Across the country, student activists are working to encourage their peers to register to vote, and they’re seeing results. Here at TT, we’re celebrating educators who support their students in this work. We’re asking students and families to pledge to get involved in 2018. We’re working with Rock the Vote to relaunch their popular Democracy Class. And we’re sharing our new Voting and Voices project to provide the tools you need to inspire students to become empowered advocates for voting in their communities.
But as we encourage all students to get involved, it’s important that we also recognize that not all students will participate in the same way. We reached out to Deyanira Aldana, education justice coordinator at United We Dream, who offered suggestions for educators who want to ensure they’re respecting the experiences and meeting the needs of undocumented students during voter education and registration events. Here are her recommendations.
1. Encourage students to register—don't require it.
Because voter registration forms must be signed, requiring students to register could mean forcing undocumented students to choose between revealing their immigration status and submitting a document they know to be false. Instead of mandating voter registration, offer students the option of registering to vote, and provide them with ways to do so privately (for example, through text or online) if they so choose. And offer students a variety of ways to engage in the election—for example, by pledging to use their voices to encourage others to register and cast their ballots.
2. Talk to your students before any school-based voter registration events.
Without singling anyone out, let all of your students know of your school’s plans in advance, and invite them all to let you know (during class discussion or individually) how they’d like to participate in the event. Many undocumented students will already know what their needs are in those spaces.
3. Support students who want to use their voices this election season.
Immigration status is just one among many reasons—age, legal history, residence in a U.S. territory—why an American may not be able to vote. But the decisions elected officials make affect us all, and all students deserve the opportunity to be involved in these elections. Look for ways to make this clear. In class, you might teach a Democracy Class lesson on the importance of local elections or the history of voting in the United States. Or you might encourage students to “Do Something” and create a voter’s guide. If any of your students want to lead conversations about policy or issues, or if they’re interested in organizing, publicizing, leading or participating in voter registration drives, encourage them to do so.
4. Don’t ignore harmful policies or rhetoric surrounding immigration during this election.
Your students’ lives don’t stop at your classroom door. When hateful rhetoric or policies make news, they know it. You can show undocumented students your support by addressing these issues in class without singling anyone out. And you can talk to all students about what’s at stake for the undocumented community during this election cycle—and how these elections offer opportunities for allyship.
5. Create space for the stories of undocumented students.
As we engage students in the challenging—and sometimes messy—work of participating in our democracy, let’s ensure that we’re lifting all voices and building an inclusive school for every child in our community. By encouraging the contributions of undocumented students, we show them that we value their lived experiences, and that we’re grateful their paths have led them to us.
Aldana is the education justice coordinator at United We Dream.
Delacroix is the associate editor at Teaching Tolerance.