The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University estimated 31% turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds voting in the fall midterm elections—the highest youth vote in the past quarter century.
NEBHE, meanwhile, has been fortunate to work with three 2018 NEBHE policy interns, all of whom are graduate students at Harvard Graduate School of Education—and all new Americans.
Having witnessed a transformative election where New England begins to reverse its historic underrepresentation of women and people of color in higher elected offices, the interns ask, Now what? How may the vibrant new leaders transform the key areas these interns face as new Americans, young scholars and higher education policy stakeholders?
Who are NEBHE’s interns?
The NEBHE interns—Haya Bacharouch, Katheryne Martinez and Stephanie Suarez—bring a new lens to any election discussion, as their generation enriches American political life. They come at New England, and higher education policy, with a fresh perspective.
They reflected on how elections can affect policy. How will changes in party control, more women and greater diversity among newly elected officials change which issues are raised and how they are decided?
Haya, Katheryne and Stephanie are all daughters of immigrants and the first in their families to attend college. Haya, who is from Michigan, has worked as a fifth-grade teacher in Detroit and, in that role supported college-readiness initiatives for her students and schoolwide. She provided particular support in STEM fields, opening exciting new pathways for her students in diverse, urban settings.
Katheryne and Stephanie are from California, and have provided college access services to underrepresented student groups at California high schools through the College Advising Corps. Stephanie has also worked with adult English language learners and has taught English in Colombia. In addition to their studies in the master’s in Education Policy and Management program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, their personal and professional experiences have shaped their interests in understanding how educational policy can be used as tool to create more equitable outcomes for underrepresented groups in the U.S.
Following are some of Haya, Katheryne and Stephanie’s reflections on election outcomes and new diversity for New England …
In 2008, the U.S elected the first African-American president to the White House. Eight years later, the majority of Americans voted in favor of a female presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, though she did not win the electoral vote. Nationally, a record 272 women ran as general election nominees for U.S. Congress or governor this year, at least 124 elected. An also record 219 people of color ran, with at least 115 elected. States also brought this diversity to governor’s offices and state legislatures by electing or re-electing women and people of different races, faiths and sexual orientations. The demography in the U.S. has long been changing, but our representation in government is finally catching up.
For the first time in Maine’s history, voters elected a woman governor, former Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, defeated a millionaire businessman, Republican Shawn Moody.
In Connecticut, voters chose Jahana Hayes, a former teacher of the year and the first African-American to represent Connecticut’s 5th congressional district. She proposed building up the public education system, creating more accessibility to higher education through college readiness and emphasized teacher training as being vital to adequately educate and prepare students. She supports the federal Dream Act to assist undocumented youth in having a pathway to citizenship.
New Hampshire voters elected a diverse group of state legislators, Including Safiya Wazir, an Afghan refugee, and the first two transgender legislators, Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker, to ever be elected. Garrett Muscatel is the youngest LGBTQ individual ever elected in the country. Melanie Levesque is the first African-American to be elected to the New Hampshire state Senate. At the federal level, Chris Pappas is the first openly gay member of congress.
History was also made as Massachusetts elected its first African-American woman into Congress, Ayanna Pressley. Pressley now represents the 7th District, which has a significant African-American population. This was a landmark election for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, whose population is 10% African-American population, according to 2016 census data. As a college student, Pressley faced financial challenges in completing her undergraduate studies and also was a victim of sexual assault. Pressley represents a voice that is often excluded from politics: the voice of low-income, women of color. Additionally, Pressley has voiced her disapproval of any measure that includes funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Pressley’s representation in Congress matters because, unless a representative is at the table to advocate for the needs of underrepresented groups, our needs will be overlooked. Given our growing representation in the nation as a whole, it is imperative that elected officials are a true reflection of the population at large.
As education policy, and management master’s candidates, we are curious as to whether or not the diverse backgrounds of New England’s newly elected members of Congress and state legislatures will influence their work. Some questions for us remain:
Will the elected congress officials utilize their personal and professional experiences with education to involve students and families, particularly those from low income, first generation backgrounds to take a role in their platforms?
How do the elected officials plan to accomplish their goals given budget constraints?
Will any of the elected members of Congress hold Education Secretary Betsy DeVos accountable to equity and inclusion in education?
Will any of the newly elected officials advocate for the needs of undocumented students, specifically supporting legislation for a “Dream Act”?
Do any of the newly elected members to Congress have plans to address longstanding issues at the K-12 and higher education levels, including student debt, affordable access and equity and skill gaps among underserved students across New England and the country?
Will newly elected officials leverage their positions of power to hold larger systems accountable to equity?
Do any of the elected officials intend to address the enrollment challenges higher education institutions are facing in New England and across the nation?
How will new members of Congress try to affect legislation that will support LGBTQIA+ communities and students? Will they support higher education programs that create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ communities or programs such as LGBTQIA+ studies being implemented in higher education spaces?
While not having clear answers to these questions, we are watching as governors present their budgets and Congress and legislators begin debate, and seeing early signs that funding priorities and legislation proposed and passed may reflect these new voices and commitment to action.