Whitman student helps bring a voice to the voiceless by registering voters
Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012
Bao-Tram Do '13
She goes by the hip nickname BT. But Bao-Tram Do ’13 is not your typical hipster.
The sociology major is an intelligent, hard working college student with a fundamental commitment to making it easier for her fellow citizens to vote.
“Some people have to fight for the right to vote,” said BT, whose family moved to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1993 when she was three years old.
“People who don’t have a voice make me think of my family. We came to this country because my parents wanted us to be able to choose our government.”
This past summer, BT had the opportunity to help give a voice to the voiceless by registering potential voters while interning at HealthPoint, a group of community health clinics serving low-income families at 13 locations in the greater Seattle area.
At HealthPoint, BT’s title was marketing intern, and she was hired to use social media to help forward HealthPoint’s mission. Part of this mission is to create healthier communities by ensuring that patients, many of whom are not politically engaged, become registered voters.
“My office wasn’t sure they were going to be able to get a voter registration project started because they lacked funding, so they told me to make it happen,” said BT, who’s from Seattle and attended Ingraham High School.
BT grew up using community health centers that cater to low-income groups. She understands the valuable services these clinics provide, so making her project “happen” was not only important for her job, but it was personal.
“In order for politicians to speak out for the people who depend upon these clinics, the people using the clinics must vote.”
BT drew on her liberal arts education to help her come up with a game plan to implement successful voter registration drives at the HealthPoint clinics scattered around Seattle.
“Whitman teaches you how to deal with complexity. I had no instructions, but I was able to start breaking down some of the ambiguities and start making sense of what steps I needed to take.”
In breaking down the nebulous steps, BT identified the key players needed to kick-start her project. Then she tapped into her Whitman network in order to recruit talented support staff.
Among recruits was recent graduate Amina Mohammed '12, a former politics major who was able to act as an interpreter to the numerous constituents of Somali descent who use HealthPoint.
After hiring staff, BT reached out to local elections boards so she could learn the bureaucratic, voter registration rules. Once she set up the operation, BT began looking for ways to motivate the employees working in HealthPoint’s clinics to register voters. She accomplished this by organizing an ice cream social where she gave each of the clinics different goals based on the population of patients they served, setting up friendly competition between clinics.
None of these steps would have been successful, BT said, unless she was able to effectively communicate not only her strategy, but also why the project was important.
“In my job I had to be an effective communicator to communicate the project’s goals. I learned how to communicate and write at Whitman, and this helped me bring the project home.”
By bringing the project home, BT means that out of all the centers across the country participating in voter registration drives, her cluster of HealthPoint clinics ranked third. BT was so successful as a marketing assistant that HealthPoint has offered her a job once she finishes college.
BT’s father considers this job offer a major success. Like many immigrants who find their way to the U.S., BT’s father worked two jobs – in a restaurant during the day and delivering newspapers at night – cobbling enough money together to raise his family of six before landing a job as a machine operator. His eventual goal was to see his kids go to college and better their lives.
A first-generation college student, BT still has one year left, but Whitman has already altered the trajectory of her life.
“My time at Whitman has helped me develop my abilities to think critically, to view issues in context and form multiple perspectives, to ask and address questions about societal complications and communicate complicated issues clearly.
“Despite the fact that I did not come to Whitman with the same cultural capital as many of the students here, I know I am going to leave this place with a great set of skills and the tools to be successful in anything that I choose to do."
With a job lined up, some might expect BT to slack off during her final year at Whitman. Not a chance. She’s bringing the experience and skills she gained during her internship back to Whitman, and will set up voter registration drives on campus to help make sure her fellow Whitman students have a voice in the 2012 election.
From Sept. 24 to Oct. 5, Monday through Friday, BT will sit behind a table at Reid Campus Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. registering Whitman students to vote.
“I think Whitman students have a lot of ideas about our current political situation, and because they have all these opinions, I think it’s important that they participate and vote. Unless you’ve voted I don’t think you can complain.”