Oxford to the Ballot Box

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This guide provides Department of Writing & Rhetoric (DWR) faculty members with information about the Oxford to the Ballot Box project. This guide provides:

  • An overview that details the project’s rationale and partners
  • General assignment ideas provided by the project advisory board
  • Topics for common assignments in DWR courses
  • Sample prompts and assignment sheets for various DWR courses
  • Incorporating tutorials from the project coordinators
  • Resources (e.g., readings, videos, films, websites, etc.)

As you design your curricula and materials for fall 2020, we hope that you consider participating in the Oxford to the Ballot Box Project by adapting an assignment or incorporating a new one that helps students address the importance of and challenges related to voting. Some of your students’ work from these assignments could be featured in online venues and events that the project advisory board is developing.

If you decide to include an assignment related to the project in your fall 2020 course(s), if you have any questions about incorporating assignments into your class, please contact Don Unger. If you have questions about the overall project, please contact Jon Winet and Allen Spore.



This overview was developed by the project coordinators, Jon Winet and Allen Spore. It provides you with the project’s aims, some event examples, and a list of advisory board members.

Every four years the U.S. Presidential elections, from the early primaries in Iowa to the Inauguration, offer an important opportunity for engagement in the country’s democratic process.

It is our goal that the project will encourage thoughtful, civic discussion about the election and democracy, reflecting on the vital issues for our country and this election--from participation in voting by young people and women to the history of voter suppression, to race, health care and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic--while providing an opportunity for a broad and diverse range of people in the Oxford and University communities to voice their ideas and creative expression, capitalizing on the affordances of digital and online tools.

The project has been conceptualized over the past three years through meetings with a variety of Oxford participants. With the arrival of the pandemic we see our project making less of a pivot to digital, remote programs and more of a redistribution of efforts to already planned elements of our program. The content of the project remains substantially as initially conceptualized, with of course, a consideration of COVID-19 issues and the unknown social parameters of the "New Normal." As the project is fundamentally based in public digital arts & humanities practices, we feel the project can still be realized with great impact and success. This may in fact be one of those "now more than ever moments." We see the current moment as an opportunity for an even greater community focus and collaboration, as organizations pull together to get through this time.

The project will result in an archive of materials we believe will be of interest and of value to future historians.

Anticipated program elements include:

