Meet seven members of the Dyson College community
who are playing a role in this year’s historic presidential election.
For most Americans, Election Day represents a precious opportunity to choose our political leaders, but for some in the Dyson College community it is much more. Here are seven Dyson students and alumni who are making a difference, helping to ensure that every voice is heard and every vote is counted, even as the nation reckons with a global pandemic, longstanding social justice and equality issues, and a struggling economy.
Britney Peralta ’22
Britney Peralta ’22, is ready. For the last four years, she has been following electoral politics and preparing for the day when she’ll have her first opportunity to cast a ballot in a presidential election.
“I was too young to vote in 2016, but I made sure to stay informed because I knew in four years I would have the chance to make my voice count,” Peralta said.
Double-majoring in economics and communication studies, she came to Pace University’s New York City campus to gain real-life experience while living in Manhattan, and she plans to head to the poll during New York’s early voting period (October 24—November 1).
“My years at Pace have equipped me with knowledge and tools to fight for what I stand for,” Peralta said. “This is one way I can support the underrepresented communities that are not seeing change, or do not have the ability to vote,” she said. “I am using my vote to fight for people like this, who are being left behind and deserve to have their needs voiced.”
Noelani Rivera ’22
College students are not generally known for their high voter turnout. At Pace University, Noelani Rivera ’22 is working to change that. Majoring in criminal justice, she’s been volunteering with the Center for Community Action and Research as a voter registration advocate since 2018.
“Sometimes people want to register to vote, but they don't know how to go about it, or they just haven't been able to find the time,” Rivera said. “I help to bridge that gap by facilitating the process and presenting the opportunity to them.”
As a volunteer, Rivera connects with other students to provide information and assist them with everything from locating polling sites to filling out registration forms. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she spent hours tabling in the Kessel Student Center on the Pleasantville campus. Since then, the emphasis has changed, and these day’s Rivera is focused on sharing voter information via social media.
“Voting has been slightly altered and people can vote by mail, which means we have to really promote the deadlines associated with that method,” Rivera said.
Looking ahead, Rivera hopes to pursue a career as a criminal defense attorney, and she counts her volunteer experience as an important step of her Pace Path.
“My work with voter registration has increased my situational awareness, cross-cultural appreciation, and interpersonal relations,” Rivera said. “It has been fundamental to my growth throughout my time at Pace.”
Andrea Stewart-Cousins '86, MPA '08
It was a historic moment when, in November 2018, New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester County) ’86, MPA ’08 was elected Senate majority leader, becoming the first woman to lead a state congressional chamber. Stewart-Cousins is no stranger to breaking down barriers—she was also the first African-American woman to serve as director of community affairs in Yonkers, New York—and throughout her career in public service she has maintained a focus on voting rights.
“We have a responsibility to empower eligible voters in New York,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Every voter should be able to exercise their right to vote safely and easily, with the full confidence that their vote will be accurately counted. As elected officials, we should not fear making it easier for eligible voters to vote, we should welcome it. We need more voices, not less.”
Shortly after becoming senate majority leader, Stewart-Cousins shepherded the passage of several key election reform bills to eliminate obstacles that previously prevented some citizens from casting their ballots. In general, the legislation established early voting and no-excuse absentee voting for the first time, modernized and expanded voter registration, and extended primary election voting to ensure uniformity across the state.
This year, when the pandemic exposed significant challenges during the June 23 New York State Democratic Presidential Primary election (originally scheduled for April 28), Stewart-Cousins worked with her colleagues to secure passage of additional legislation authorizing expanded allowances for absentee ballots.
“In order for us to have a vibrant democracy, we must encourage confidence and greater participation in the electoral process,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Although we still have a lot of work ahead of us to pave the way for increased representation in New York, the Senate Majority is dedicated to creating opportunities and easing access to voting.”
Miriam Lacroix ’11
Miriam Lacroix ’11 political science, ’14 law, has been involved with issues facing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color for as long as she can remember. As an undergraduate political science major at Pace, she volunteered to teach computer skills to Women of Color to assist them in gaining employment and better living situations. Today, as an immigration attorney, she is committed to changing the lives of immigrants seeking options to remain in the United States.
