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Essential Life Lessons for College Students – The Power of Civic Engagement

Civic Education in Motion - Student Government Election at ADU

Word "VOTE."
Cyrus Crossan/Unsplash

It has been slightly under two (2) years since African Development University (ADU) elected its first student government. The Ilimi Student Government (ISG) is closely modeled after the national parliamentary, governmental structure. The leadership includes a President, Prime Minister, a cabinet of Ministers, and other leaders. Now, the University is electing its second ISG leadership, a process that was delayed for various reasons, including staff changes and campus closure due to COVID. March 2021, mid-way throughout the first reopened semester, became the designated time to execute the process for electing the next student governance.

ADU Library - Converted into a polling station

Working with the existing student government, a plan and process were mapped out for implementation. All seemed well and the election process was launched. However, there is no electoral process without controversy or scandal. Our student government election had a moment of controversy that delayed the election for a couple of weeks.

So, what halted the process? It was the introduction of a minimum cumulative grade point average (CGPA) for the candidates. The CGPA was not part of the first electoral process. It was introduced to level up our student leadership positions to an international standard and set the tone of academic excellence to be included in such significant student leadership roles.

We had candidate teams that did not meet the requirement and then challenged it. After several conversations, a concession with conditions was brokered, allowing the process to move forward only to be delayed by political unrest because of the country's national election. However, after a few days and the city, along with the University, returning to calm and normalcy, the student government election was held.

Female student in the voting booth

On 6 March 2021, the process of voting was a social science lesson in practice. Students were being taught to exercise their right to vote for the next President and Prime Minister of their Student Government. Students were immersed in learning and understanding civic engagement as important life lessons for creating and strengthening a civil and peaceful society.

A team of faculty and staff members, plus the outgoing ISG President, planned and executed the election process. The polling station was set up in the library using a controlled entrance and exit.

Voting booth

Students were shown a sample ballot while they stood in line outside the polling station and given an explanation of what needs to happen once they entered. A student who entered without the proper ID had to exit and return with an appropriate one.

Students were given ballots, then proceeded behind a screened area to make their selection. Once completed and the ballot deposited, they signed their name again as part of the double verification process.

The Office of Student and Community Affairs and the election committee monitored the process throughout, taking moments inside and outside the polling area where students were in line to inquire if they were first-time voters. At the end of 2 hours into the process, all who were in line to vote had done so.

For many of our students, this was their first experience of voting and understanding such a process even though they were all eligible to vote in both the December 2020 and February 2021 general elections. We are pleased that our students took their civic engagement seriously in our campus election. We had 134 voters and ballots cast, which is equivalent to 78% of the student body. There were 129 valid votes, and the winning candidate received 51.9% of the valid votes. A President-Elect and Prime Minister-Elect have been chosen.

Anecdotally, the favorable voter participation by the students to exercise their civic duty was because they were more knowledgeable about the candidates. As such, the student voters felt that they could hold the newly elected leaders more accountable for campaign statements.

Student and Community Affairs staff are proud of the active education moment for the ADU students during our student government election. By participating in the electoral process, they engaged in experiential learning and embraced civic engagement's essential life skills. It demonstrated their willingness to learn in the moment and their ability to take learning experiences in stride to make progress.

Election Committee verifying and counting ballots.

We know the elected President, Prime Minister, and other appointed Cabinet Ministers will gain invaluable skills such as effective communication and organization. Other areas of learning will include meeting facilitation, working with a structured system of operations, event planning, and managing their needs versus those of the students who elected them. As a representative of the student body, each student will hold a liaison role with the administration and gain insight into the nuance of managing the university. They will also gain community, transferable experience, learn life skills and gain a sense of empowerment. These general skills translate to workplace skills.

Whatever the outcome, each student who took the time to vote committed to engaging in a time-honored tradition at college campuses globally. This is the true power of civic engagement!

**All polling and voting process photos were taken by Karla Fraser

This article is also published on LinkedIn.


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-- Karla A. Fraser, Essential Life Lessons for College Students – The Power of Civic Engagement, Roseapple Global, LLC


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