Her passion for politics was born at the family dinner table when she was in fourth grade. Whitney Tyler would listen to her parents discuss the 2008 presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain.
“My mom’s rules for politics were that if my sisters and myself wanted to be involved in the conversation, we had to do the proper research before we could declare our opinions,” said the senior Wright State University political science student.
So Tyler sat down at the computer with her mother to research the candidates and their platforms.
“We did the pros and cons of issues like immigration, health care, LGBTQ issues and the Iraq war,” said Tyler. “My mom made sure that I worked through and formed my own opinions for each issue. I found it really exciting and continually listened to my parents’ political discussions.”
Today, Tyler is an Honors student with a 4.0 grade point average, has a prestigious Newman Fellowship and is a student democracy fellow for the Campus Vote Project, spearheading voter engagement efforts on campus.
During her first of three years as a democracy fellow, Tyler spent time learning about voter engagement, voting laws and the restrictions on voting rights.
“The more I learned, the larger my passion grew,” she said. “I firmly believe that voting is a right — not a privilege — and it is my duty as an agent of democracy to help every person exercise their right to vote and be a fully informed voter.”
Tyler grew up in St. Paris, Ohio. Her mother is the administrative support coordinator for the Wright State University Honors Program. Tyler attended Fairlawn Local School and during her junior and senior years took college credit-plus classes at Wright State. When shopping for colleges Tyler visited the University of Michigan during a football game.
“I quickly realized such a large school was not for me,” she said. “I visited several other schools and nothing could live up to the atmosphere and the experiences I was already having at Wright State.”
She is in the middle of a 2020 Newman Civic Fellowship, a prestigious national program that seeks to develop a new generation of leaders who can build relationships and bridge differences to address inequality and polarization in the nation’s communities.
“Being a Newman Fellow reinforces my responsibility to make change on my campus and in the campus community to help my fellow students become informed and politically active citizens,” she said. “I really hope to take away new leadership and professional skills as I continue my activism after college.”
As a democracy fellow on the Campus Vote Project, Tyler works to engage students in the voting process using nonpartisan methods. She helps students register to vote, learn about and understand the issues so they may make an informed vote, and help them vote either in person or by mail.
Tyler, who also serves on the project’s student advisory board, is helping build a national student voting network to connect all students working in voter engagement to tools and people who can help them institutionalize voting in institutions of higher education.
Last summer, Tyler interned in Iowa for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. On her office wall hangs a poster listing Buttigieg’s “Rules of Road” — Respect, Belonging, Truth, Teamwork, Boldness, Responsibility, Substance, Discipline, Excellence and Joy.
“After working on his campaign and living the ‘rules of the road’ in Iowa, I found that I really benefited from incorporating the rules into my everyday life and kept them,” she said. “I find myself turning to the rules of the road for guidance almost daily. I reference the list in both my professional and personal life, and I really believe I have become a better person because of it.”
For example, with the Belonging rule: “We are a diverse campus, in a diverse nation, in a diverse world,” she said. “Everybody deserves to feel like they belong and I do my best to embrace and include people from different backgrounds and viewpoints in my work with Campus Vote, and in my personal life, to create a sense of welcoming for everybody.”
And with the Joy rule: “Voter engagement work is hard. It is tiring and you are facing rejection daily. School is difficult. Classes and papers are stressful,” she said. “It is important not only to find the joy in the things you do but to bring joy to the things you do. Joy lifts you and those around you up in difficult times.”
Tyler also works as a research assistant for Lee Hannah, assistant professor of political science, who is writing an article comparing Democratic and Republican Party activity at the county level on a nationwide scale.
Tyler said Wright State has given her amazing opportunities to grow as a person and develop the skills necessary to become successful. She said her political science professors have created curriculums that develop skills such as creating and analyzing polls, writing and giving political speeches, and creating and writing legislative bills.
“My courses have been a very well-rounded mix of current events, history, data and political theory,” she said. “My professors have also pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me develop skills like public speaking and research writing.”
Tyler is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2021 with bachelor’s degrees in political science and liberal studies. Following graduation, she intends to go to graduate school and aspires to become a professor of political science.
“After completing my Ph.D., I hope to work in the ‘think tank’ world,” she said. “And I plan to continue working on campaigns and as a voting rights activist to obtain the real-world experience I feel is necessary to become a successful and helpful professor.”
Tyler said Wright State is special because it offers an amazing experience to students if they just seek it out.
“You can develop serious professional skills and personal skills,” she said. “My classes, professors and work experience have made me grow tremendously as a person.”
Wright State undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply for the 2021 Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellowship program. To learn more, visit compact.org.