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UA School of Social Work Launches ‘Own Your Vote’ Series

A graphic titled "own your vote" is used to promote the eventsAs the 2020 presidential election draws nearer, The University of Alabama School of Social Work has created a speaker series to highlight issues of voting rights and equal access.

The “Own Your Vote” lunch-and-learn series will include topics such as the restoration of voting rights for previously incarcerated people, challenges Hispanic people face in voting, and the historical context of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and will celebrate the 100th year of women’s right to vote through the passage of the 19th Amendment.

The School will host four events through Jan. 9, 2020, and will share results of various post-event calls to action, like voter registration drives. The climax event, the annual Dr. Ethel Hall Colloquium, will be held Feb. 27, 2020.

The lunch-and-learn sessions will be held from noon to 1 p.m. in Room 2019 Little Hall, and are open to the public. The speaker lineup will include:

Sept. 12
John Paul Taylor, voting rights fellow, Southern Poverty Law Center, will describe his work and how he organizes to overcome systematic challenges to vulnerable populations.

Oct. 10
Isabel Rubio, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, will bring awareness to the challenges of Hispanic constituents and how they can empower their communities to vote.

Nov. 14 
Charles Wood, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, will provide historical context of the voting rights struggle that contributed to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Andrew Grace and Chip Brantley, authors of the podcast series “White Lies,” will describe the work they completed while investigating the murder of the Rev. James Reeb in Selma, AL.

Jan. 9, 2020
Representatives from the League of Women Voters and Alabama Arise will provide information about the voting process, including how to register, read ballots and qualify for absentee ballots, and how to get involved in helping people register and working polls.

“With the election process soon to begin, I found that our students just didn’t know how to get involved and how to make a difference,” said Shayla Smith, BSW field coordinator and member of the School of Social Work’s diversity committee. “There’s a lot of rhetoric, but not a lot of action. Based on our principles as social workers, we should be a presence on campus to lead this effort.”

That effort will include both education and various calls to action with campus and community organizations that actively promote voter registration efforts, Smith said. These monthly challenges will also include tours of historical sites related to voting rights and door-to-door surveys of citizens who face barriers to voting.

“At the end of the series, we’ll hopefully be able to quantify how much impact this movement has had,” Smith said. “How many people have we registered to vote? How many students have we connected with social justice organizations?

“And I think it’s a pretty cool way for students in the community to learn and work beside people from the NAACP, SPLC, HICA and the League of Women Voters.”

Smith said the School’s diversity committee was intentional in its selection of speakers, opting for community activists instead of politicians to create a comfortable setting for open dialogue and learning, without “hidden agendas.”

“We’re trying to get past dehumanizing each other and get down to what policies mean for you and your life,” Smith said. “When we create these policies, they’re not just pie-in-the-sky things – someone is impacted, and that’s what people need to know.”