#VotingIsSexy Initiative Hopes to Engage Students


Mallika Pandey

Members of Oberlin’s #VotingIsSexy initiative gather to prepare for the March 17 Ohio presidential primary.

In light of a perceived lack of voter participation among Oberlin students, College fourth-year Eli Kirshner and others saw Ohio’s upcoming presidential primary on March 17 as an opportunity to start a #VotingIsSexy initiative on Oberlin’s campus.

The #VotingIsSexy campaign started in fall 2018 at the University of Michigan. The project was spearheaded by Stephanie Rowden, associate professor at the Penny W. School of Art & Design, and several of her students. At both UM and Oberlin, #VotingIsSexy aims to close the gap between the number of students who are eligible to vote and the number who actually show up at the polls by reframing voting as a “sexy” activity.

“We’re trying to make voting something that is celebrated and visible on campus, where people don’t feel like … ‘That’s just something adults do,’ or ‘My vote doesn’t have any meaning,” Kirshner said. “Actually, if we [vote] as a collective … our generation in this coming 2020 election … has outsized potential.”

Working toward this goal, the students involved in the #VotingIsSexy project have taken an energetic approach in galvanizing young voters. #VotingIsSexy members, including Kirshner, College fourth-year DaQuan Williams, Conservatory fourth-year Neko Cortez, and College third-years Jasmine Mitchell and Claudia Olaes were stationed at Stevenson and Lord-Saunders Dining Halls, where they provided voter registration forms and helped guide students through their registration, which ended Feb. 18.

Team members, sporting hot pink #VotingIsSexy t-shirts, have also added a pop of color to the registration process by passing out brightly colored pins with messages such as “Voting Is Sexy” and “Poll Dancer” to newly-registered student voters.

Kirshner hopes that these unusual voting advertisements will inspire curiosity and eventual participation among the student body.

“It starts a conversation,” Kirshner said. “People ask, ‘voting is sexy?’ It kind of throws them off … and it just gets them to think of it in a different way.”

The team is also planning a series of exciting events to boost the project’s visibility on campus. In the weeks leading up to the primary, look out for a line of #VotingIsSexy t-shirts in the Black History Month fashion show and a pop-up photo shoot on campus. Additionally, to increase voter accessibility on the day of the primary, volunteers will be running a “Voting Is Sexy-mobile” that will pick students up and drop them off at the polls.

#VotingIsSexy does not stand alone in its efforts to expand voter participation on campus.

“We’re part of a much larger coalition,” Kirshner said. “There’s other really great work that’s happening.”

The #VotingIsSexy team meets regularly with several other groups, such as the Oberlin Voter Friendly Campus chapter, the League of Women Voters, and members of the College administration, to discuss outreach strategies and volunteer training. Oberlin appears on a national list of VFC-designated campuses, signifying the institution’s work to develop sustainable, long-term plans through which students can become and remain actively engaged in the electoral process.

“This work is an essential aspect of our VFC efforts that have brought community members, faculty, staff, and students around the same table ‘strategizing to engage students and set clear goals so a path can be created in advance of upcoming elections,’” wrote Adrian Bautista, assistant vice president of student life, in an email to the Review, quoting in part from the VFC website.

Bautista also praised the work the #VotingIsSexy team has been doing across campus.

“A key aspect of any effective campus election engagement project is building excitement and visibility,” Bautista wrote. “The #VotingIsSexy operation that Eli Kirshner and DaQuan Williams are spearheading has our whole Voter Friendly Campus team thrilled and I’m sure it will be infectious across campus.”

The Ohio primary is Tuesday, March 17. Students with questions can visit oberlin.edu/vote.