University of Richmond students and faculty members watched Virginia elections Tuesday night and discussed the importance of civic engagement in local and state races.
Approximately 25 students and a few faculty members gathered in Spider Hall in the Robins Center to watch the live Virginia legislative elections. Two professors spoke on the importance of civic engagement among college students.
Juniors Izzy Blaylock and Jacob Ellis and senior Lola Dragosavac worked together with the Center for Civic Engagement and UR’s Athletic Department to host the event.
Blaylock, Ellis and Dragosavac are student ambassadors for the Spiders Vote Initiative within the Athletic Department’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. The Initiative seeks to encourage civic engagement with student-athletes and help to get everyone interested in voting registered to vote, according to Blaylock, Ellis and Dragosavac.
The event was part of the Athletics Department’s initiative but was open to all students. Blaylock described the watch party as an opportunity for students to“hang out and talk about voting.”
The ambassadors are already working on other initiatives and events for next year’s federal elections and are hoping to bring in more guest speakers such as elected officials, staff members and potential candidates for office.
“I’ve been watching the Dunnavant and VanValkenburg [race], especially because of all the ads,” first-year student-athlete and Chesterfield County resident Zachary Stevens said.
Stevens referenced the barrage of ads across popular social media platforms that have made the 16th Senate District race a high-profile event.
First-year student Sally Brouhard from Massachusetts also expressed her interest in the Dunnavant and VanValkenburg race.
“It’s a local race and I’ve seen a lot of political ads for it so I’m invested in the outcome,” Brouhard said.
Brouhard said she came to the watch party because of her curiosity about elections as a former poll worker and her care for policy issues such as abortion rights.
“The only thing holding back legislation such as abortion bans and serious anti-trans legislation currently is the Senate,” history professor Pippa Holloway said. She reflected common sentiments that abortion was a leading issue during this election season.
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Holloway highlighted several other elections that were closely contested or particularly relevant, including an Ohio referendum that constitutionally enshrined abortion rights, Mississippi’s close election of the Republican incumbent for governor and Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court election that could have had implications on the ruling of the 2024 presidential election. Even the election of a local circuit court clerk has significant ramifications for LGBTQ+ Virginians, according to Holloway.
“The current circuit court clerk is extremely homophobic and someone who doesn't separate religious beliefs from their job,” Holloway said. “When people go and try to get married as same-sex couples, there have been reports of harassment by her.”
As the watch party continued, election results became more clear. The race remained close between the anticipated Dunnavant and VanValkenburg.
“Anybody can knock on doors, anybody can get involved in a campaign,” Thad Williamson, professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics and law, said. He reiterated the importance of youth involvement in the democratic process, as many campaigns with national implications are run by young adults.
Contact contributing writers Maria Byrnes and Dylan Germain at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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