SPECIAL SERIES: Fall 2017
It’s easy to see the number of students involved in politics on campus. From student government to College Democrats and College Republicans, there are plenty of outlets for students to get involved in a political manner prior to graduation.
These outlets are ways for students to discuss similar political views and even have a healthy debate. They are also a place for students to gain real leadership experience, like Student Government Association president Connor McGury, ’18, has done.
“I got involved in Student Government because I saw it as an opportunity to gain leadership experience, as well as the chance to take on projects that will benefit students experience on campus,” said McGury.
But recent years have brought changes in the political involvement of students on campus. Just within the last year, we’ve had protests and marches led by students in reaction to national and global events. The College has also hosted fireside chats in response to political statements — typically those of a more mean-spirited nature — for students to discuss their feelings about the situation.
Before, during and following last year’s election, there seemed to be a spike in student political involvement on campus. “One major thing that I’ve noticed is more politically related events on campus,” said McGury. “Students seem to be more engaged in current issues, and as a campus, we foster an environment that makes students feel comfortable talking about it.”
But according to Dr. Stephen Caliendo, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, student political involvement has remained relatively static during his 13 years on campus. “This is the first time we saw the emergence of a College Republican, College Democrats group,” said Dr. Caliendo.
“You have a vibrant way to engage students and particularly electoral politics. There are all kinds of politics. Those that are surrounding elections, for some people, are the most exciting because it’s the game part, it’s the contest part. It’s like you can sort of get behind somebody and you’re rooting for somebody,” Caliendo said.
This engagement has been played out in student debates, namely the debate between College Democrats and College Republicans last year prior to the election. The debate offered a healthy and neutral way for the two groups to voice differing opinions in front of their fellow students.
For students who are looking for a more active way to be involved in politics, student government offers a platform for students to voice their opinions and help implement change on campus for everything from a downtown meal plan to coffee machines in academic buildings. “I think more students should get involved in political organizations because it gives you the opportunity to take on projects you’re passionate about, and it gives you the chance to provide an impact to your community,” said McGury.
Overall, Dr. Caliendo said he’s seen a sustained involvement in “other types of politics. Establishing safe zones, for instance… and we’ve been doing that for a long time.” He also said that students, faculty and staff have been having meaningful and organized discussions on topics such as race for the entirety of his time at the College.
“There’s something that’s communal, that’s public, that are opportunities for students to express their beliefs or engage in ideas outside of the classroom,” said Dr. Caliendo.
“The purpose of politics is service, but that often gets lost in the division of people via political parties. If people came together around common goals as opposed to party platforms, we would see change everywhere,” said McGury. “I think college students are the best people to begin that initiative.”