  • Public programs (roundtables, talks and screenings) and satellite displays developed with our Advisory Board of humanities scholars, and in consultation and collaboration with community and University of Mississippi (UM) partners. With the uncertainty of the future, we plan to make our public programs flexible with the possibility of having them both online and live, the latter dependent on public health directives. We will conduct ongoing planning sessions to determine best practices in the “New Normal.”
    • Roundtables, lectures and panels at the Power House and on the University of Mississippi and/or on line featuring civic leaders and election stakeholders, Confirmed programs for September include:
      • Secretary of State Michael Watson will visit campus to speak to one of Professor and Project Advisory Board member Sue Ann Skipworth’s classes at the University of Mississippi about election issues. The public is invited. [Tuesday, September 15]
      • A lecture and Q&A by Professor Marvin P. King, Jr. on the history of voting in Mississippi, and on voter suppression and the impact of race on the state’s politics and efforts to ensure widespread voter participation. [date TBA]
      • A panel composed of students to discuss voter participation, and/or the lack thereof, coordinated by Professor Sue Ann Skipworth. [date TBA]
  • Educational Programs We are currently working with University of Mississippi Writing & Rhetoric Department to design curriculum components that actively engage students in research and documentation of the election process, creating public multimedia, multimodal projects on campus, and in Oxford and northern Mississippi using text, photography, video and audio–focusing on the election and social issues as part of the fall 2020 curriculum of their classes. Concurrently we will design a community multimedia “how to” document for people wishing to contribute to the project. Professor and Advisory Board Member Don Unger is our lead coordinator on this.
  • Additionally, we hope to collaborate with the League of Women Voters Oxford/North Mississippi on the role of women in politics, past and present, marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the 19th amendment and the League. At the time of the submission of the application, the League’s Board is meeting to consider the collaboration.
  • We plan to work with the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, UM Student Union, and HottyToddy.com on presenting work from the project online, as well as using the numerous high definition electronic displays on campus and around Oxford. We have made initial contact with Charles Overby, and with HottyToddy.com News Editor Alyssa Schnugg (see October 2, 2020 news story by Julia Peoples, “Research Duo Announces Documentary Project In Oxford”).
  • A dynamic website and social media (e.g. Facebook Twitter, TikTok and Instagram) featuring original content--commentary, photography, and video and audio interviews from the project by community members, students as well as relevant material harvested from the Internet. The website will also serve as a permanent archive of the project. Community participation is key to the success of these and all elements of the project. Working with our partners at the Arts Council and University, we will actively reach out to Oxford’s diverse communities to invite their input and engagement. In the Time of Covid-19 we anticipate this to be a combination of electronic and in-person conversations.
  • An exhibit at the Power House, centrally located in Oxford, featuring photography, video and electronic displays. The project leads, Jon Winet and Allen Spore, and local Advisory Board members will coordinate with community residents and UM students and faculty to invite the contribution of texts, photography, and video to be displayed on large high definition displays. We plan to encourage contributors to create an image of Oxford, their families and neighbors, neighborhoods and civic spaces, campaign and issue-driven events and headquarters, all against the backdrop of the national election.
  • The Power House is an extraordinary and extraordinarily inspiring space, and consistent with YAC’s ethos and commitment to community-based practice to provide a space for informal dialog. Throughout the month of September, we will invite community members, political activists, Republican and Democratic Party volunteers and operatives to community forums and discussions of the issues. When unobtrusive and appropriate we will conduct interviews as well.
Working with YAC and UM, we will continue to design initiatives to engage and involve participants over the spring and summer of 2020. Anticipated audience and participants include YAC attendees and supporters; UM students, faculty; the Republican and Democratic political parties; local political activists; library patrons and civic organizations.

Project Advisory Board Members
  • Jon Winet: Professor Emeritus and Public Policy Center Fellow, University of Iowa
  • Allen Spore: Photographer, Former Americorps Vista for the North Panola School District
  • Eric Crystal, PhD: Anthropologist, University of California, Berkeley
  • Chris Rossi, PhD: Executive Director Humanities Iowa, University of Iowa
  • Sue Ann Skipworth, PhD: Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Mississippi
  • Don Unger, PhD: Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric, University of Mississippi
  • These assignment ideas were provided by the project advisory board in February 2020. They provide broad suggestions for assignments and topics that could be included in many different courses. Following this list, we provide specific assignment examples and resources for popular DWR courses.

    Assignment Ideas

    • Interview a Republican/Democratic party leader or local candidate about a specific issue (student loans, inequality of income distribution, access to healthcare, Mississippi flag, impact of COVID-19, civil rights, etc.) Ask specific questions about their position and the rationale behind the position. Analyze their response in terms of logic, factual support and conclusion. State your own position on the issue with supporting logic and facts. Note that this could include photography, a short video clip and audio.

    • Participant-observations: Attend a political lecture or event (Overby Center, League of Women Voters-sponsored event, Political Science event, ). Summarize the main points of the presentation. Discuss points that you agree or disagree with and why. Note that this could also include video clips and photography and spot interviews with participants.

    • Conduct historical research on a specific issue (voter suppression, women's suffrage and/or candidates, healthcare, role of social media in elections, etc.). Summarize and analyze historical and contemporary positions on the issue.

    • Interview students/Oxford residents. Ask them what for them is the most important issue in this campaign--and why. Provide some reflection and analysis of the logic and facts behind their positions.

    • Interview and record (via Zoom or another video or audio application) a family member (grandparent, parent, aunt, etc.) on their earliest experience of voting. Photographs can be included, contemporary or from the time of their experience.

    • Explore the role of social media and other news sources, asking people about their preferences and how they feel it helps form their opinions.

