Inside the Bulldog Ballot Challenge: How YBC got 100% of eligible student-athletes registered to vote
Yale football linebacker Micah Awodiran ’22 came up with the idea in a Yale Bulldogs for Change meeting this fall, and the rest of the Athletic Department quickly got behind it.
Alex Taranto, Staff Illustrator
The Bulldog Ballot Challenge has succeeded in getting 100 percent of eligible Yale student-athletes and coaches to register to vote.
The challenge was spearheaded by Yale Bulldogs for Change (YBC), a group of 16 student-athletes across nine different teams working to improve the experiences of student-athletes of color. Yale football linebacker Micah Awodiran ’22 came up with the idea of the challenge in a YBC meeting this fall, and the rest of the Athletic Department quickly got behind it.
Yale’s athletic teams engaged in a friendly competition to get 100 percent voter registration as quickly as possible, and several teams achieved this goal almost immediately after the challenge began. An additional benefit of the challenge was that it was able to teach those student-athletes less familiar with the registration process more about voting.
“I really think it opened up a lot of eyes, and also it opened up a lot of [football players’] eyes who really didn’t know about the absentee ballot process, things like how to register in Connecticut when they’re from Texas, things of that nature,” Yale football assistant head coach Derrick Lett said. “So it was a very, very informational type deal.”
Lett told the News that Yale is the only college in the country that has confirmed that its entire Athletics Department is registered to vote.
Swimmer Marcos Ortiz ’22, a member of the YBC committee and the Yale men’s swimming and diving team, explained that teams competed with one another to see how fast they could achieve 100 percent.
“Each [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee] team representative had to collect evidence of voter registration from their team,” Ortiz said. “And once they had collected the full team of voters, then they can send that to YBC and SAAC, and that proves the entire team was registered.”
While the Bulldog Ballot Challenge originally only applied to Yale student-athletes, its impact has extended beyond Yale Athletics and into the greater Yale community. Lett said the challenge’s influence has reached some residential college deans, who have also encouraged their students to register to vote.
According to Lett, because the challenge was started by YBC, which is a group for student-athletes of color, there is an especially great significance to the challenge’s success.
“With YBC, it is people of color, and [with] a lot of our ancestors and heritage, people fought hard to be allowed to vote,” Lett said. “So let’s make sure we use that right that people died for, people fought for. Use that right to vote … It was a very, very powerful moment.”
The Social Justice & Inclusion Task Force includes administrators who work closely with the YBC: Lett, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Fan Engagement Nathalie Carter and Assistant Athletic Director for Administration Marissa Pearson. The task force is intended to be an outlet for student-athletes and staff, making sure they feel their voices are heard.
“I think [the Bulldog Ballot Challenge] was very successful,” Yale football offensive lineman Connor Halverson ’24 said. “I think it’s a great idea to get young voters to the polls.”
YBC: ORIGINS AND A MISSION
The Athletic Department announced the creation of YBC in early September. YBC focuses on helping student-athletes of color feel safe in their environment at Yale, finding ways to organize events that help connect them to other student-athletes and giving back to New Haven’s communities of color.
The group’s vision statement explains that they not only strive to create opportunities for student-athletes of color, but also work to raise awareness of social issues in Yale’s general athletic community.
The group is composed of three main committees: the Welcome and Support team, the Community Outreach committee and the Cultural House Connection group. The Welcome and Support Committee helps connect current YBC student-athletes with new YBC members in order to foster supportive and inclusive environments. The Community Outreach Committee and the Cultural House Connection Committee work together with local organizations to support and celebrate New Haven’s communities of color, according to the group’s website.
In particular, the group focuses on those who are just making the transition into a college setting and need to adjust to an unfamiliar environment.
“Especially with Yale being a predominantly white institute, our goal and our vision is for students of color to come on campus with a smooth transition, and make sure that they have a place where they feel safe and a place where they can be themselves,” Lett said.
Lett added that YBC strives to ensure that the student-athletes of color who are minorities on their teams feel comfortable and represented.
Yale has 739 eligible student-athletes and coaches registered to vote in the United States.
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