When UC Berkeley courses and events went virtual due to the pandemic, Berkeley student Srija Manchkanti wanted to find a way to keep students engaged in this year’s election, something that, as a former member of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) Vote Coalition, she would normally do by tabling and talking to students on Sproul Plaza.
So, the third-year molecular and cell biology major reached out to students online through social media and ASUC message boards and asked them to videotape themselves answering a simple question: Why are you voting?
With the coalition’s help she compiled all the student clips and an interview with Chancellor Carol Christ into a mini-documentary to connect students with one another in the context of this year’s election.
“This election, more so than others, has caused an extra layer of stress for students. And I wanted to make sure that students knew that they weren’t alone in how they might be feeling,” said Manchkanti, who is also a member of the student advisory committee for the vice chancellor for student affairs. “Through the video, I wanted to emphasize that we’re all in this together and to also reflect the importance of the youth vote.”
As an Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Ambassador with Berkeley’s Public Service Center, Manchkanti, who worked with the ASUC Vote Coalition even before she became a student at Berkeley, has spent the last two years registering students to vote. She also has created substantive ways for students to become informed voters.
Last month, she launched a free online course for all students, “Vote 101,” through CalCentral, an online platform that manages student data and courses, to provide free nonpartisan voter resources and to show students how to get engaged in the democratic process. The course has over 500 students registered.
Berkeley Public Service Center Director Sandra Bass said Manchkanti has exemplified true civic engagement by rallying her fellow students during this unprecedented election.
“The Andrew Goodman Foundation, named for a college student murdered in 1964 for his voting rights activism in Mississippi, provides funds and support to college students around the country who are passionate about voting,” said Bass. “Srija and her fellow ambassadors have done a phenomenal job in working with student organizations and staff to ensure student access to the ballot in this challenging year.”
Manchkanti said her work and activism revolves around her desire to create a stronger student community at Berkeley that stays civically engaged. Last week, she participated in a panel that discussed different ways students can support each other during election season and in its aftermath.
But despite the anxiety that some students may have during election season, she hopes that her “Why Bears vote” video and the ASUC Vote Coalition mantra, “Go Bears, Go Vote,” motivates students to do just that.
“I hope the video encourages my fellow peers to get out and vote, by hopefully giving them reasons to vote, if they didn’t have them already,” said Manchkanti. “Even more so, I hope it helps us feel more like a community and helps us feel like we’re not alone in this election.”