Cedar Crest College newspaper since 1923
By Michelle Chavez, Staff Writer
Only 42% of eligible college students vote in political elections, according to the Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning & Engagement, or CIRCLE.
Compare that to the average medium of voter turnout of 62%, the college age population has the least amount of voter turnout.
A combination of factors creates an environment on campus of apathy towards voting and unawareness of politics.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni stated that only 18.3% of United States colleges and universities require a U.S. government or history class. Cedar Crest College is not one of them, although history classes count towards the Humanities requirement. Cedar Crest does not have a political club either.
Diamond Scott, freshman, said if there is a political scene on campus, it’s invisible.
Scott, who is registered to vote in her home state, added that most of the college students on campus just don’t seem aware of when, where, and how to vote.
Scott believes that students don’t feel passionate about voting, don’t feel as if their votes are not important to the election, or they simply don’t care.
While students might think voting is not a big part of their civic duty, Professor Michelle Forsell Esq., says that it is one of the best ways to be politically active, and the easiest place to start.
In a June 2014 analysis conducted by CIRCLE, the main reasons adults ages 18-29 didn’t vote was because of time conflicts, disinterest in voting, being away from home, and forgetting to vote or send in the ballot.
Professor Richard Bergeman, professor of political science, said that when students begin to understand the government, they start to be more politically active and involved.
Bergeman explained, “Under our federal system, government can be found in many places, from the local school board, to the Township meeting, and all the way to the nation’s capital. Decisions are being made that affect our lives in more ways one might think.”
Bergeman believes that it is important to have informed, educated voters in order for the system of government to function as intended by its forefathers.
Scott agreed that it is important to be an informed, educated voter. She added, “Before I go in to vote, I like to research the stances of the candidates on my own, especially for the bigger elections.”
However, Scott admits this careful diligence to awareness can also cause her not to vote. “[If] I don’t have enough time to research the candidate, so I just don’t go and vote.”
Requiring a course in history or civics can help the student population be informed, according to Scott.
Scott believes that it will help engage the students more and help them become more involved in the community. “This isn’t something that you think about on a day to day basis,” she said.
However, both professors hesitate to include a class so hastily.
Methods of educating students vary from an interdisciplinary course to a campus-wide seminar.
The most important part to remember, Forsell notes, is that the college, “provide students a way of accessing information and becoming informed.”
Bergeman believes that an interdisciplinary class is the best way to formally introduce the topic to students. It would allow them to hear various views and hear experiences from multiple authorities.
According to Bergeman, “College is a good time to devote to these disciplines as not all persons will end up working in the government or law, yet I believe [we have] a role despite our eventual occupations and pursuits.”
A unique solution that Scott presented includes bringing in a guest speaker to address the students about political activity, voting, and other civic duties. She also recommends a club being formed—a solution both professors believe can work if there is interest.
Scott admits that clubs often struggle bringing in students to the meetings.
Bergeman believes that the college can reach out to politicians or sponsor debates, either between two running candidates or between two colleges.
Forsell suggests having a school-wide forum where faculty, students, and staff can voice their concerns to local governments and the local state representative and senator.
Seminars where students can learn about elections and register to vote can also help. CIRCLE acknowledges that once a student is registered to vote, they are more likely to cast a vote.
CIRCLE also recommends two simple steps: giving information about how to vote and including direct person-to-person contact as much as possible.
The most important task for the college to do to increase the political activity on campus is to, “connect politics to the individual,” according to Forsell.
In order to bring awareness on campus, there has to be a desire to learn. If students take an active interest in politics, the political environment may change and may bring more awareness to what is happening in our politics today.