Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Many Bulldogs are racing to raise awareness around the 2020 election through work with political campaigns, civic education organizations and more.

From interning at iCivics to phone banking, Bulldogs are staying busy despite the cancellation of fall Ivy League competition. As the nation goes through a difficult period of reckoning, these athletes are eager to be part of the change. Cross-country runners Zoe Nuechterlein ’22 and Sarah Pillard ’22, as well as squash player Tiber Worth ’23 and linebacker Micah Awodiran ’22 spoke with the News about the initiatives and programs that they have been working on.

“Especially over the past several months, there’s been a lot of discussion on the ways in which our textbooks taught us — or failed to teach us — about slavery and racism as we grew up,” Nuechterlein said. “I was first drawn to iCivics in June after seeing the organization’s post on the importance of teaching about systemic racism in a transparent and explicit way. There’s a lot about civics and political engagement that I wish I had learned earlier in school.”

This fall, Nuechterlein has been working with the educational nonprofit iCivics on curriculum development and education policy research. In her day-to-day work, she can be found updating election lessons to make the material relevant to this year’s election or translating English learning materials to Spanish for English-language learners. As a national organization, iCivics is committed to providing civic education that addresses racism. This year, specifically, the organization aims to help students around the country feel empowered and informed in this election.

Pillard, one of Nuechterlein’s teammates, splits her time between working at the Connecticut public defender’s office, interning at LEAP in New Haven and phonebanking with UNITE HERE for Biden in swing states like Nevada and Florida. Over the phone, she helps people make plans to vote, whether that means requesting a mail-in ballot or reminding them about early voting opportunities.

Pillard said she was not as inspired in 2016 to engage with the national election and now regrets that. While many issues are driving her involvement, Pillard specifically noted that voter suppression and low voter turnout are essential issues and that she feels a responsibility to rectify them.

Within the cross country and track teams, many students are vocal about social issues and rely on their network of teammates for support, Pillard said.

“[Organizing within teams] is an easy way to reach a large group of people, especially because we have a level of trust among each other and share a lot of values,” Pillard said. “I do hope that everyone votes — registering to vote is not everything, it’s just a necessary first step.”

Earlier this month, the Bulldog Ballot Challenge succeeded in registering 100 percent of eligible athletes to vote. The initiative was spearheaded by Yale Bulldogs for Change, a group of student-athletes working to improve the experiences of Yale athletes of color. Awodiran thought up the idea in a YBC meeting early this fall, and the initiative gained widespread support within Yale Athletics.

Awodiran emphasized that this year’s election is particularly important, as its results will impact the quality of life of many Americans on a large scale. Our national responses to COVID-19, systemic racism and the wealth gap will be affected by who assumes office in January, he said.

“The Bulldog Ballot Challenge was important to me for many reasons,” Awodiran said. “As student-athletes, we represent many unique backgrounds and identities that define us beyond our actions in the field of play. Voting is a vital action that preserves who we are as Americans and empowers our collective voices to be heard locally and nationally.”

While Nuechterlein and Pillard attempt to raise awareness for the election on a national scale, Worth is focusing his efforts in his home state of New York.

Worth works for Common Cause New York’s Election Protection program. The organization is split between volunteer poll monitors, who are on the ground at thousands of polling places, and legal experts, who staff the organization’s informational hotline. His work mostly includes recruiting and training volunteers.

Like Nuechterlein and Pillard, Worth believes there is too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines. From COVID-19 to climate change, he is eager to make a difference, and his overall goal is to ensure that every New Yorker can cast their vote safely and easily. Worth also noted that there are similar dynamics to being on a sports team and working on a political campaign — both require teamwork and have the ultimate goal of “winning.”

Nuechterlein and Pillard both added that athletic teams can foster a unique and welcoming environment to begin initiating conversations around civic engagement.

“I do think you can argue that sports teams provide good conditions for political engagement,” Nuechterlein said. “I think the nature of training builds trust within a group of people. We’re together all the time, we’re often quite vulnerable in front of one another, and we’re working toward similar goals. It feels more natural to start difficult conversations and hold each other accountable in a group where that trust already exists.”

56.7 percent of eligible Yale students voted in the 2016 election, according to a report published by Tufts University.

Alessa Kim-Panero |