Advocating for Voter Engagement on Harvard’s Longwood Campus

October 23, 2020
Stock image of an "I Voted" sticker.

Ahead of November’s election, Harvard launched the Harvard Votes Challenge (HVC), which is a non-partisan initiative aimed at increasing voter registration and participation among members of the Harvard community. Through different events such as National Voter Registration Day and training sessions for election volunteers, the Harvard Votes Challenge is engaging community members in new ways, with an emphasis on building a civic-minded culture at Harvard University. Whether it’s registering voters, helping people apply for a mail-in ballot, or connecting community members with political organizers, the Harvard Votes Challenge hopes to inspire greater involvement and engagement than ever before.

Elizabeth Durham, DMD22, sitting outside.Elizabeth Durham, DMD22, a third-year student at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, sees the connection between what happens at the polls and what happens in doctor’s and dentist’s offices around the country. Durham 
aspires to provide trauma-informed dental care to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and has an interest in pursuing pediatrics as well. Durham, along with classmates from the three Longwood Campus schools, have spent the last several months working on the Harvard Votes Challenge, and hope to educate their classmates on how civic engagement shapes healthcare and public policy.

What inspired you to get involved in the Harvard Votes Challenge? 

In the past, I viewed politics and civic engagement from a distance; because I rested safely in the bubble of academia, politics was something that I could easily tune out. However, when I embarked on my journey to become a health care provider, I realized that civic engagement is closely intertwined with caring for patients. The extent of our care is often defined by policy, and if we choose to view them separately, we are missing a crucial piece of health care. As a result, it is our responsibility to be engaged in our community so that we can be the best providers possible for our patients. I wanted to help others recognize this connection, as it is often overlooked.

Some studies indicate that doctors and graduate students vote in lower numbers than the general population. How could increasing turnout amongst medical professionals improve our health care system?

Medical professionals have the unique privilege of seeing people at their most vulnerable. We can integrate this perspective into civic engagement to help heal our country. As mentioned before, our care is defined by policy. To make a true, sustainable change in our patients’ lives, we must remember the importance of systemic change. This can only happen through civic engagement.

Why is it important for HSDM community members to exercise their right to vote?

Two reasons: to improve our health care system so that our patients can access the care that they need, when they need it, without having to navigate systemic barriers, and to recognize and take on the responsibility of becoming health care providers by helping to create systemic change for our patients.

How did you become involved in the Harvard Votes Challenge?
Carrie Sylven, director of Student Affairs at HSDM, reached out to our class about getting involved with civic engagement back in April. Harvard Votes Challenge is well-established at many of the other Harvard schools, and was looking to include more students from Longwood. I was put in touch with the Longwood Team, which is composed of students from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

What are some ways that you’ve been involved in promoting the Harvard Votes Challenge?

We meet weekly to discuss how to make sure students are aware of what is happening politically and encourage more engagement. We hosted a speaker series this month and engage with the student body through email reminders and office hours on how to register to vote and create a voting plan. I email the HSDM student body individually, as we are a smaller class. We also work with the other Harvard schools to try and create a connection between the different student bodies.

What should HSDM students do if they have questions about voting?

The Harvard Votes Challenge has a plethora of resources on their website about state specific registration deadlines, making a voting plan, and navigating voting during a pandemic. Additionally, there are office hours hosted by HVC representatives.

Learn more about the Harvard Votes Challenge, access voting resources, make a plan to vote and find ways to engage with HVC here.

See also: Community, Students