Clark University senior Nicholas Rossi, of North Smithfield, RI, won a gold medal in the Redistricting Olympics, a contest sponsored by Common Cause Massachusetts that asked citizens to create their own redistricting maps. Rossi’s work won gold in the Congressional Map category and also landed a bronze medal in the House Map contest. The 58 maps that were submitted “show the diversity of opinions and ideas that exist in the Commonwealth around this important issue,” according to Common Cause Depending on how it is done, redistricting can decide whether the interests of all citizens or just a few special interests are represented. The maps also emphasized the Common Cause belief that citizens need to and can be more involved in such significant work.
Rossi learned the significance of redistricting this past spring as one of 14 students in Clark’s “Congressional Districting: The Geography of Politics” course. Participants learned how to combine new census data with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping techniques to create their own redistricting maps — knowledge and skill that Rossi would apply to his winning submission to the Common Cause contest. The judges cited Rossi’s map as presenting “the best balance of low deviation, municipal integrity, and representation for cohesive communities of interest, including minority communities.” What Rossi describes as his “holistic approach” to mapping Massachusetts was aimed at producing “a more sensible congressional map less tailored to politicians and more focused on providing fair and sensible representation to the state’s people.” Still, given his prior in-class experience with others, Rossi said he quickly recognized the subjective nature of the redistricting process. “The mapping project was a good fit for me and a good chance to connect my geography major and political science minor,” said Rossi. “Using GIS software that anyone can access showed that anybody can make their own map and have a voice in the whole process of redistricting. You don’t have to be a state legislator in a dark room, behind closed doors working on it — everyone has a chance to have their say.” At Clark, Rossi majors in geography with a minor in political science. He is planning to pursue a master’s in Environmental Science and Policy through Clark’s 5th-year accelerated BA/MA degree program, free to eligible Clark students. He has been active in the Clark Historical Society and Clark University Student Action for Refugees (CU STAR).