“At Pace, I learned a lot about social justice work and what it means to be dedicated to underserved communities,” Lacroix said. “It was my education, both undergrad and law school, that has motivated me to do the work I do today.”
To that end, Lacroix created the Black Legal Wellness Forum as a platform to examine issues of systemic racism and how the Black community can better navigate legal issues across a variety of areas of law. She recently hosted a webinar to discuss the importance of voting and why the Black vote matters. The event included student and community participants, and the discussion centered on how to become an informed voter, how to encourage family and friends to vote, the importance of making a voting plan, and other ways to stay engaged.
“There is so much at stake during an election. It is not just the presidential seat,” Lacroix said. “This is important to me because my family, my community, and the clients that I serve could be negatively impacted by the results of this election. I also want to dispel the myth that our vote doesn’t matter. I feel very strongly that it does, because if it did not, there would not be such an effort to prevent it [through actions such as purging voter rolls in some states, the requirement of identification in some states, and the closing of voting places and limiting of absentee drop-off locations, which make it more difficult to participate].”
Rachelle Suissa ’08
“I have always had an interest in local politics and in the work of campaigns, but particularly in seeing the number of women run for office increase,” Rachelle Suissa ’08 said.
As a student majoring in both history and women’s and gender studies, she started a Pace University chapter of the National Organization for Women Campus Action Network, and later served more than a dozen years as a leader of the Brooklyn-Queens Chapter of the National Organization for Women, first as vice president and later as president.
Last year, Suissa founded her own organization, Dare to Run, which empowers women leaders by supporting and educating them with the skills necessary to run for public office. The organization received a $25,000 grant from the Spark Joy Foundation just a few months after it was incorporated as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit.
“Women are 55 percent of the population, and we shoulder the burden of taking care of families, going to work, and maintaining healthy households; there’s no reason why our needs and considerations shouldn’t be met and heard at all levels of government,” Suissa said. “Our goal is to train 1,000 women by 2025!”
While the pandemic has driven that work online, it hasn’t stopped Suissa and her organization from playing an active role in promoting voter participation. The group was able to set up informational tables in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and on September 22, National Voter Registration Day, Dare to Run volunteers successfully registered more than 200 voters.
While the future remains more uncertain than ever, Suissa, who holds a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management, believes her young organization is ready to face whatever comes.
“Part of staying relevant is being able to pivot when its required, and thankfully, we were able to do that this year.”
Liz Weber ’23
On November 3, Liz Weber ’23 will be on the front lines. Double-majoring in women's and gender studies (WGS) and economics with a minor in political science, she’ll be serving as a New York City poll worker. It will be her first time on the job.
“I felt it was my civic duty during this especially strenuous election year,” Weber said. “The WGS department strives for intersectionality and parity which has, in part, led me to want to fight for a more democratic system than what we have now.”
As a poll worker, she’s responsible for opening and closing her designated polling location, making sure all the ballots are counted, and assisting voters. Given the logistical concerns raised by the pandemic, politics, and previous elections, she’s hoping to utilize the organizational skills she gained through experience as a freelance stage manager to help ensure a smooth process.
“The process is incredibly unbiased. Every part of Election Day is executed by bipartisan teams of poll workers so no votes go uncounted or feel skewed in any way,” Weber said.
Michael Andrew Winters ’21
When the world tunes-in or logs-on for election results, Michael Andrew Winters ’21 will be one of the many individuals working behind the scenes to help deliver news and information.
Majoring in film and screen studies, Winters came to Pace as a transfer student and has worked with the Associated Press (AP) to tabulate results for several of the most recent elections.
On election night 2020, he’ll be taking calls from voting precincts all across the country and recording their vote tallies into the AP’s proprietary election system.
“These results are available to the public via broadcast and cable television, radio, newspapers, and websites seconds after I hit the submit button,” Winters said. “I honestly hope to gain as much knowledge as I can from the AP team and to help provide the great people of this country with fair and honest election results.”
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