At the first-ever Houston Youth Voters’ Conference on Sept. 15, college students from around Houston will gather at Rice to discuss policy and student voter mobilization.
Sonia Torres, a Hanszen College senior, said a goal of the conference is to facilitate discussion between students from different Houston universities.
“We are a campus isolated from the rest of our Houston universities — our students do not interact except for the occasional sports game,” Torres said. “This year, Rice students have an opportunity to collaborate with other universities doing fantastic voter and volunteer mobilization work.”
The conference is a collaborative effort between five Houston universities as well as Mi Familia Vota, a voting rights nonprofit in Houston. It has been in development since last semester, according to Torres and Carolyn Daly, two officers of Civic Duty Rice who helped organize the event alongside Duncan College junior Meredith McCain.
The students in attendance will be from five different college campuses around Houston: Rice University, Lone Star College, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston and the University of Houston-Downtown, according to the event’s Facebook page. According to Torres, the expected turnout is around 150 students.
The conference will feature guest speakers including Norma Torres, a Rice alumna and the founder of the Rice Owls Leadership Program; Nancy Sims, a political science lecturer at the University of Houston; Stephen Klineberg, the founding director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research; and Antonio Arellano, a journalist alumnus from University of Houston, Clear Lake.
Participants in the conference will also take part in breakout discussions of political issues, meet with student club leaders and Houston organizations and listen to speeches by the student body presidents from each university.
According to Daly, a McMurtry College sophomore, all speeches will be nonpartisan, and breakout discussions will be bipartisan.
Torres said she hopes the conference will facilitate student civic engagement both within Rice and in collaboration with other campuses.
“Rice is not a politically apathetic campus — it is a meek campus,” Torres said. “We are a campus too timid to question why we are not civically engaged, because we generally do not understand the power and positive impact our voices can have on Houston, especially in tandem with other university youth.”
Luis Adame, a Baker College junior, said he plans on attending the conference.
“I think when people work together, they accomplish a lot more than they could individually,” Adame said. “This conference seems like a great way to see what other schools are doing and find ways to help each other with a common goal.”
The conference will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Duncan and McMurtry commons, and attendance is free with an RSVP on the Facebook event.
This piece has been updated to correct Norma Torres’ description and reflect the fact that McCain is also an organizer of the event.