St. Augustine SGA: From Protest to Proactive – GDN Exclusive “A Call to Colors” Vol. II Part VIby Cash Michaels, GDN Contributing Writer March 13, 2019
When Dr. Everett Ward, president of St. Augustine’s University (SAU), lauded Greater Diversity News’ (GDN) civic engagement campaign, “A Call to Colors” last June, he said, “…a primary mission of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) beyond preparing students to lead the eventual upward mobility of their communities, is being involved as an active participant in the fundamentals of democracy…which is voting and participating in the electoral process.”
Dr. John Larkins, president of SAU’s National Alumni Association, couldn’t agree more. He told GDN last year, “We older adults need to do a better job educating young people as to the importance of voting.” And Dr. Larkins joined Dr. Ward in endorsing “A Call to Colors,” the nonpartisan drive to improve HBCU campus student civic engagement through voter registration, education and mobilization.
“It’s an important initiative, and should be supported,” Dr. Larkins said.
So it should surprise no one that another important leader in the SAU community not only wholeheartedly concurs with the importance of student civic engagement, but has actually led the way in the past year, and then some.
Alston DeVega, 22, has been SAU’s Student Government Association president since last August, an experience he calls “a challenge,” but he’s “loved every minute of it.”
The son of a St. Aug alumna, the Raleigh native is proud of the Episcopal HBCU’s long history of providing a quality education for students of color, and the legacy of civic activism it’s maintained, especially during the 1960’s when St. Aug students joined with Shaw University students at the F.W. Woolworth store in Raleigh’s Cameron Village to protest racial segregation.
Now, that civic activism is being unleashed by enticing St. Aug students to get registered, get educated about the issues affecting them, and ultimately voting, as they did in big numbers last November during the midterms.
Being a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and a former fellow with Common Cause’s “HBCU Student Action Alliance,” helped to reinforce in DeVega the importance of HBCU students realizing both their untapped civic power, and unrealized responsibilities.
“We’re very voter registration-savvy. That was our main goal [this school year],” the student leader told GDN.
“I focused highly on “March to the Polls.” Previously, only twenty-five percent of students participated, and that was very low, and that was very unacceptable to me,” DeVega recalls. “So we focused on publicizing and communicating with students and teachers…. then we partnered with Advance Carolina, so they would have a party afterwards and provided food to provide an incentive for students to come out.”
The result – “March to the Polls” in November was “very successful,” with student voters coming out in “record numbers.” Not only did St. Aug students march, DeVega adds, but “they stayed and voted.”
“That was one of my proudest moments,” he says, seeing students waiting in a long line to vote.
Those moments of pride were the culmination of strong voter registration efforts in the school cafeteria, free parties and other activities on campus. So aggressive and persistent were those efforts, that many students eventually through up their hands and said, “We know, we know.”
DeVega, a graduating senior, said maintaining that momentum for the freshman class was a top priority of the SGA, Alphas and the upperclassmen.
“That’s our job….to educate, DeVega says. “And I feel that we did that this year.”
The St. Aug SGA president also considers having local elected officials on campus for students to engage with, and ultimately hold accountable for the well-being of the campus in the overall community, to also be very important, because it fine tunes the message of the power of voting to improve the quality of their lives while in school.
“It is most important for us here at St. Augustine’s that we come out, and that we show that we care in this community,” DeVega said. “If we want St. Augustine’s University to be here for another 150 years, we have to vote, and that’s what I always stress to our students.”
GDN recommends that all HBCU SGAs and Black Student Unions (BSUs) incorporate the following in their efforts:
Standing civic engagement/A Call to Colors committees for SGAs and BSUs
Students volunteering 8,16, 24 hours or more per election cycle
Twice a year voter participation rally
Earn up to 200 hours/4 years credit for civic engagement
Do outreach to Greeks, other student organizations and other schools