    • Read Why Facts Won't Change Our Minds by James Clear. Summarize and analyze the key points and discuss how these issues affect our elections.

    WRIT 100, WRIT 101, WRIT 102, and SPCH 102

    Each of the topics listed below could be included in assignments aimed at informative, argumentative, and scholarly research essays or speeches and approached from multiple perspectives. They could also inform daily writing prompts. In terms of WRIT 102 specifically, these topics might also work for the synthesis assignment.

    Topics include:

    1. How and when one is eligible to vote (various protections and restrictions)

    2. How one registers to vote (and if this differs by place)

    3. College students and voting
      • Registration issues
      • Polling locations
      • Costs of absentee voting

    4. Pandemic voting
      • Safety of poll workers and voters
      • Naturalization on hold--how will affect first-time voting for some citizens?
      • Social media use and its impacts on voting decisions

    5. How the election and voting processes work
      • Campaigning and campaign funding
      • Mail-In voting
      • Early voting
      • Absentee ballots

    6. How parties and primaries work

    7. Women’s suffrage (2020 is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote).

    8. Civil Rights Movement & voting (2020 is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965)
      • National legislation aimed at ensuring enfranchisement
        • 19th Amendment
        • Civil Rights Act of 1957
        • Voting Rights Act of 1965
        • Political machines (e.g., Tammany Hall, etc.)
      • Methods of disenfranchisement/historical issues
        • 3/5th compromise
        • Radical reconstruction
        • Jim Crow laws
          • Poll taxes
          • Grandfather clauses
          • Literacy tests
      • Political machines (e.g., Tammany Hall, etc.)
      • Violence and fear of violence
      • Shelby County, AL v Holder Supreme Court Case of 2013

    9. Security issues and voting

    WRIT 250 Advanced Composition

    Faculty members can bring voting into class discussion by assigning an election-themed research journal post, e.g., Identify a local or regional election issue that directly relates to your major or discipline. Find a scholarly source that deals specifically with the issue in question. Practice summarizing the source, and then list questions that apply to practices or perspectives from your discipline.

    Note that this activity may work well in many DWR courses.
    This section is broken into two parts: a. prompts and assignment sheets. For each sample assignment prompt, we provide an overview and directions. Following these prompts, we provide a sample assignment sheet for a researched argument.

    Prompts

    SPCH 102 Fundamentals of Public Speaking

    Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory by Abraham Maslow, which puts forward that people are motivated by five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. Political campaign advertisements use these exact motivations to persuade voters. For this assignment, you will make the connection between these five basic categories and political advertisements.

    Directions

    Present to class one political advertisement example per category. Describe the use of the category in the political advertisement. Class members should understand why the political ad is a good example of the category and how it persuades voters.

    Maslow’s Five Basic Categories of Needs:
    1. Physiological needs (to have access to basic sustenance, including food, water, and air)
    2. Safety needs (to feel protected and secure)
    3. Social needs (to find acceptance; to have lasting, meaningful relationships)
    4. Self-esteem needs (to feel good about ourselves; self-worth)
    5. Self-actualization needs (to achieve goals; to reach our highest potential)

    WRIT 300 Foundations of Technical & Professional Writing

    Develop documentation and training materials for poll workers.

    WRIT 350 Writing for Digital Media

    Conduct a usability study of Mississippi’s electronic voting system interface and physical apparatus.

    WRIT 410 Grant Writing

    Locate and analyze a voting/elections-themed RFP, develop a preliminary proposal.

    Partner with an election-oriented nonprofit to develop a preliminary grant proposal. Some suggested organizations that focus on fair elections include:

    If you are interested in including an assignment related to the project in your course and would like support from the project coordinators, Jon and/or Allen can lead the following activities and tutorials for you:

    • Presentations on “Oxford to the Ballot Box” and previous election year projects

    • Recording Interviews with Zoom: A nuts and bolts tutorials for recording interviews on Zoom and best practices for interviewing, drawing out the differences between an interview and a conversation.

