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Education

Organizers hope voting becomes habit for ‘wildcard’ young voters

Political organizers and candidates are watching to see if they pull younger voters to the polls in an election that could change the balance of power in Congress. They hope that more education on the importance of voting, and how to vote, can develop a consistent habit among young voters whose participation can be a wildcard.

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By Cassandra Loper

Roughly three years ago, Maria Reynoso determined local policy issues and election information were not readily available or easily digestible to the average voter, and especially younger voters.

Reynoso now runs We Vote Virginia, a nonpartisan digital media resource to help voters become more informed.

“What my focus when creating the organization, and I guess my mission, was really to make it incredibly accessible and fun and engaging to learn about local politics,” Reynoso said.

The most critical change happens in local and state politics, according to Reynoso. Virginia voter turnout traditionally drops off between presidential elections. Candidates are vying for U.S. House of Representatives seats in Congress this year, with other local races and initiatives on the ballot throughout the state’s districts.

Political organizers and candidates are watching to see if they pull younger voters to the polls in an election that could change the balance of power in Congress. They hope that more education on the importance of voting, and how to vote, can develop a consistent habit among young voters whose participation can be a wildcard.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s VCU Votes Student Coalition is a network of the university’s students, faculty and staff that promote voter engagement on campus, according to the VCU Votes website.

“Younger voters are considered a wildcard because they’re still very new to voting, and I think also, they’re still new to the democratic process as a whole,” said Cameron Hart, director of partnerships for VCU Votes Student Coalition.

Young voters understand the urgency of issues, such as climate change, according to Hart, and it can motivate them to the polls.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties of Virginia could do more in terms of encouraging young people to vote by making appearances on college campuses, Hart said.

Generation X, millennials and Generation Z make up over 46% of the Virginia population, according to American Community Survey data by the U.S. Census Bureau. That percentage is totaled from the provided categories of ages 20-54, although the generations are ages 10-57. Gen Z and millennial eligible voters ages 20-44 account for over a third of the population, based on the census data.

Virginia young voter turnout ages 18-29 has been a mixed bag in the past few elections, according to Tufts Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE. That age group is most commonly used by researchers, versus a precise snapshot of voter participation by generation.

  • The 18-29 voter turnout more than doubled in the 2018 midterm election, according to CIRCLE (13% to 33%). Virginia voters are inconsistent when it comes to midterm elections, in general. Since 2000, anywhere from almost 32% to almost 60% of voters participated, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website.

  • The 18-29 voter turnout was 56% in Virginia in 2020, according to CIRCLE, up from 48% in 2016. Voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election was the highest turnout of the 21st century, overall.

  •  The 18-29 voter turnout decreased in the 2021 gubernatorial election, according to CIRCLE, from 34% in 2017 to 27%.

Social media is a great way to engage young voters, according to Reynoso. The We Vote VA Instagram account launched in late 2019. The account now has nearly 16,000 followers and is one of the organization’s primary methods of reaching voters. It features easy to read and visually appealing posts containing information about polling locations, important dates, redistricting background and more. The concept is to inform and help create a habit of voting.

“It is so important that young voters know their facts,” Ellie Sorensen, press secretary for the Republican Party of Virginia, stated in an email.

Young voters may think their vote doesn’t matter because some policy issues might not directly impact them, according to Sorensen.

“Sometimes, voters just vote based on what other people around them vote, but if they are taught the importance of voting and the facts about what they are actually voting for, it will encourage younger people to vote,” Sorensen stated.

Voting can become a habit, especially when voters can see the “good it can do,” according to Gianni Snidle, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia.

“If we’re not actively participating in our democracy, then we’re failing,” Snidle said.

Nonprofit organization Rock the Vote has worked to make voting a habit among young voters since 1990. It launched with a public service announcement featuring singer, songwriter and actress Madonna.

Rock the Vote serves as a one-stop shop for all things voting, Carolyn DeWitt, president and executive director of Rock the Vote, stated in an email. Voters can check registration status, request an absentee ballot, get election reminders and view election deadlines through the website.

The organization had direct channels to young voters through their partnership with MTV, and through concert venues where the organization would register people to vote.

