Sewanee reaches 30% engagement with creative digital outreach

Sewanee: The University of the South is a private liberal arts university in Sewanee, TN. With approximately 1,800 students, the Sewanee community is close-knit. As a 2015 Sewanee graduate and Coordinator of Student Programs in the newly formed Office of Civic Engagement, Michelle Howell knows this firsthand. 

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Howell oversees TurboVote implementation on campus as part of her role. Her effective approach to voter engagement resulted in nearly 500 TurboVote signups in 2016, approaching 30 percent of the Sewanee student body. Sewanee made three appearances on TurboVote leaderboards and voter engagement success at Sewanee was covered by The Sewanee Purple

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Howell created and shared creative social media content. She shared photos and articles related to the election and voting on Facebook and Instagram. Importantly, she posted often in order to reach more students over time. Her posts on the Office of Civic Engagement social media pages featured students completing the voter registration process with pre-addressed, pre-stamped TurboVote envelopes, self-created infographics on voter registration deadlines in each state, and articles with helpful information about voting in different states.   

Howell found any reason to talk about voting in a number of campus-wide emails. Instead of sticking with a predictable subject line like, “Important Information About Voting,” she made her voter engagement communications fun and creative. Email content included GIFs, graphics, and specific instructions about how to be a voter, ranging from registration to the vote by mail to get out the vote reminders. Here are some examples of email subject lines: 

  • Enjoy National Coffee Day While Sipping a Brew & Registering to Vote
  • Running Out of Time: Voter Registration
  • Do the Hustle: Mail Out Those Ballots
  • Get Your "I Voted" Sticker & No Longer Have FOMO

Howell worked closely with the Sewanee SGA to get students signed up for TurboVote. Together, they identified the campus cafeteria as a high traffic location ideal for tabling. Students involved with SGA tabled in the cafeteria around from around 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., the window when most students pass through on a given day. Howell publicly thanked the SGA for their efforts, both in social and traditional media. 

The Office of Civic Engagement organized 4 debate watch parties at The Sewanee Inn. These parties, each with a lengthy waiting list, included a plated dinner and 30-minute facilitated discussion after the debate. The Office of Civic Engagement collaborated with the Center for Speaking and Listening, in addition to campus political groups, to host these events. Facilitated discussions were designed to be nonpartisan and encouraged students to be open minded throughout the process. For example, students who identified as Republican were asked to share what they thought Hillary Clinton did well during the debate and vice versa. 

Be an accessible resource for students. As quoted by The Sewanee Purple shortly after Election Day: “If individuals didn’t end up getting their absentee ballots in the mail or didn’t end up voting, and they’re still not sure if they’re registered to vote, please stop by and please follow up,” Howell encouraged. “Overall, what we’re trying to get at is a culture of political engagement.” Up next, Sewanee is looking institutionalize voter engagement even further by bringing TurboVote to new student orientation