CHICAGO – Tiana Jackson was 14 during the 2016 election. The UIC point guard remembers feeling shocked by the results and helpless she couldn’t do more.
“From that point on, I was like ‘this is something I have to advocate for.’ No way I could have friends around me who were in their 20’s and never voted before. This is something we should all feel proud about. It’s a basic right and we should all be able to use it.”
The 18-year-old sophomore is used to dishing out assists on the court. Now, she’s assisting her fellow student athletes to register to vote as a member of the Horizon League’s #One HL group, seeking meaningful change in social issues.
“I’m not gonna lie. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done because of the lack of social interaction that we can have with people on a face to face basis. It was hard to get in contact with people.”
The pandemic has created its own challenges for athlete activists, but like any competitor they’ve found ways to push forward.
In Lincoln Park, DePaul was the first Big East school to register to vote 100 percent of eligible student athletes.
“I think DePaul athletics and the DePaul athletic director, everyone underneath, did a good job in getting the word out,” noted DePaul junior soccer midfielder Patrick Watkins. “It shows we really care about making change and taking the first steps to make that change.”
Northwestern athletes Mackenzie Keegan and Ben Forbes have worked with the Big Ten’s non-partisan voter registration and civic engagement initiative to help make the voting process easier for fellow Wildcats.
“One piece of feedback that I got from my teammates was they were a little confused on early voting,” remarked Keegan, a senior field hockey forward. “They didn’t know what that meant and when they could start early voting. I know a couple people are registered in Illinois now that they are going to school here. They didn’t really know how to go about that.”
“This is going to be my first election I’m voting in. So for me, watching what was going on in the world around me, especially this year – I wanted to do something rather than sit idly by,” explained Forbes, a sophomore swimmer for the Wildcats. “I wanted to do something more proactive. Go out there and make our word heard.”
College athletes have dealt with postponed seasons, virtual classes, protests and a pandemic, but they’ve teamed together to make their voices count at the polls.
“Young people have the opportunity and almost burden to make this world a better place. Voting is where that starts,” said Forbes.
“I feel like our generation has played a great role in how the events of the election are going to go. We’re doing everything in our power to be the change we want to see,” Jackson added.