USFVotes: Leadership as Empowering Others

Maddelyn helps to register fellow students to vote

Maddelyn Bryan, International Studies ’18

Working with the McCarthy Center has redefined my understanding of leadership. I remember feeling irrepressibly disappointed on a county election day when I was 18. Someone tried to comfort me, shrugging words of, “well at least one vote doesn’t make much difference in a state the size of California.” I could not contain my overwhelming feelings of disempowerment.

Just moments before, I was feeling giddy in the car as I drove with my brother to the polling station. After participating in civic engagement programs throughout high school, I was finally of an age to put words into action. My brother went before me in line and gave them his name. As one of the youngest and most enthusiastic persons in the room, I stepped up right after, ready to exercise my civic duty—ready to have a political voice.

Maddelyn Bryan?” the woman blinked at me. “I don’t see your name on this list.”

“Would you mind checking just once more?” I asked anxiously. 

After a few long minutes of confusion on my part, the women determined that there must have been a minor mistake in my paper registration form submitted some months earlier. I was unable to vote. 

Last summer, as I was about to enter my senior year of college, I received an email from the McCarthy Center asking for volunteers to run a new initiative for New Student Orientation. The name USF Votes intrigued me. I rearranged my schedule and headed to campus early to join the initiative and help register new students to vote. This was my chance to prevent others from experiencing the same sense of disempowerment.

At age 18, not only are students now legally adults, they are also undergoing numerous changes. Moving to new cities, adjusting to a new educational system, and navigating unfamiliar environments can be disorienting for the recent adult. The simple actions necessary to complete the voter registration form (without mistakes), or even going to the DMV to procure it, can be lost in the overwhelming pressures of adapting to a new life. Through USFVotes, the McCarthy Center staff and volunteers simplify the process for students, bringing the materials to them and guiding them in process.

During that first registration drive, the volunteers did more than register new students. They also modeled a culture of caring about one’s impact in the realm of public service. Each time I joined a registration drive, I was impressed by the dedication of the staff and volunteers.  I am pleased but far from surprised at the rate of our progress. In half a year, we already exceeded 1,000 registrations. These numbers turned USF into a nationwide campus leader in registered voters according to Turbo Vote for the 2017-2018 school year.

This process is more than watching someone fill out a form. It is telling each student that their voice matters, that USF must become a culture where the discourse of the classroom translates into civic action. It is telling them that voting is not only a right but a duty. It calls on USF students to elect representatives that reflect our values. In this way, the McCarthy Center volunteers redefine leadership as the measure of how much they empower others.

Update: In the first year, USF was able to register 1429 students! 

This Saturday, August 19th, from 8am-3pm USF Votes will be registering students at Lo Schiavo on the ground floor and Lone Mountain on the first floor. 

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