Elon students see civic engagement as esssential, values-based work

The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life supports student efforts to get out the vote.

For many Elon students such as Stephanie Miljanic ‘23, Clara Watkins ‘25 and Bo Dalrymple ‘25, civic engagement means more than just casting a ballot in the 2022 midterm elections. For these students, helping others vote is part of their values, and is also informed by their religious traditions.

“Voting is a ‘mitzvah,’” explains Miljanic, who serves as the MitzVote Ambassador for the Elon Hillel Jewish campus community. MitzVote, a nonpartisan Hillel International initiative, encourages civic engagement because voting is a Jewish obligation, or “mitzvah,” and part of leading a righteous life.

Watkins, a multifaith intern, is passionate about civic engagement because she recognizes that many people don’t have access to voting.

“Voting is deeply connected to my values,” Watkins said. “I want my values to be heard, and I also want other peoples’ values to be heard. Many people don’t have the same resources that I do, and the same access that I do, so my mission, as a 19-year-old, is to focus on encouraging civic engagement and voting.”

According to Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, voter turnout was 66% among college students nationwide during the 2020 election, an increase of 14% from 2016. In the 2018 midterms, voter turnout doubled from 19% to 40%. Part of this increase is attributed to increased work around civic engagement on college campuses.

Voting on campus is led by Elon Votes!, a nonpartisan campus initiative out of the Kernodle Center that was created to provide students with the necessary resources to register to vote and cast their ballots in upcoming elections.

Dalrymple, who is an Elon Votes! coordinator studying international global studies and political science, believes that the values he was raised with are part of the reason he is so politically engaged. “The more I learned about how voting is a privilege, and about the barriers and restrictions that are in place for so many, the more civic engagement became one of my passions, and it’s also a key part of my values,” he said.

“Encouraging our students to make decisions that are informed by their values is an essential part of the work we do at the Truitt Center,” explained Interim Assistant Dean of Multifaith Engagement Hillary Zaken. “So many students who are involved with Religious and Spiritual Life are also passionate about civic engagement. This kind of involvement is a part of their religious, spiritual and ethical worldviews.”

“Working for the betterment of the community is definitely one of my values,” said Dalrymple, who was raised Episcopalian. “Making sure that everyone is voting, not just me or my friends, but ensuring that everyone has access to polling places and that everyone’s voices can and will be heard.”

Miljanic’s involvement with MitzVote is also tied to helping shape the kind of world she wants to live in.

“Voting is important to me as a Jew not only because it makes me feel like I have a say in the government, but by voting, I may have some power in making our society less antisemitic and promoting equity for all,” Miljanic said.

Watkins, who is also part of the Elon Votes! leadership team, has found her civic engagement work on campus to be transformative, and deeply connected to her internship with the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.

“As part of my internship, I can not only explore my own faith, but I can also experience different religious traditions and learn more about all the different communities on campus,” shared Watkins. “In this space, at the Numen Lumen Pavilion, all my values and beliefs are tied in together, encouraged and supported. When I walk in the door I see the Elon Votes! postcards, and I know that my two passions are connected. Civic engagement touches every aspect of the Elon community, just like the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.”