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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Student athletes help Middlebury become student voter registration frontrunner in NESCAC, country

Student athletes are stepping up to the plate this election season, taking the initiative to engage and educate the community about the value of voter participation. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is using its platform to encourage fellow athletes to prioritize democratic engagement at Middlebury and beyond. Thanks to the efforts of student athletes and other student organizations, the college holds this year’s number one ranking in the NESCAC and number 11 slot in the country for the total number of public commitments to vote. 

SAAC paired up with MiddVotes and MiDD (Middlebury Does Democracy) this September to launch a campus-wide campaign to involve all student athletes in the election process. Izzy Hartnett ’21, a senior leader of the SAAC and member of the women’s soccer team, is leading the initiative, calling on varsity sports teams to promise to vote on Nov. 3. Hartnett and her team reached out to all varsity captains to create a coalition of MiDD student-athlete liaisons who can provide resources for their teams and communicate with MiddVotes.

The Athletics Office promoted SAAC’s Midd Team Challenge via their Instagram account in order to encourage varsity sports teams on campus to prioritize democratic engagement by signing pledges, spreading awareness and registering to vote. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics (@middathletics) Instagram)

“[We] ask all our MiDD liaisons to reach out individually to each member of their team to ask if they are registered to vote if [they’re] eligible, what their plan for voting is and if they have any questions along the way,” Hartnett said.

Women’s tennis captain Ann-Martin Skelly ’21 said she volunteered for the MiDD liaison position because of her disappointment with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and her understanding of the importance of voter participation. Skelly hopes to help all student athletes find their voice this election season and increase voter turnout among college students.

“I wanted to have an impact on this year’s election,” Skelly said. “Regardless of political beliefs, everyone deserves to be heard. The last election was determined by about half of the population, and I wanted to be a part of ensuring that everyone at Middlebury has the resources to participate this year.”

Part of Skelly’s job as a liaison involves recruiting her 11-person tennis team to partake in the MiDD Team Challenge, a student-led campaign designed to guide Panther teams through the election process this fall. The MiDD Team Challenge encourages students across campus to obtain voting achievements — represented by bronze, silver, gold or platinum awards — by signing pledges, spreading awareness and registering to vote. The bronze award is allotted to team members who have filled out the Midd Plan and the All In To Vote Pledge and registered to vote; each successive medal combines bronze-level achievements with additional goals, including assisting 10 other students with voter registration and attending one democratic engagement event, like MiddVotes’ Vote Early Party on McCullough lawn on Oct. 23.

“The MiDD Team Challenge sets goals for engagement and recognizes team achievements as we strive to reach every Middlebury student,” Hartnett said. “We hope more athletic teams will shoot for the silver and gold medals in the MiDD Team Challenge because it will influence more of the Middlebury community to get involved in their democratic engagement.”

So far, the SAAC has garnered full participation from 20 out of the 29 varsity teams. Hartnett and the SAAC recognize that there is still work to be done and hope to encourage the team with the lowest voter registration rate (66%) to match the percentage of other athletic teams. The challenges inhibiting 100% student athlete cooperation, Skelly suggests, might be related to Covid-19 precautions on campus that limit the number of in-person activities and education sources available.

“Honestly, it has been harder than I thought,” Skelly said. “Because of being more spread out due to Covid-19, we haven’t been as organized, and making videos [to spread information] has been challenging.”

Still, Skelly’s team has formed a collective plan for voting: applying for absentee ballots and signing the All In To Vote Pledge, an online form asking college students to make a public commitment to vote. 

While Middlebury student athletes are certainly off to a strong start, their work remains unfinished. With the Nov. 3 date fast approaching, Hartnett provided guidance for how students can continue to shape the political atmosphere through voter participation and democratic engagement on campus.

“MiddVotes has created an incredible website that is extremely easy to navigate and find relevant voting information,” Hartnett said. She encouraged athletes to keep up the great work in the final days before the election.

Brinlea La Barge

Brinlea La Barge '23 is the senior news editor. 

She previously served as news editor and sports editor.  La Barge studies English and Linguistics at Middlebury and is a peer writing tutor and captain of the women's tennis team.

She spent the summer of 2022 as a communications intern for the Josh Shapiro for Governor campaign, and previously worked for Nantucket Magazine and WHYY, Philadelphia's local PBS and NPR affiliate.