ORIGINS OF SFJ
Students for Justice was founded on May 18, 2020, when the co-founders, Claire Ullman and Sandy Radoff, put their skills together to address the needs of that moment. Claire was teaching political science at Barnard College and heard from her students that all their summer jobs and internships had been canceled due to the pandemic, and she had started working her network to find them opportunities. Sandy, a market researcher with her own business, was a major volunteer for the Reclaim Our Vote postcard campaign of the Center for Common Ground and had already distributed about 30,000 postcards to volunteers in Manhattan – she knew that many more thousands of volunteers were needed to turn out the vote in the most important election of our lifetime. They had the idea to put those two needs together and Students for Justice was born.
OUR FIRST YEAR
Six weeks later, on July 1, Students for Justice started its first session with 63 unpaid interns from all around the country, a roster of guest speakers, and a robust curriculum of get-out-the-vote activities. SFJ was able to enroll so many interns because its founders recruited volunteers to serve as one-on-one mentors for our interns. That intergenerational model has remained a core and treasured feature of SFJ, allowing older volunteers to connect with young people and guide them.
SFJ was founded with two equal goals – to create an educational experience that would turn young people into ambassadors for democracy, and to have a very real impact on voter turnout in key areas.
Over the course of that first summer, we received a large one-time grant from the Open Societies Foundations with the mandate to double the size of our program for the fall. In September, we started the second session of Students for Justice with 135 PAID interns. We doubled the number of volunteer mentors and hired marketing strategists and filmmakers to teach our interns the skills needed to create paid social media campaigns.
During the two sessions in 2020, our 198 interns recruited over 1,500 volunteers to work at getting out the vote. Those interns and their volunteers got about 135,000 postcards in the mail to voters, all in communities of color in voter suppression states where senate seats were in play. Those handwritten and decorated cards informed voters if they had been purged from the rolls and/or gave them information about how and where to vote. The interns and their volunteers made about 133,000 phone calls and sent about 650,000 texts to those same voters as well. And our interns’ social media campaigns reached over three million people, most of them young people who would be first-time voters.
In the spring of 2021, Students for Justice enrolled 38 interns to work on getting out the vote for the special election in Ohio Congressional District 11, and for fall 2021 our 38 interns are focusing on getting out the vote for the state-wide election in Virginia.
In 2022, we plan to focus our voter outreach efforts on North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, where open US Senate seats makes combatting active efforts to suppress the vote of communities of color critically important. If we can raise the necessary funding, we plan to have 40 interns in the summer 2022 session focused on voter registration and 80 interns in a fall 2022 session working to get out the vote.
We continue to build on and refine our original model. We now have a pathway to promotion within the program. We brought back star interns from the spring 2021 session to serve as managers of teams of new interns last fall and have developed a leadership training curriculum for them. We will continue that practice this year. We have also changed our recruitment tactics. Where earlier we prioritized having interns from all over the country – and succeeded, with our 2020 interns coming from 30 different states and 85 different colleges – now we are focusing our intern recruitment on the historically Black colleges and universities of our target states. We will focus our intern recruitment for 2022 on the historically Black colleges and universities of North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, allowing young activists to promote voting in their own communities.
We are committed to continuing to strengthen and extend Students for Justice in the coming years with the goal of training an expanding cohort of young people to become the leaders of the fight for voting rights. It is our mission to empower our youth to strengthen our democracy.
MEET THE CO-FOUNDERS
Claire Ullman is a political scientist who taught until recently at Barnard College and Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and a BA from Harvard University. Before she went to graduate school, Claire helped found an emergency shelter for homeless women and children in Seattle as a VISTA volunteer and then stayed on as its development officer and then its Assistant Director. She served on the board of the Grand Street Settlement in New York City from 1995 to 2008. Finally, and perhaps most relevant to her current job as Co-Director of Students for Justice, Claire is the parent of three recent college graduates.
Sandra Radoff is a researcher and statistician who has her own business as a marketing and opinion research consultant. She has a Masters Degree in Applied Mathematics and Statistics and recently went back to graduate school to indulge her passion by completing all the coursework towards a Masters Degree in political science. For the past several years, she has spent considerable time as an activist focusing on the environment and social justice. Being Co-Director of Students for Justice has brought the most meaningful pieces of her life together in one place. Sandra lives in New York City with her husband and has two grown children, a son and a daughter, both Millennials.