Rock the Vote has adapted through the decades and was the first to launch an online voter registration platform in the late ‘90s, according to an L.A. Times report. The organization reports that they’ve helped register 14 million people to vote.

The new generation of voters are extraordinarily in touch with their values, according to DeWitt.

“But over the past few years, they’ve witnessed our political culture become increasingly volatile and our democracy threatened on multiple counts,” DeWitt stated.

Young people know their value and they keep showing up despite the obstacles put before them, according to DeWitt.

State lawmakers have made voting more accessible in recent years. Virginia voters are no longer required to show photo identification at the polls. Voters can prove their identity with things such as a driver’s license, passport, college student ID and even a current bank statement or utility bill that contains the voter’s name and address. Same-day voter registration can be done up to and on Election Day, although voters receive a provisional ballot.

Voters can find local polling places and request an absentee ballot on the Virginia Department of Elections website.

Early voting started Sept. 23 and will end on Nov. 5. Absentee ballots must be requested by Oct. 28 and postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 8.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

Downtown

Missing context, political bias: Some of critics’ objections to Virginia’s new history standards

A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

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A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

Critics from diverse communities and lawmakers, most recently in a Nov. 15 letter to the governor and school officials, argue the new standards are missing influential figures and events and voice concern about what they say is a lack of transparency regarding who authored the changes.

The standards will set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science, which are assessed through the Standards of Learning tests. The Board of Education delayed its first review after Superintendent Jillian Balow requested additional time to correct errors, reorder guidance and allow additional experts to weigh in on the draft.

“Continued review and edits to the standards over the past several months have strengthened the content at each grade level,” wrote Balow in a Nov. 10 letter to the Board of Education. “The edits honor the work done previously by Virginians, and national and state experts.”

Balow also said in her letter that draft curriculum frameworks, which are guides for teachers, will be published later.

However, critics in the Nov. 15 letter said the curriculum frameworks missing from the standards make it “impossible for anybody to effectively evaluate the draft as a whole.”

Among the letter’s signatories are 10 Democratic lawmakers and groups including the Virginia Education Association, the nonprofit Hamkae Center, which describes itself as organizing “Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice in Virginia,” the Fairfax County NAACP and the Sikh Coalition. The Virginia Education Association referred inquiries to the Hamkae Center.

They also questioned the number of “problematic content changes that fail to reflect the concerns of our diverse communities” and the involvement of groups such as the Michigan based-Hillsdale College in the review of the standards.

Balow said last month that representatives from other colleges expressed interest in commenting on the draft standards after VPM reported that she was working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational think tank, to develop the standards.

Here are a few objections to the proposed new standards that educational and other groups have raised.

Missing context

Critics say parts of the new standards lack proper context.

For example, while the standards replace the term “Indian” with “Indigenous people” and require students to study aspects of the groups, they do not mention that Indigenous People’s Day replaced Columbus Day in 1992 because Indigenous people view Christopher Columbus as a colonizer rather than a discoverer.

Additionally, the standards recognize the development of slavery in colonial Virginia but lack an emphasis on the slave trade and tobacco plantations, critics say.

“Nazis” and “The Final Solution,” which are necessary to understand the Holocaust, are also missing from the standards.

“Content is crucial for understanding the Holocaust and other genocides,” said Gail Flax, a retired educator. “You have to know what happened before and what happened afterward to be able to analyze and contextualize history.”

Narrative

With the removal of historical figures and events, critics have questioned the narrative of history the administration is conveying to students.

Zowee Aquino of the Hamkae Center said the revisions reflect “pretty explicit political bias.” She said the standards also have a Eurocentric theme that focuses on European or Anglo-American ideas and disregards the contributions of ethnic minorities in white countries.

For example, the name of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist, was removed from the elementary school standards. King’s name first appears in the sixth grade standards.

Aquino said there’s no mention of Juneteenth, the Chinese Exclusion Act or Martin Luther King Jr. Day in any of the standards. China and the African civilization of Mali, which have been part of the standards for world culture studies, have also been removed from third grade standards.

The standards also do not include any mention of tribal sovereignty.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in a letter to the Board of Education that the revised draft deletes “major components of our history and deliberately omits the diverse perspectives that shape our commonwealth and our nation.”

