The Tri-C mascot "Stomp" at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
Stomp, Tri-C's mascot, gives a high five outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Credit: Cuyahoga Community College

The patient, eyes closed, lies unresponsive in a hospital bed. Fluorescent lights glow as medical staff rush into the man’s room. Their sense of urgency makes you take note. Things are serious. 

Or so it seems, anyways. 

That situation is not real. It’s just the opening scene of “Code Red, White, and Blue,” a short video created by a group of Cuyahoga Community College students. 

They released these witty, highly produced short clips as a way to help spark awareness and discussions among students about the importance of being civically engaged ahead of the upcoming November election. 

The actors in these new Tri-C videos are part of the school’s sixth cohort of Democracy Fellows. College officials call this group of student leaders the “key” to the institution’s peer-to-peer civic engagement and voter education efforts. 

“When we’re having these conversations, we’re empowering people in our community to be better, to make their own choices and feel empowered in those choices,” said Sylvia Snow-Rackley, a second-year student at Tri-C and a current fellow. 

Young people vote

Young people traditionally have voted at lower rates than older peers. That’s changing. Nearly half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the 2020 presidential election, marking an 11-point increase from the 2016 race

Plus, community colleges enroll people of all ages. The average student at a two-year public institution nationwide is 27 years old. 

YouTube video

Samantha Franco interacts with people of all ages as a fellow. While lots of her fellow students ask who she’s voting for, she never tells. She can’t. It’s a cornerstone of the group’s work.  

“We always remain nonpartisan and we never tell our students how to vote,” said Franco. 

Getting the message across

The current group of fellows liked the call-to-action video and corresponding campaign about voting produced by last year’s cohort. Others did, too. “Rock The Polls: A Tri-C Voting Anthem” earned some national recognition

After the spring semester ended, Franco and others gathered to brainstorm new video ideas. Snow-Rackley threw one out: What about a soap opera? 

Katie Montgomery, the college’s government relations director, “always says that she knows when an idea clicks when she can see it in our eyes,” said Franco. “And once Sylvia suggested the soap operas, everyone’s eyes lit up. We’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what we’re doing. This is how we’re going to make it work.’” 

Lights, camera, action 

Quickly, they were off. There was lots of work ahead. Scripts to write. Costumes to find. Trips to Walmart for last-minute supplies. They collaborated closely with the college’s creative services department to film and produce the projects, including an intro montage that would fit right in on daytime television. 

“While we were shooting things, we were like, ‘Should we make it more dramatic? Should we make it funnier? Or should we be serious?’” said Franco.

The main goal, Franco said, was to make democracy fun. They worked together on three separate videos: “Make a Date with Democracy,” “Change the Channel, Change the World” and “Code Red, White, and Blue.” 

Each installment clocks in around one minute and thirty seconds or less. The videos live on Tri-C’s Instagram, YouTube and Facebook accounts. 

Positive feedback

While there are just a few hundred views for each video on the college’s YouTube page, the fellows report other signs of feedback they think is positive.

They played a video at a summit where about 250 high schoolers from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District “loved it so much,” per Franco. Other voting advocates from colleges across the state watched them at a recent summit the college held and were impressed, she said. 

Another Tri-C student even recognized Snow-Rackley in her math class, heaping on what might be the ultimate praise.

“He said, ‘I thought they [the videos] were going to be corny, but they were really good,” she said. “I was like, ‘We did it. We’re good.’” 

Why Tri-C is focusing on voting

There are other, more straightforward clips the fellows produced, including how to make a voting plan and how to register to vote. They also connect with people in real life at nearly 60 high-foot-traffic locations across the college’s four campuses. About 100 students and staff members across the college in total who work with the institution’s government relations office help with this work.

“If you get involved with it [democracy], you’ll have that voice forever in a democracy,” said Montgomery, the government relations director. “And if no one teaches you, that’s a point of equity we could lose if we don’t fill that gap.” 

It makes sense for the college to advocate for voting. Being civically engaged is part of the college’s DNA as the state’s first community college, according to Montgomery.  

“We know that 85% of our students stay to live and work in the region,” she said. “The students we’re talking to today are our future leaders and the people who will be running things.” 

And this year, Tri-C itself is on the ballot. The college is asking county residents to approve a modest tax increase next month. 

What type of coverage is missing when it comes to higher education in Cleveland? Our reporter Amy Morona wants to know what you think! Send her a note by filling out this form.

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Higher Education Reporter (she/her)
Amy, who’s worked in both local and national newsrooms for nearly a decade, previously covered higher education at Crain's Cleveland Business in partnership with the national nonprofit news organization Open Campus. A first-generation college graduate, Amy is committed to highlighting the voices of students in her coverage.