With the fall semester about to begin, navigating online classes and a global pandemic are not the only things on the minds of Texas college students. They are also registering to vote and making plans to cast ballots in the November election.
“There is a world outside, and it is still going to be affected, and this election is a really big determining factor of what that looks like,” said Shevann Steuben, president of the Texas youth and college division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In particular, the young minority vote in Texas is critical to the presidential election because of major issues like police brutality, student loan debt, community need, immigration and health care.
According to Antonio Arellano, interim executive director of Jolt, the largest Latino organization in Texas for culture, arts and mobilization, a historic total of 16.4 million Texans are registered to vote, and millennials have now outnumbered baby boomers.
However, this election cycle will take place during an unprecedented time in our country’s history, and while rallying the college vote is a critical voting target, it will be a challenge because many students will not be on campuses.
College chapters of the NAACP and Jolt are moving quickly on the digital front to reach as many college students as they can.
Steuben said the NAACP has adopted unique solutions because of the inability to hold meetings or interact with students in person.
“We are starting something called Media Mondays where we are trying to create graphics, videos, anything that are digital resources for people to be able to be more educated. It’s about registration, education, and participation,” he said.
Steuben explained that they follow the acronym R.E.P., or registration, education and participation, as an approach to their voting initiatives.
She said that she oversees multiple units of the youth and college branch of the NAACP, and was the president of the Baylor chapter upon graduating in May. She has encouraged units to keep in mind the power in digital outreach.
“We have been working with our units. We want them to be encouraged. We want them to be motivated — that it’s digital, but it doesn’t mean you can’t make that impact,” said Steuben. “Our executive committee on the state level is making sure that we put together programs that have templates to send down to our units.”
The templates are for digital programs like Zoom, Instagram Live or Facebook Live.
“The big barrier is whether or not we are going to be able to be on campus and have organizational meetings, and even if we were able to, is it safe?” said Steuben. “Quite frankly, it’s not. Since March, it’s been gatherings under 10, so let’s be realistic, that’s not a meeting for us.”
Arellano explained that they have always put emphasis on digital outreach with initiatives in place like textathons, or mass text messaging to peers, virtual volunteer hours on Zoom, and their new website that helps people register to vote almost entirely online.
“You can fill out your voter registration form, we will print it, and mail it to your house with an envelope and a stamp, so that you can just sign it and mail it back and get registered,” said Arellano.
He explained that digital outreach is not the hardest part. Younger latinos are watching their families suffer from health disparities during the time of COVID-19, and access to health care is a contributing factor.
“More people are uninsured in Texas than anywhere else in the country, and out of that, the biggest chunk are latinos,” said Arellano. “Young latinos are watching grandma and grandpa, mom and dad die, because of their lack of access to affordable health care. So, you will see young latinos come out like never before to fight on behalf of their families.”
Arellano said that they are continuing to keep a close eye on the colleges reopening phases and explained that they have over 30 college chapters across the state.
He said that Latinos are projected to be the majority in Texas by 2021 and could significantly affect the election turnout with Texas holding 38 electoral votes, however, Arellano explained that latinos are not regarded by elected officials as valuable.
“I think there is an underlying racial connotation here, before we found out that the majority of the people dying were brown and black, there were no talks about reopening school or going back to business as usual,” said Arellano. “But once we found out that it was black and brown lives that were being lost, all of a sudden it’s like ‘let’s open everything, it’s fine, no big deal!’”
Arellano referred to recent headlines about a conservative think tank leader’s Twitter thread on reopening schools because Latinos are the major group being affected.
Steuben pointed to this year’s police brutality and criminal justice movements when she said that the black vote matters more than ever alongside other minority votes.
“The NAACP worked a lot for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, so how do we ensure that these are accountable situations? And we are not continuing to let things fall through the cracks,” said Steuben. “If I am supposed to be treated with equality and equity, I would expect that to be reflected in every sense of life and policy in this country.”