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Party Lines

Bi-partisan efforts better equip students for citizenship roles

Washburn students have been active in voter registration drives for many years. Thanks to students like these seen at the 2018 Community Involvement Fair, the voting rate on campus was almost seven points higher than the national average in 2018.

From The Ichabod - Winter 2020

In a country that seems more politically divided than ever, Washburn University students from opposing sides of the political spectrum have united with a common goal: getting students registered to vote.

Members of the Washburn College Democrats and College Republicans organizations teamed up in the fall to encourage fellow classmates to register. Potential voters were enticed with donuts at an event on National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 24, 2019, and again with pizza at an event the week before the Kansas voter registration deadline of Oct. 15, 2019. But students got more than just free food — they got a chance to learn more about and prepare to take part in the democratic process.

College Republicans and College Democrats were on site to answer questions and persuade students to make informed decisions when they go to the polls. Between the two events, 83 students checked or updated their registrations and 47 students registered to vote.

The initiative relates to the spring 2019 WU-mester theme of citizenship and suffrage. In its second year, WU-mester engages the entire Washburn community in discussion on a theme to make connections between what’s studied in the classroom and real-world issues. Eric Grospitch, Washburn’s vice president for student life, sees the conversations happening on campus as a shining example of setting students up to be lifelong learners.

“You can’t turn the TV on right now without realizing there are issues we need to be addressing,” Grospitch said. “Encouraging students to engage in those conversations together has been a fantastic benefit.”

Not a Lost Generation

As an estimated 80-million strong generation in the United States, millennials are likely to play a large role in upcoming elections. Washburn College Republicans president Charlee Bonczkowski, a junior business major, stressed the importance of educating her fellow classmates.

“I don't think a lot of students fully realize the impact elections can have on their future,” Bonczkowski said. “I believe that's why it’s the College Republicans and Democrats job to get them involved and encourage them to register to vote.”

Both organizations have members who are active in local and state campaigns. Washburn College Democrats president Jackson Woods, a junior sociology major, believes there will continue to be an uptick in student participation.

“A lot of people didn't like the results of the 2016 election,” Woods said. “It was a bit of a wakeup call. I see a lot more people wanting to get involved.”

Among those getting involved is Jane Billinger, ba ’12. Billinger has been active in politics in a variety of ways since graduation. She was involved in county politics in Kansas City, Kansas, and has helped with several state-level campaigns in Kansas, Maryland and West Virginia. She was also involved with both the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns. Billinger believes it’s her civic duty to exercise voting rights.

“I was taught if you care about something, you have to contribute. I care about what's going to happen in my neighborhood, so I want to make sure the people running my neighborhood support my interests,” Billinger said. “We talk so much about how voting is everyone’s basic right, but so many people aren’t afforded that right even now – so it’s important we get involved.”

Through efforts to increase student voter registrations over the last few years, Washburn’s student voting rate in 2018 was 46%, up from 29.1% in 2014 and above the national institution average of 39.1% – a phenomenal outcome for midterm elections, which typically see fewer voters at the polls. As a result, Washburn was named a Voter Friendly Campus through an initiative started by the Campus Voter Project and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Creating a Dialogue

Bi-partisan collaboration at Washburn isn’t new with voter registration drives. In 2017 and 2019, the two groups joined forces to hold public forums in which city council and mayoral candidates discussed local issues with students. Then in 2018, the groups collaborated on a Sept. 11 memorial.

“Together, we placed 2,977 miniature American flags on the student Union lawn in remembrance of the 2,977 victims in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Bonczkowski said.

They created a similar memorial in 2019.

“We have students at Washburn who weren't born at the time of the attacks. It’s crazy to think that it's been that long, but it's still so pervasive in the culture,” Woods said. “Educating people about what happened that day and working together on that has been an advantage to Washburn.”

Grospitch is proud of the work the College Democrats and College Republicans are doing together.

“Even though they fundamentally disagree with each other on many levels, they’re still doing it,” Grospitch said. “I think when we talk about the importance of civil discourse, our students are really showing not only is it possible, but we're better for it.”

WUmester Spring 2020

WUmester 2020 logo

WUmester is intended to foster a University-wide conversation on a diversity-related topic that will change each spring semester. The goal of the program is to engage the entire Washburn community in a collective learning experience on timely subjects and help students see the connections between the subjects they study in the classroom and real-world debates and problems.

WUmester logo

Full schedule of WUmester events


More of The Ichabod's coverage of WUmester:

Driving Discussions: Anniversaries of voting amendments will draw focus on citizenship, suffrage

Stunning Collection: Mulvane acquires photos from Pulitzer Prize winner’s book

Fighting Words: Washburn alumna active in national suffrage work prior to 1920 amendment

Party Lines: Bi-partisan efforts better equip students for citizenship roles

Celebrating Suffrage: Alumnus brings awareness, access to roles of citizenship


The Ichabod magazine fall 2020

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2020 fall edition online and look for it in mailboxes in October.

View past editions


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