Students’ role in the election

By Brad Barber and Josh Lanphier

Students gather in the HUB to watch and discuss the second debate. The discussion was led by Mary Ruthi, Dwight Brautigam and Jeff Webb. (Photo by Josh Lanphier)

Indiana may have lost its swing-state status for this presidential election, but some students are still showing interested on this campus. Students are watching debates, discussing in groups, and asking the ever-important question: How can I get an absentee ballot?

The 2012 presidential election has been hotly contested since before the primaries were over and has become the most expensive election in United States history, according to the Washington Times. Students on campus have taken advantage of this unique time in history to foster political discussion amongst themselves and faculty.

Many students have been involved with the campus viewing and discussion of the presidential debates, which have been organized by the residence life staff. Andy Vaught, resident director of Wright Hall, said the goal of the events was to encourage thoughtful participation in the elections.

The viewing group for the debate on Oct. 16 was held in the Huntington Union Building.

Mallory Jones, resident director of Baker and Roush Halls, said residence life staff wanted to make sure any student who wanted to watch the debate had the opportunity.

“It’s an important time in our country with the election, so we wanted all of our students to have the opportunity to be informed and educated,” she said.

Sophomore Luke Batdorff attended the debate viewing party and said that he thinks it’s great that the campus is holding these events.

“[I went] to be an informed citizen and know what other people are talking about,” Batdorff said. “It’s nice to know something about who is going to be the future president.”

The discussion that followed the debate was facilitated by Mary Ruthi, Ph.D., professor of sociology, Dwight Brautigum, Ph.D., professor of history, and Jeffery Webb, Ph.D., professor of history.

Ruthi said she thinks the conversation is beneficial to the decision process.

“It’s good for people to think about the issues, and sometimes just hearing someone who disagrees with you helps you think through some of the issues,” Ruthi said.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for students if they had any questions regarding the debate to be able to engage in dialogue with professors who might be able to offer perspective or their own constructive thoughts about the situation,” Jones said. “The benefit of the event is the availability of it, and we accomplished what we set out to do.”

“We want our students to be conscientious about their involvement in the political process and decided to create a space for thoughtful conversation and dialogue, moderated by some of our faculty,” Vaught said.

Vaught said he thinks that the initial results have been good because student’s are becoming more aware of the platforms of each candidate and engaging each other and faculty about the election.

“In the long run, it may be harder for students to afford to buy their own homes, to repay student loans, and to enjoy the standard of living their parents had,” Ruthi said. “My hope is that students who are registered to vote will take the time to examine the candidates’ positions on the issues and then will get out and vote.”

Paul Hageman, a 2012 alumnus who worked last spring for the Kent County (Mich.) Republican Party, agreed with Ruthi that the key issue in this election is the economy. Students will want to make sure the government in place is on a job-creation path because they are coming out of college with massive amounts of debt while small businesses are not incentivized to risk hiring them, he said.

“Students need to see that going to college will pay off even if you have a little debt,” Hageman said. “The U.S. needs a leader that has proven experience in creating jobs.”

Many students on campus said they believe the campus cares about politics, even if some students do not vote. Sophomore Andrew Wickersham said many other students have told him they believe that they are not informed enough to vote, but are still talking about the issues.

“I think this is starting to reach new people, more than just the political science and history department,” Wickersham said, “and a lot of people have said that this is their first year involved in the discussion.”

Senior Keirsh Cochran said that he did not know what environment to expect this fall, but thinks the campus has been very respectful and humble in political discussions.

“The 2008 election happened before I got here, and I heard so many horror stories about how ugly this campus truly was,” Cochran said. “It seems OK this year. A lot of people are willing to say ‘I’m not really informed.’”

He said that he believes there has been a good discourse on campus through the events and the Forester Lecture with Lisa Harper and D.C. Innes, the authors of the book “Left, Right and Christ.”

“The campus has done a really good job of facilitating healthy discussion in having the authors of the book come on campus,” he said. “[The lecture] was something that was so timely. It had people on both sides who really knew their position.”

While most students on campus have the option of voting, whether through the absentee process or early voting before the election, the international students do not have that option. Junior James Parker, a citizen of South Africa, said that he has been caught up in the political discussion that has swept the campus.

“I just got hooked into it and began to be emotionally attached through the debates and started wondering who I was going to vote for before I realized I couldn’t,” he said. “But I’m glad for the discussions because most people vote for the sake of voting and not necessarily because they are knowledgeable or believe in the candidate.”

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