With Election Day less than a month away, student-athletes at the University of Rhode Island are ready to have their say.
Led by Sarah Dudinski, a member of the rowing team at URI, all athletes are registered to vote in the upcoming national election next month. Dudinski, a senior and president of the URI Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), stressed the importance of her fellow athletes using their voice in this moment.
“If you want to see change or if you’re completely happy with it, I think it’s important to go and share your message,” said the rower. “I think this is a pivotal time in our country in making change for the future, and I know a lot of my fellow student athletes felt the same way.”
The native of Reading, Massachusetts said the idea of pushing voter registration came to her after a period of self-reflection. Dudinski, who turned 21 in April, wasn’t old enough to vote in the last presidential election in 2016. As a college senior involved in athletics, she then realized that many of her peers had likely never voted before either. Dudinski herself wasn’t registered to vote until earlier this year.
“It’s not something that we’re focused on as student athletes because we’re focused on getting through college or if you are on a special team and have some special skill and getting to go play professionally, that is kind of our main goal,” she said. “With the social injustice that has been happening, and obviously the pandemic has not been nice to us, it just seemed like a time where we could grab people’s attention.”
The movement initially started for just her rowing team, according to the senior. Sept. 1 was when she first relayed the message to her teammates, before recognizing that more could be done.
Dudinski said she approached the SAAC executive board about her idea to push voter registration across all of athletics, which received overwhelming support from the board. She later sent out an email out to coaches in the athletic department so there would be pressure for both student-athletes and coaches to get registered.
Part of that email was asking for Election Day off across all of athletics according to Dudinski, which was well-received from those in the department. URI had previously announced that no classes for all students would be held on Nov. 3.
After each team was registered, they’d post a message on social media channels saying they had completely registered before challenging two more teams across athletics to do the same. For example, the rowing team challenged women’s tennis and men’s golf after they were 100 percent registered. This way, Dudinski said more teams would be engaged while also promoting the act on social media for others to see.
Dudinski said that all student athletes that are eligible voters were completely registered to vote by Sept. 29. While some teams took longer than others, Dudinski said their respective SAAC reps pushed the message through in order to get the simple task completed.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “I’m so proud of everyone. I’m happy that everyone was able to play their part. Now we have to actually go out and vote on Election Day.”
Voting advocacy has been talked about within athletics beyond just a member of the rowing team. Men’s Basketball Head Coach David Cox led the team around campus last week promoting voting registration to other students at the University. As one of the most prominent figures at URI, Cox emphasized the influence athletics have in this moment.
“It starts with us, getting registered to vote and understanding the importance of voting for ourselves,” Cox said. “We are trying to lead by example.”
Dudinski said that other students and teams will be going around campus to increase awareness for the topic. She also said members of the rowing team and other student-athletes are looking to volunteer on Election Day at polling locations in a variety of roles. Wiping machines down, serving as poll attendees and even giving out stickers are some of the ways she said student-athletes were looking to help come Nov. 3.
As athletes of all ages continue to use their voice to make a positive difference across the globe, this student-led movement provides a shining example of athlete empowerment.
“Having both of those generations between student athletes and coaches has been amazing,” Dudinski said. “We want to fight for the same thing you do, but we just don’t need you to tell us what to do this time.”