It started when I sent away for an absentee ballot.
I was just trying to do my civic duty. Imagine my surprise when the ballot showed up in my mailbox wrapped in a bright green sheet of paper that read, “A NOTARY MUST WITNESS YOUR SIGNATURE ON THIS BALLOT.”
A notary? I had never gotten anything notarized in my entire life. This was a task that resided deep within the realm of adulthood—uncharted territory. Where was I supposed to find a notary?
I texted my friend at the University of Minnesota, who was also planning to fill out an absentee ballot, to find out how she was going to handle this dilemma.
“Does your school not have legal reresources for students? We have a notary on campus,” she told me.
To be fair, the details of my quest to fill out an absentee ballot are a bit exaggerated. I was told that some banks had notaries, and ended up getting turned away at two for not holding an account with them before getting my ballot notarized at a UPS store.
The point here is the relative ease of my friend’s absentee ballot experience–she skipped right on over to the Legal Services center on campus and bada bing bada boom, the ballot was ready to go within five minutes.
I’d like to propose that TU provide basic on-campus legal services to its students. And not just because I had an inconvenient experience with an absentee ballot, though an on-campus notary would have saved me some time and effort.
Rather, the experience provides a window for discussion about how legal services could be an important asset to TU students.
The University of Minnesota has an entire website dedicated to student legal resources. According to the site, they provide “representation in important legal matters,” “answers to important legal questions,” and can help students to learn about their legal rights. They also have an FAQ page and directions to the on-campus legal services center.
UMN’s legal resources encompass not only notary services, but also other services relevant to students such as information about renters’ rights and resources for students who may have encountered legal difficulties related to partying.
It also provides information about automobile insurance, credit cards, digital privacy rights, and even work visas.
UC Berkley, Ohio State University, Purdue, the University of Michigan, Penn State, and the University of North Texas have similar services available to students. And I’ve only mentioned several of the universities in the US that provide these services—the list goes on.
UNT’s legal services website states that “Our goals are to enable students to focus on their education and stay in school despite any number of legal obstacles.” Their resources are available to students free of charge.
I understand that TU is a much smaller school than the examples I’ve listed here, possibly with less resources or space to provide legal services to students.
However, this is a change I would really like to see on our growing campus in the coming years.
Notarizing my absentee ballot was a pain, but in the long run it was a relatively minor inconvenience for me. But in other cases, the lack of access to a notary just might be enough of an inconvenience in a student’s packed schedule to deter them from voting.
Similarly, inexpensive or free on-campus access to legal resources could make a difference in a TU student’s unjust renting experience, or prevent unfamiliarity with legal rights in a dangerous party situation.
This is particularly important when you consider that legal representation can be extremely expensive and can put a heavy load on the shoulders of young adults.
At the very least, I would be thrilled to see information about students’ legal rights on the TU website, as this information is important in a variety of areas in students’ lives and could be provided in an accurate, unbiased format by the university in order to keep them safe and informed.
But if we’re going for the gold, I would be proud to see a center on campus where students could find affordable legal representation, learn how to sign a reliable lease—or maybe even get an absentee ballot notarized.