For example, she wrote that the draft omits any discussion of the history or modern-day culture of the Latino community, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders or the LGBTQ community.

“These decisions would mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginia children would not have the opportunity to learn about their community’s contributions to the fabric and history of our nation,” McClellan wrote. “And, all Virginia students would lack a fuller understanding of our country’s history.”

Rejected recommendations

The inclusion of King, the national holiday for the civil rights leader and Juneteenth marking the day when all enslaved Africans became free were several edits recommended by the Virginia Commission on African American History Education, but excluded or generalized in the redraft.

The list of edits excluded include the mention of John Mercer Langston, the first African American congressman from Virginia. The commission’s recommendation that the standards include the phrase that “not everyone was considered a citizen when our country began, and for a long time after that, even until today” was also excluded.

Mention of Indigenous people and their culture being affected by white European colonization was also excluded from the standards, as was the phrase “the Virginia Colony’s economy was greatly dependent upon temporary and permanent servitude.”

Historical errors and inaccuracies

Critics also say the proposed standards have historical errors and inaccuracies.

Specifically, students starting in the fourth grade are required to explain the reasons for the relocation of Virginia’s capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg as part of the Revolutionary War. However, an email from the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium Monday said “this makes absolutely no sense” given Virginia’s capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond to provide greater protection against British attack.

Additionally, the group says the standards erroneously convey that Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, was the most recent president from Virginia instead of Woodrow Wilson, who was elected in 1912.

The standards do not explicitly say which president was most recent. The document only states that students starting in the fourth grade will be required to explain the growth of a new America with an emphasis on the role of Virginians by explaining Virginia’s prominence in national leadership, emphasizing its eight presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Zachary Taylor.

“The previous version of the proposed standards did not contain egregious historical errors such as this because they were developed by a team of educators, division leaders and historians,” the consortium wrote.

Age appropriateness

Aquino also questioned whether the revisions are age appropriate.

For example, first and third graders must learn about the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient law text, and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, under the proposed history standards. She said the history is “pretty dense and intense” and includes details about capital punishment.

However, Charles Pyle, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Education, said under the standards, first graders will learn where the first civilizations began and third graders will learn about democracy. He said Aurelius is part of a list of suggested examples of mythical and historical figures students could encounter as they “hear, read, and retell stories.”

Open access

With the focus on the amount of work demanded of teachers due to the workforce shortage, critics question a sentence in the preface of the history standards that states teachers should provide all of their instructional materials to parents.

Under the Board of Education’s current regulations, parents have the right to inspect instructional materials used as part of the educational curriculum for students.

Aquino said many reports link teacher burnout with increased work demands and argued another mandate does not help support students.

“It’s a huge task that the new administration is asking them to take on that doesn’t improve instruction,” Aquino said.

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Education

University of Richmond celebrates New Zealand with gumboot throwing, sheep cuddling, and ambassador visit

The annual event celebrating International Education Week this year focuses on our Kiwi friends.

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Richmonders can sample New Zealand cuisine, visit with some sustainably raised sheep, and more at the University of Richmond along with Bede Corry, New Zealand Ambassador to the U.S. next week as the University of Richmond celebrates International Education Week.

The annual program returns at a pre-COVID cadence with events available for the campus and greater community November 14-18. Programming themes for Aotearoa New Zealand Week include the natural world and sustainability, female leadership, indigenous peoples, and sport.

“Aotearoa” is the Maori name for the country.

“This annual tradition has been a valuable way of promoting deeper connection to cultures in the classroom and beyond. UR’s ‘meeting with’ another country during International Education Week emphasizes our commitment to global engagement, dialogue, and cultural exchange,” said International Education Dean Martha Merritt. “Returning to full-scale engagement is exciting as this week provides an opportunity for our campus and greater community to learn together about Aotearoa New Zealand as they return to the world stage after the pandemic.”

This year, scholars and visitors will travel to Richmond from New Zealand and Washington, D.C. to offer their expertise, and faculty have geared their teaching toward intersections with New Zealand. Participants can also participate in a variety of fun and social activities, including attending a Cricket exhibition or trying a BODYPUMP class (the popular fitness class that originated in New Zealand).

