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‘Harvard vs. Yale’ takes on new meaning with voter challenge

October 27, 2020

Yale’s graduate students have a history of competing with their colleagues at Harvard. Now they can add exercising their civic rights to the long-standing rivalry. Part voter drive and part mixer, the Harvard-Yale Votes Challenge motivates graduate students from both schools to hit the polls.

We were inspired by a similar challenge that took place in 2016 between the undergraduates at Harvard and Yale. It was a fun way to activate graduate students to make a plan to vote, register if eligible, or at least engage in the dialogue around civic engagement and democracy,” said Jackie Yun, Executive Director of the GSAS Student Center at Harvard, “I also loved the idea of the initiative being led by our GSAS Student Center and Yale’s McDougal Fellows so they could get to know each other.”

Voter turnout among graduate students in the 2016 election was low for both schools, hovering near 25% at Harvard and 20% at Yale. Approximately 60% of graduate students enrolled at both of our institutions are eligible to vote.

Public Service Fellows Caitlin Davis and Cecelia Harold would like to see those numbers increase. “I wanted to work on this project because it feels like this year is an especially consequential election. It's important that people, especially young people, participate in our democracy and make our voices heard at the polls,” said Caitlin Davis.

Team members at both institutions have been working hard since last winter to ensure that students who can vote are exercising that right, and students who cannot feel welcome to participate in the dialogue on campus. Student team members have been visiting classes, sending e-mails, text messaging, planning events, creating FAQs and more on top of their classwork and research.

I just feel that it's incredibly important for as many voters, and specifically younger voters, to vote in this upcoming election,” said Cecelia Howard.

Yale graduate students can go to the Yale Votes Google form to pledge their intention to vote, get important information about voter eligibility and get counted.

Right now, in the fourth week of the Challenge, the tallies show we’re behind.

We’ve been collecting information in the Yale Votes form to make sure students only signed once. We’ve also been gathering feedback on why students are voting this year. Many students highlighted climate change, social justice, election reform, police brutality, and COVID-19 as the issues that most inspired them to vote,” said Caitlin Davis.

You can see Caitlin and Cecelia exchange friendly banter with their Harvard colleagues as they announce the competition in this video on the Harvard-Yale Votes Challenge website.

Even with the Harvard-Yale football game cancelled this year, we still have a chance to get them” said Jennifer Mendelsohn, Associate Director of Yale Graduate Student Life, “And if the graduate students get engaged with this election, we all win.”