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Florida redistricting: Bring peace of mind to college communities

By Andrew Taramykin and Elizabeth Rodriguez | November 28, 2021

College campuses and towns across America are frequent victims of unfair redistricting practices. When campuses and their surrounding communities are “cracked” into two or more legislative districts, student voting power is diluted, and their concerns are at risk of being overshadowed.

Splitting our communities is problematic for many reasons. When a split community is represented by more than one elected official, it is more difficult to get our concerns addressed. Doing so also hinders our ability to foster a cohesive civic identity as a campus while making it inherently more difficult for students to elect officials who will prioritize and advocate for their needs.

The implications of splitting college communities become even more dire when looking at many of Florida’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).

Notably, all four of Florida’s HBCUs are on or near legislative district boundaries in current maps. This leaves these communities vulnerable to division should map-drawers adjust district boundaries in their direction.

Similar concerns are shared by Florida’s MSIs, most of which are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), according to the U.S. Department of Education. For example, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University are directly adjacent to legislative district boundaries, and the student community around the University of Central Florida (an HSI and the largest public university in America) is split between two State House and two State Senate districts.

When college communities are ignored and not respected in redistricting processes, it minimizes and dilutes student voting power. New research from the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University shows that gerrymandering dilutes the influence and impact of student voters on campuses, especially ones with higher percentages of students of color including HBCUs and MSIs.

In many cases, this process splits students into separate districts depending on whether they live on- or off-campus.

This year, the Florida legislature has proposed four Congressional district maps that would all carve out a part of Tallahassee from what is now Florida’s 2nd district and make it a part of our state’s 5th district. For campuses that are just blocks away from the boundaries of these districts, like Florida A&M University and Florida State University (where 82% and 86% of students respectively, live off-campus), thousands of students will be split between districts depending on their housing for the year.

As redistricting fellows with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, we are advocating for the interests of college students in Florida’s redistricting process. In addition to drawing and submitting maps of what our college communities look like to assist lawmakers, we have testified at state and county redistricting public hearings and meetings to share the concerns of students.

We have also advocated for our own college communities: the University of Florida, is split between State House districts, and Miami Dade College - North, is split from the Miami Gardens area where many students live.

Thousands of students on campuses across Florida face similar realities. As such, we will continue to advocate for a fairer and more inclusive redistricting process. We cannot do it alone though. To truly change our process, more Florida students must make their voices heard.

College and university communities should be kept together as communities of interest to ensure every student can have their voice heard. If students living on and close to campuses had the same elected officials, it would be easier to engage officials in issues and concerns and hold them accountable for their actions and inactions.

It would ensure better accountability and responsiveness of lawmakers, advance the interests of students, and would provide our communities with peace of mind that someone is truly looking out for them in the end.

Andrew Taramykin is a sophomore at the University of Florida and a redistricting fellow with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project.

Elizabeth Rodriguez is a junior at Miami Dade College - North Campus and a redistricting fellow with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project.

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