement across campus come election day—this one and those in the future.
“My end goal for this is to be able to hear everybody talking about it—today's Election Day; have you voted yet today? Just kind of having that hype around it on campus.”