    • Photography - Environmental Portraiture | techniques and best practices - engaging the subject, collaboration, telling a story

    • Zoom to iMovie to YouTube: A post-production tutorial to help students turn Zoom videos into edit videos and publish them online

    • Zoom to Audacity to SoundCloud: A post-production tutorial to help students turn Zoom recordings into audio files and to publish those files online

    • Zero to WIX in an Hour: An hour-long tutorial on using Wix to build websites
    While the resources listed below do not cover all the topics listed previously, they might help get you started in considering supplementary resources that you can use in your class.

    Readings

    Drawing the Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Voting in America by Tommy Jenkins & Katie Lacker

    A well-documented 208-page graphic novel that details the history of voting rights in the US. This may serve as a supplemental source, or faculty might use portions of it that we can make available.
    This Is What Democracy Looks Like, A Graphic Guide To Governance by the Center for Cartoon Studies

    A 32-page comic book that defines democracy (or traces lines of thought), describes how the US government is structured into branches; levels of government--from federal to local; the Constitution; voting; and protest in America. It’s a somewhat basic overview, but it’s free or cheap (donation based), available online, reads quickly, and can get students on the same page in contextualizing voting as part of a larger civic arena.

    Videos

    “50 Years and Forward: The Voting Rights Act in Mississippi” by the Mississippi Department of Archives & History and Southdocs.org

    A 13-minute documentary addressing the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on Mississippi
    “A History of Voting Rights” from the NY Times

    A 3-minute video focused on the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Shelby County, AL v Holder case of 2013.
    “The March@50 Episode 2 Voting Rights” from PBS

    A 9-minute video that describes the Shelby County, AL v Holder case of 2013.

    Podcasts

    ”Facts Aren't Enough: The Psychology Of False Beliefs” from Hidden Brain

    A 51-minute podcast episode about misinformation online and why we often don’t challenge it.

    Films

    1964: The Fight for a Right by Mississippi Public Broadcasting

    As the synopsis states, this 57-minute documentary describes the Jim Crow discrimination that Black people have faced in Mississippi, and the 10-week voter registration campaign in 1964.
    American Experience: “The Vote, Part 1” from PBS

    One hundred years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, “The Vote” tells the dramatic culmination story of the hard-fought campaign waged by American women for the right to vote. (1 hour and 52 minutes)
    American Experience: “The Vote, Part 2” from PBS

    Part Two examines the mounting dispute over strategy and tactics, and reveals how the pervasive racism of the time, particularly in the South, impacted women's fight for the vote. (1 hour and 52 minutes)
    Eyes On The Prize: “Part 5, Mississippi Is This America 1962–1964” from PBS

    This 56-minute documentary focuses on Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964.
    Iron Jawed Angels

    Two-hour movie about the women’s suffrage movement in the 1910s, focusing on Alice Paul and Lucy Burns in particular. The film is posted to YouTube.
    Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America's Elections from HBO Documentary

    A 90-minute documentary that focuses on the technological vulnerability of the U.S. election process.

    Websites

    2020 Election: Secure Your Vote by NPR

    This page on NPR’s site collects all their articles pertaining to voting in upcoming US elections. You can find articles/raido snippets about virtually every current issue on our topics list here.
    Campus Vote Project

    The website for a voting advocacy group for college students.
    Election Central: An Educational Guide to the US Elections from PBS

    This website offers a ton of short video grouped into various topics, from campaigning and campaign finance, to voting rights and how voting works, to media literacy, and finally, resources on current political issues.
    The Long 19th Amendment from Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library

    This resource includes a #SuffrageSyllabus and a “Suffrage School” with lessons aimed at folks of all ages. The materials teach users about the struggle for the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote. The 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, so 2020 marks the 100th anniversary.
    Mississippi Secretary of State: Elections & Voting Procedures

    This page provides links to all the state regulations on voting and election procedures in Mississippi.
    Voters Toolbox from the League of Women Voters

    This website includes a list of FAQs about voting for various stakeholders, including students.