The Official Ballot for La Plata County’s 2022 General Election is not short.
“It’s a tome,” said Paul DeBell, associate professor of Political Science. “I have a Ph.D. in Political Science and still think this ballot is incredibly long and complicated. We’re not just voting for governors and senators here.”
Besides the 25 offices and judicial retentions to be voted on, there are also 12 measures to consider. In their First-Year Lens program, 18 Fort Lewis College first-year students spent the last two months exploring each initiative and creating content to pare these complicated issues into accessible language and images. They’ll present their findings to the community on FLC’s campus Tuesday, October 25, at 5 p.m. in Noble Hall Room 130.
The First-Year Lens is a cohort of first-year students who take two classes together, DeBell explained. The students attend DeBell’s Introduction to Political Science and then go straight to Introduction to Media Literacy with Michele Malach, professor of English. There are currently five First-Year Lens programs offered across departments with more planned for the future.
At the beginning of the semester, DeBell, Malach, and the students shared popcorn, Whoppers, and Red Vines to watch the film Don’t Look Up! The ensuing discussion centered on how political influence and beliefs are filtered through the media. Another project involved documenting every type of media they encountered over the course of four days and then researching what ideologies and perspectives were excessive or missing in their respective “media diets.”
This research segued into the Ballot Measure Explainer Project, which aims, through careful and unbiased research, to translate the “legalese” ballot language into engaging, clearer communication. The project started in 2018 in partnership with the La Plata County League of Women Voters, who work with students to help dissect complicated propositions and amendments.
The 18 students in DeBell and Malach’s classes worked on pulling together videos, while 25 online students focused on crafting written one-pagers to accompany the visuals. While the initial content from 2018 was more informational (and a little stodgy, DeBell said), this year’s efforts are more dynamic and even fun. The student-driven content will be uploaded to flcengage.org, where folks will also find links to existing informational resources and ballot measure guides. The material is intended for all Skyhawks and Colorado voters.
“These students have worked really hard to figure out on their own how to talk about these issues and come up with content themselves,” DeBell said. “It’s inspirational to see their creative word choices, visuals, and general setup. We’re here to support them but we really let the students’ own curiosity take the reins.”
The project is driven by FLC’s mission to ensure the College community is engaged with the broader world, advocating for issues that affect students and the future of Colorado.
“We’re being asked to make decisions on education, taxes, housing, criminal justice, and other big issues,” DeBell said. “These are hugely impactful for our students, who can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by the politics of it all. We want our student body to have the resources they need to take part in the political process and not shy away from ballot measures that seem complicated. We’re trying to get students and the community to critically think about ballot measures, which often pass or fail on narrow margins. The world would be a much better place if all Skyhawks voted a full ballot.”
First-Year Lens programs are funded by a two-year $200,000 Teagle Foundation Grant as part of their Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative. The Teagle Foundation is a nationally recognized funder of work that strengthens liberal arts education.