Voting Rights Conference at Allegheny College

By Heather Bosau

Between April 10th, 2015 and April 11th, 2015, Allegheny College hosted the National Undergraduate Conference on Voting Rights and Democratic participation, as a part of its two year programming centered on civil rights and voting rights. Students and faculty from the college as well as students and faculty from across the country gathered to celebrate the year’s end.

Friday morning began with registration and breakfast on the third floor of the campus center as students and keynote speakers began to gather. Following two breakout sessions in which students gathered throughout the campus center for paper presentations and panel discussions, conference attendees migrated to the Tippie Alumni Center where lunch, poster presentations, and the opening keynote address awaited them.

Dr. Gabriel Sanchez from the University of New Mexico delivered an address entitled “The Impact of Voter ID Laws on the Electorate” that included statistics and research he conducted regarding the negative impact, especially as it relates to minorities, that such laws have on voter turnout. He focused on misinformation and misrepresentation of information that leads to confusion and misinterpretation of voter laws that discourage voters who are eligible and leads others to believe they are eligible when they are not.

After Dr. Sanchez’s address, another breakout session occurred, prior to dinner and the final two addresses of the evenings. Back in Tippie, Dr. Anne Boxberger Flaherty, from Southern Illinois University, delivered her address entitled “Voting Rights and Participation for American Indians in Federal and State Politics,” in which she discussed the history of American Indian settlements in the US and how state/nation politics effects voter laws, historically and contemporarily.

Following Dr. Flaherty’s address, conference attendees made their way to Ford Chapel for the final keynote address of the evening. Dr. Carol Geary Schneider, to an audience of students, faculty and administrators, used her keynote to highlight the many ways in which a liberal arts education is a necessary stepping-stone to fulfilling the needs of a truly democratic society.

Saturday morning began much like Friday, with breakfast prior to the first breakout session of the day. Following sessions, conference attendees once again traveled to Tippie Alumni Center for lunch and a keynote address by Dr. Joy James from Williams College. Her address was geared at encouraging attendees to rethink issues of voting rights and of civil rights from an interdisciplinary studies perspective and uprooting even historical beliefs about slavery and abolitionist movements.

Following the final breakout session of the conference, attendees gathered in the Tillotson Room of the Tippie Alumni Center for final remarks and the final keynote address, made by Dr. John Aldrich, professor at Duke University and current president of the American Political Science Association. As an Allegheny alumnus, Professor Aldrich was introduced by former Allegheny professor Robert Seddig, who acted as Professor Aldrich’s comp advisor. Professor Aldrich’s address, entitled, “How the Voting Rights Act Changed the South and Created Our Current Politics” focused on the end of slavery, the development of modern politics and the way in which the VRA molded our political atmosphere as it exists now.

The conference was funded by: The Bywater Fund for Social Justice Programming, theChristian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, the Andrew Goodman Foundation, the Trafton-Hart Endowment for the Center for Political Participation, the Michael B. Schmitt Endowment for the Center for Political Participation, the Raymond P. Shafer Foundation of the Crawford County Community Foundation, the Demmler Fund, the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, the Department of Political Science, and the Department of Economics.

Thank you to everyone who participated, and thank you to our keynote presenters who not only acted as speakers, but attended breakout sessions and provided meaningful feedback to students whose work reflected the spirit of the conference!