Howard U. Students Discuss Lack of Youth Voter Engagement

The fast-approaching Nov. 6 general election is a serious matter when it comes to mobilizing Black youths who are disillusioned about the status quo and skeptical of elected officials.

Fully aware of the possibility of a low voter turnout, a group of Howard University graduate-level education students agreed that increasing youth civic engagement is necessary but achieving it requires a new approach.

“When I was younger, I thought voting was important, but as I got older, I’m not sure what difference it makes,” counseling and psychology doctoral student Frances Y. Adomako said Monday morning during a roundtable titled “Engaging Youth Voters and Building a Movement Toward Justice,” held at Howard University (HU) in Northwest.

Adomako counted among nine students who joined former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and activist Brittany Packnett in a nearly two-hour conversation about civic engagement and education, and the role educators play in raising the political consciousness of young people.

“What’s the point of voting if the same types of people are in power?” Adomako asked. “There are two main political parties, and they vote in similar ways, depending on the district, so regardless of who you vote for, they have similar policies.”

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that, although they account for more than half of the nation’s eligible voters, young people cast 21 million fewer votes than their elders during the 2014 midterms. Trends show the possibility of even lower participation this year.

The Education Trust, a nonprofit that promotes educational equity, hosted the discussion in the Channing Pollock Conference Room in HU’s Founder’s Library. Dawn G. Williams, dean of Howard University School of Education (HUSOE), listened as students reflected on their civic engagement and efforts to boost that of other students.

Lyndsie Whitehead, in her second year in HUSOE, said she would like to see activism translate to more electoral wins.

“I’ve become frustrated by the hashtag activism that doesn’t turn into policy and action,” Whitehead said. “People who are arrested can’t vote, but I don’t want to be jaded in that process. You think about communities and access to housing. These are multifaceted issues.”

But Packnett, a St. Louis native and former executive director of Teach for America St. Louis, is credited for her involvement in the 2014 Ferguson protests. She said youths don’t have to choose between activism and voting.

“A lot of the rights we enjoy access to come from people’s sacrifice in policy and activism,” she noted, highlighting the grass-roots organizing and voting that led to the ousting of St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, blamed for the non-indictment of Mike Brown Jr.’s killer Darren Wilson.

“This ‘either/or’ as Black people, will get us left behind,” Packnett added. “We have to leverage culture and politics,” she urged, to make voting relevant to young voters. politics,” she urged, in order to make voting relevant to young voters.

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