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Wednesday, September 18, 2019
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Students register new citizens to vote

Robynn Singer-Baefsky, Tyler Powles, Taylor McMahon

Robynn Singer-Baefsky '18, Tyler Powles '17, and Taylor McMahon '16 volunteered September 17 to solicit newly sworn-in U.S. citizens to vote after a naturalization ceremony at Faneuil Hall. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Emerson students and staff joined the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) at Faneuil Hall on September 17 to help upwards of 400 newly naturalized U.S. citizens register to vote.

Emerson’s offices of Diversity and Inclusion, Violence Prevention and Response, and Service Learning and Community Action gathered volunteers to solicit the new citizens to vote after their swearing-in ceremony. The event coincided with this week’s screening of No Le Digas a Nadie (Don’t Tell Anyone), a documentary film about the struggles of undocumented immigrants, as part of Emerson’s Bright Lights Series. Angy Rivera, who was featured in the film, led a discussion after the screening.

Robynn Singer-Baefsky

Robynn Singer-Baefsky '18 solicits new U.S. citizens to register to vote at Faneuil Hall on September 17. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

“[Rivera] is a very inspiring individual,” said Ashley Tarbet DeStefano ’09, administrative associate for Service Learning and Community Action. “We wanted to offer this as an opportunity for Emersonians to get involved and to learn a little more about the issues facing immigrant communities.”

“We know that a lot of immigrants experience violence,” said Melanie Matson, director of Violence Prevention and Response, “whether it’s abusive relationships, stalking, sexual abuse, or harassment, and that’s a reason why they’re coming here. But I know that’s not something a lot of people realize.”

Melanie Matson and Ashley Tarbet-DeStefano

Melanie Matson of Violence Prevention and Response and Ashley Tarbet-DeStefano '09 of Service Learning and Community Action. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Volunteers from Emerson and MIRA mingled among cheering family members and dozens of people waving American flags, soliciting the new citizens to fill out voter registration forms.

“I find it inspiring to see people so overly enthused to be a part of this country,” said Tyler Powles ’16, a Writing, Literature and Publishing major who volunteered at the event. “I tend to be a little bit cynical about our great nation, so it brings in a new perspective to see how badly some people want to be here.”

Cristina Aguilera, the director of organizing at MIRA, explained that after new voters are registered, MIRA works to help immigrants and refugees continue to be informed and active participants in government. The organization makes individual phone calls to voters to remind them of national and local elections, and mails clients information about all active candidates.

Melany Illana gained citizenship at the Faneuil Hall ceremony after leaving her home in the Philippines. She says she registered to vote with Matson’s help because she is proud to now live in a country where her voice matters.

“For me, it’s is a very important contribution to this country,” she said, “to vote for qualified candidates for president, but also senators and the local government that could help the country improve. I’m just so happy to be a part of this country.”

Tyler Powles

Tyler Powles '17 solicits new citizens to register to vote on Faneuil Hall. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

This is not the first time that Emerson has partnered with MIRA to assist with voter registration. The Alternative Spring Break students who stayed in Boston in March took on a similar task as part of their program, and Tarbet DeStefano organized four opportunities to volunteer to register new citizens to vote throughout the summer.

“We advocate for better policies for immigrants and refugees,” Aguilera said. “We want to make sure immigrants and refugees have a voice to contribute to the politics and policies of this country.”