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Redistricting Commission should keep Michigan colleges, universities together

By Jonathan Flynn and Katie Ellison | December 9, 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.With redistricting in Michigan entering its final phase, the commission’s proposed maps are stirring controversy among various interest groups. With competing political and geographical interests, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has its work cut out for it.

The commission has a list of seven criteria, ranked from most to least important, that it must satisfy. One of those categories, communities of interest — ranked third behind municipal boundaries and incumbent favoritism — has been of significant debate.

Conflicting opinions on what constitutes a certain community or which community a particular town or municipality belongs to are common across the state.

So the question becomes, “What communities should be prioritized within the redistricting process?” In short, college students and their campus communities should be one of them.

Colleges and universities are unlike many other communities of interest. While most communities of interest generally consist of a range of age groups, colleges and universities are primarily comprised of young adults.

Most four-year colleges and universities also tend to be relatively compact communities, where members of the community are practically all tied to the institution, and thus share common bonds in relation to their schooling and policies related to their college or university. Students also have similar policy concerns like the cost of higher education, housing affordability and gainful employment.

Unfortunately for students like us, several of the proposed maps split up college and university campuses. Both larger urban campuses, like the University of Michigan, and comparatively smaller schools, like Grand Valley State University and Washtenaw Community College, are split into several districts.

As redistricting fellows with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, we have attended and testified at several public hearings, advocating for colleges and universities to be kept together. We specified in our testimony about how campus communities are impacted by current maps and how the map proposals continue to impact them.

From the tri-cities of Midland, Bay City and Saginaw to many Lake Michigan shore towns, we heard very many arguments from people seeking to define different communities of interest all across Michigan. In these hours of debate, we did not hear any discussions of colleges by others in attendance.

We encourage all Michigan residents to review and provide input on the map proposals so the commission can make the most informed decisions in the end. We will continue to advocate to protect Michigan colleges and universities as vital communities of interest. We also call on our fellow college students to review these proposed maps and advocate for their communities because, if you don’t, who will?

We ask each member of the commission to adhere to their constitutional mandate and keep our colleges and universities together.

Jonathan Flynn is a senior at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Katie Ellison is a junior at Central Michigan University. They are also redistricting fellows with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project.

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