‘Easiest part of our democracy’: U of T’s School of Cities student academy group "PAYCE" encourages students to vote 

October 18, 2019 by Nina Haikara – U of T’s School of Cities

Only 57% of voters aged 18 to 34 participated in the last federal election in 2015, according to Elections Canada. 

It's why a group of students at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities decided to engage U of T students in the lead up to October 21st election. 

“We joined School of Cities student academy [last term] with the united goal of creating a project that would engage people in urban governance,” says Napas Thein, an undergraduate at New College undertaking an interdisciplinary program in public policy and urban studies. 

“First, was student engagement online, using Instagram posts to educate people. It developed into creating pop-up [booths], and having students go through the motions of voting to understand how easy it is to vote, and to engage them in the easiest part of our democracy.” 

Associate Professor of women and gender studies and director of the African studies program, Marieme Lo, the School of Cities' associate director of education, formed the student academy as a tri-campus interdisciplinary platform to foster student academic and social engagement and leadership in city-building. Organized around ten thematic working groups, projects are student-led and receive support and funding from the School. 

“By giving students across disciplines a creative platform for engaged research, collaborative learning and joint action, the School of Cities student academy is a catalyst for ethical, thoughtful and impactful engagement in many spheres and sites of civic engagement, with boundless possibilities for making a difference,” says Lo.

PAYCE logo on a U of T sweatshirt

Thein says their group on urban governance, law and policy is known as PAYCE: Participation and Advancement of Youth Civic Engagement. Their team members include Ella Benedetti, a master's in criminology and socio-legal studies; Lena Sanz Tovar, an undergraduate in human geography and urban studies and Isobel McLean, an undergraduate of architectural studies in the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

Read the Breakfast Television interview with PAYCE

“Because a big percentage of youth don't vote, issues that matter to them – education, climate change, housing – aren't being represented from their perspective. Instead, they're represented by people who do vote,” says Thein, as he passes a mock ballot to a passerby in the Faculty of Arts & Science building, Sidney Smith.

McLean says the process of voting shouldn’t be a daunting experience, but as a first-time federal voter herself, she found it difficult to find information. 

“I wanted to help other people to find the things they needed to be more informed about voting,” she says about their vote pop-ups. 

School of Cities Fellow and PAYCE member Adrien Roy, a master’s student in civil engineering, says the group came up with their vote ballot themes by looking at online resources, including youth interests and topics to be debated by the party leaders.

“These issues are at the forefront,” says Roy. 

“I think the biggest [youth] issue we identified was climate change,” says James Hannay, an undergraduate of Victoria College studying peace, conflict and justice studies, public policy and economics. 

“I'm not surprised to see that result, but it's also interesting because it’s not very reflective of the [media] polling trackers. Because young people aren't participating, it’s not a concern being translated into actual polling data.” 

As for the outcomes of being part of a project not assigned as course work? 

PAYCE members“This has a community feel to it,” says Roy. “I have a technical background and wanted to gain more a policy background – and a little bit of minor activism.” 

“I’ve enjoyed having keen people around me to work on a project that they are very enthusiastic about,” adds Hannay. 

School of Cities is currently accepting applications for its U of T Student Fellowships until November 1, 2019. All applicants are invited to join the Student Academy. Program starts in January.

Photo left: PAYCE’s Adrien Roy, Napas Thein and James Hannay

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