By Netra Anand, MPH’23 in Global Health
With the midterm elections in less than one week, the Rollins community is gearing up to get out and vote! The Rollins Election Day Initiative (REDI) is a non-partisan student-led program that works to promote civic engagement and education among the RSPH community. Started by two former Rollins students, Nellie Garlow MPH’21 and Lisa Chung MPH’21, in early 2020, REDI was born out of the notion that public health and civic engagement are intrinsically tied.
At the Annual Scholars in Action Book Discussion, former Dean James Curran posed a question to students, asking “What can we do right now to make a difference with mental health?” With the 2020 elections right around the corner, Garlow pointed out that students, staff and faculty need to be encouraged to vote, and that having classes on Election Day posed a barrier to voting. In response, Dean Curran asked Garlow to write up a proposal for a solution and Garlow, along with a group of other MPH students, got to work. By August of that year, the team submitted a proposal to have Election Day be a day ON, wherein live classes and assignments would be canceled to allow students, staff and faculty to vote and be civically engaged. Rollins Day ON was approved by Dean Curran and REDI grew to be a 13-person student-led implementation team that works to develop educational material, invite speakers, promote community service activities, and organize Day ON.
Today, I co-lead REDI with my co-president, Sydney Comstock MPH’23, and work with 12 other students to promote voter turnout for this election, especially when midterm elections have historically seen low voter turnout in Georgia. Rollins Day ON was approved by Dean Curran to be an annual “holiday” for the RSPH community last year, and since then, REDI has worked with students across Emory University to establish similar initiatives in other schools. We also organize service trips for Day ON to encourage students to continue to engage with their communities outside of class and free field trips to sites like the National Center for Human and Civil Rights. This semester, we have held several voter registration drives in collaboration with the Emory Votes Initiative to assist students—many of whom are new to Georgia—to register to vote. REDI frequently collaborates with student organizations, like the Emory Reproductive Health Association, and nonprofit organizations in the Atlanta area, such as New Georgia Project, to hold discussions on the intersection of public health issues and policy, and ways in we, as public health students and professionals, can play our part.
At the core of our mission is recognizing that voting is a public health issue—when minoritized communities are effectively disenfranchised by unfair voter suppression policies, their voices are not being heard and needs are not being met. Policy and advocacy are tied to almost every public health issue and at Rollins, we recognize that voting can be a powerful tool to inform public health outcomes.