The Institute of Politics, in partnership with Harvard College, hosted a “Day of Civic Action” Thursday, with the goal of encouraging civic participation among students.
The day included live advocacy events such as phone banking, as well as a discussion on running for office with former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III.
The day aimed to build on the rise of involvement in the 2020 election and to boost civic participation at Harvard, according to IOP Vice President Kevin L. Ballen ’22.
“We saw all this momentum in the 2020 election, and we saw so many student organizations join us and so many students get involved,” he said. “We wanted a way to continue that enthusiasm and to channel it.”
He added that he hoped the day would inspire students to take civic action outside of voting.
Alexander K. Park ’23, co-chair of the Harvard Votes Challenge, said he hopes that the day will strengthen a culture of civic engagement at Harvard.
“Having a day of civic action, where students are being intentional about taking action to benefit the community, to benefit causes that they care about, to be mindful about their place in their community and how they can help serve their community, I think will be a wonderful step in the right direction to achieve this overall goal of a culture of civic engagement and cultural public service at Harvard University,” he said.
The Harvard Votes Challenge hosted three events during the day, including a nonpartisan voter turnout text bank, an electoral reform event, and a phone bank and discussion centered around Asian Americans and Pacific Islander advocacy.
Liam M. F. Hall ’23 — who attended the event with Kennedy on running for office — said he felt the Day of Civic Action was well planned.
“I think that they were very well organized in the programming that they offered,” he said. “I think that it was done well.”
Aaron Abai ’22 — founder of the STEM and Social Engagement Coalition, a new organization that aims to promote engagement with social issues among students in STEM — said the coalition is working with the IOP to promote civic participation.
The coalition hosted an event on Thursday which advocated for the STEM Opportunities Act, a bill in Congress that would create grants for groups historically underrepresented in STEM at institutions of higher education, as well as other bills helping to support researchers who have been hurt by the pandemic. During the event, participants called their representatives, wrote letters, and spoke about how to get students more energized about social and political advocacy.
Abai said his goal for the day was to help raise awareness that science is political.
“I think there's this narrative that science is objective, and that people who are in STEM should not be involved in social and civic issues,” he said. “My goal is to get STEM students energized about how we can leverage our identity, being in STEM, how we can use that to advance social and political issues, both those that are directly relevant to us as scientists, but also those that know we can be allies towards.”
—Staff writer Isabel G. Skomro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @isabelskomro.