Student Engagement Politics

Loyola Votes

Loyola University Chicago law student Grant Bosich is among a group of student volunteers leading a campaign this fall on Loyola’s campuses to register students to vote. Taking on a leadership role in the democratic process might seem natural for a future lawyer, but Bosich’s motivation comes from an unexpected source: his own failure to vote in the 2016 election.

“I made every excuse for why I didn't vote in 2016—lack of enthusiasm for a particular candidate, a long primary cycle—but in reality, I just made a mistake,” Bosich said. “I don't want any student on this campus to have any excuse not to vote.”

So last spring, Bosich joined in an effort by the Loyola Law Democrats to promote voter information and registration on campus. Then he jumped in to the university-wide campaign to register students to vote in advance of the 2018 election. And the fact that Loyola as an institution has committed itself to promoting civic engagement among the student body has only further inspired Bosich to get involved.

“When the school invests in an idea or a program, the message behind that investment trickles down to the student body. And that message has been received: voting matters.”
— Grant Bosich, law student

It is an important message at a time when the country is facing sharp partisan divides, but the commitment to civic engagement is nothing new for Loyola. Encouraging students to be active in the political process stems from the university’s Jesuit, Catholic mission and its commitment to social justice. Loyola promotes these values in the classroom and through service in the wider community, but it also aims to teach students that they have a voice to speak on the issues that matter to them at the ballot box.

“Voting is important not only to elect the best people; it is also where you can begin to affect positive change, however you view that change,” said Philip Hale, Loyola’s vice president of government affairs and civic engagement. “Voting is the foundation of everything that follows, being involved in your communities and getting to know your neighbors. We talk a lot about educating men and women for others, and the other is your neighbor, the other is the person who thinks differently from you.”

Fighting for social justice

This type of participation is even more important today, in a time where theology professor Michael Murphy, PhD, says students feel like institutions are failing them.

Murphy, Loyola’s director of Catholic Studies and of the Hank Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage, said that he used to worry students were complacent and disengaged. But today’s Loyola students are attentive to and hungry for justice—and increasingly engaged in this political moment. “Five years ago, so many students were not voting—despite my pleas. Not today,” he said.

Murphy has seen students in the Catholic Studies minor take an active role in working toward positive change in the Catholic Church. He’s been inspired by Loyola’s Student Environmental Alliance, who are using scientific reasoning to challenge leaders on critical environmental issues. And every day, he speaks to students who are making a difference in service, scholarship, and prayer.

“This is the hope for anybody who loves democracy and the beautiful hope of the American project, and more importantly, the human project—our lives together in God,” he said.

These student actions embody a commitment on the part of Loyola that extends beyond simply getting students registered to vote. Loyola students are participating in the democratic process at local, state, and national levels—and not just in election years—in the name of social justice. When Illinois state funding was in jeopardy for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants that help low-income students afford tuition at Illinois colleges and universities, students rallied in support of the program. Students also mobilized in support of the DREAM Act, advocating for the rights of undocumented students when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was rescinded. More than 1,500 students sent letters in support of DACA recipients to Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth advocating for her support of the passage of the bipartisan DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for current DACA recipients.

“Registering to vote is the starting point. You have to register, then you need to become an informed voter,” said Hale. “Our job is to encourage students to apply the same academic rigor that they bring to their classes to voting and their civic education.”

Exercising the right to vote

But the first step for students is taking the time to register. Loyola tried to make the process easier for incoming freshmen, giving them an opportunity to register during Welcome Week events this fall, and held open voter registration sessions on campus as part of National Voter Registration Day on September 25.

During these events, nearly 800 students either registered to vote, requested an absentee ballot, or updated their address. Organizers also estimate that approximately 600 of the people they interacted with were already registered, like first-year student Stephanie Dehoorne, who voted in the primaries in her home state of Michigan and requested her absentee ballot at Loyola’s registration drive.

“As a woman, I think it is really important to take advantage of the right to vote, because we didn’t have it for so long,” Dehoorne said. “Especially in this political climate, with all the problems we have, it is important for the youth to take advantage of the right to vote, and I’m grateful that we have resources like this.”

“Our job is to encourage students to apply the same academic rigor that they bring to their classes to voting and their civic education.” Philip Hale, vice president of government affairs and civic engagement