Peak programming that is open to the campus and greater community is on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and key events include:

  • Aotearoa New Zealand Fair, 4:30 p.m., Tyler Haynes Commons
    • More than 20 stations will allow attendees to explore a wide variety of community connections to New Zealand, including a business school case study on Allbirds shoes, children’s literature, urban biodiversity, women in STEM fields, and more. Details here.
  • Aotearoa New Zealand Dinner, 6 p.m., Heilman Dining Center
    • Samplings will include lamb chops, Kiwi burger, fish and chips, kumara, and chocolate lamingtons. Full menu here.

Ambassador Corry will be meeting with members of the campus community during a private event.

A full list of events is available here.

Previous years have focused on Chile, India, East Asia, South Africa, and Denmark. Earlier this year, Richmond received the Association of International Education Administrators Innovation Award in Internationalization, recognizing innovative approaches to International Education Week programming during the pandemic.

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Downtown

VCU to lead $114 million Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program

Initiated in 2020, this five-year program was established by the BMSF with a $100 million commitment to train and develop community-oriented clinical trialists.

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Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) announced Wednesday that it is partnering with the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) and working alongside the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and Gilead Sciences, Inc. to lead the implementation of the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program (Winn Awards), a national program created to transform the clinical research landscape with the goal of increasing diversity in clinical trials.

Initiated in 2020, this five-year program was established by the BMSF with a $100 million commitment to train and develop community-oriented clinical trialists. In April 2021, Gilead Sciences joined as a program supporter with a funding commitment of $14 million. The Winn Awards is based out of VCU Massey Cancer Center under the direction of Robert A. Winn, M.D., the center’s director and Lipman Chair in Oncology.

Originally launched as the BMSF Diversity in Clinical Trials Career Development Program, the program was renamed in honor of Winn, a leader in establishing a 21st century model for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the oncology workforce. Winn has been nationally recognized for community engagement efforts in promoting new approaches to building trust among populations previously disenfranchised from healthcare or excluded or abused by research.

The only African American director of a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center when he was appointed in 2019, Winn also serves as chair of the National Advisory Committee and his vision and guidance were instrumental in shaping the program.

“We cannot eliminate health disparities if clinical trial participants don’t reflect the diversity of our population,” said Winn. “This collaborative effort will allow us to support the education and careers of students and physicians who will play a crucial role in ensuring that we can offer everyone — no matter their background or geography — equal access to the latest treatments, and that we connect the needs of the community with the research we perform.”

The Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program includes two awards: the Robert A. Winn Career Development Award (Winn CDA) for early-stage investigator physicians who are from diverse backgrounds and/or committed to increasing diversity in clinical trials, and the Robert A. Winn Clinical Investigator Pathway Program (Winn CIPP) for medical students who are underrepresented in medicine (URM). The program aims to train, develop and mentor more than 290 diverse and community-oriented clinical trialists and 290 medical students by 2027.

Through the program, participants will be trained as world-class clinical research scientists with additional knowledge, skills and competencies in community outreach and engagement strategies to effectively partner with communities throughout the research continuum. These physician investigators will have the potential to transform the clinical research landscape by conducting clinical trials designed with the goal of increasing the diversity of their participants.

The awardees represent a diverse cross section of races and ethnicities and bring a widely varied perspective and range of experiences to the program, as well as to their research focus in the therapeutic areas of cancer (hematologic and solid tumors), immunologic disorders and cardiovascular diseases. The program aspires to build a national network of individuals committed to clinical trial diversity across the clinical research landscape. It includes a multi-level mentorship model that is designed to ensure that Winn scholars and students have access to supportive mentors and further provides them with an opportunity to serve as a mentor. The Winn CDA scholars are paired in mentoring relationships with established senior clinical investigators, and also serve as mentors to Winn CIPP students.

“The support and community provided to this diverse group of physician scientists and students offers them a pathway to career advancement and opportunities for growth that they may not have otherwise encountered,” said Joy L. Jones, Ph.D., chief program officer of the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program. “The enthusiasm and genuine interest from academia, industry, government and communities to see this program succeed have been incredibly heartening. It is exhilarating to see the passion and intelligence the awardees bring to bear on our shared mission to build community trust and increase diversity in clinical trials.”

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