Cross campus campaigns get students poll dancing

by Beacon Staff • October 29, 2008

This year's presidential election is stirring up campuses across Boston as candidates enter into a heated rivalry. Student organizations from Northeastern University to Harvard University are banding together on both sides of the electoral sphere to increase voter awareness and battle the politically apathetic stigma for which youths are known. Emersonians, however, appear to be quoting more Sarah Palin jokes than hoping for "Nobama" in the White House. While the Emerson Democrats are doing all they can hosting meetings, voicing opinions and getting the word out about voting arrangements, there is no opposing political organization for the few right-wingers around these parts. The other major universities in Boston are better about balancing out the political teeter-totter.

bNortheastern University/b

The Huskies of Northeastern University have been barking up the political tree in preparation for Nov. 4. Campus groups from both parties have been doing what they can to prepare students for the polls by organizing debates, passing out flyers and touting their cause.

The Northeastern University College Democrats are planning trips to New Hampshire with Boston University, Boston College, and Simmons College for the weekend. They are going to canvass Barack Obama's campaign by handing out buttons, holding signs and going house to house.

Jason Palitsch, president of the NUCD, said the trek up north would hopefully make strides towards putting Obama in the Oval Office.

"New Hampshire is the closest swing state," he said. "And when you send students knocking on doors in a one-on-one face-to-face conversation, you are more likely to make an impact."

Upcoming events on Northeastern's campus will help students stuck in Boston stay involved. Vice President of the NUCD, Rosa Barney, a sophomore journalism major, said the Northeastern Democrats have a stronger presence on campus than Republicans. She said that's because of the number of events the Democrats will host including debate watches and what she described as the "dorm storm." This strategy requires members of the NUCD to knock on all of the doors in the residence halls to remind students to register to vote.

While this tactic helps to raise awareness of the election in general, she said she wants students to become actively involved with the events happening on campus up until Nov. 7 and after the president is chosen.

"We've been doing this since we got to school and not once have we seen the Republicans doing these voter registration things," Barney said. "It just seems that their presence on campus is a lot smaller and a lot more concentrated because they have a smaller population, there just aren't as many of them. This is neither good nor bad, it's just how it is."

On Thursday Oct. 30, the NUCD will debate with the Northeastern University College Republicans. Barney said both sides will pick specific issues and she expects the environment will be heated. She said people will learn more from watching their peers discuss than by simply reading the news or visiting a Web site.

"It's important that these events get the message out to people. We're not just out there trying to have fun, it is fun but that's not the purpose." Barney said. "The purpose is to make sure that everyone is informed and everyone is participating."

After repeated attempts for an interview, the Northeastern University Republicans were unavailable for comment.

bSuffolk University/b

Suffolk University is predominantly a commuter school with a decentralized campus, so, naturally, student political groups have traveled off-campus to help raise awareness for the upcoming election.

Jimmy Quinn, president of the Suffolk University College Democrats, said the organization has gone to South Station to hand out buttons, fliers, signs and stickers to combat the general feeling of apathy he has noticed on campus. They also plan to organize a trip to New Hampshire to help put their party in power, but Quinn said he hasn't coordinated with other colleges in the area yet. He said the lack of involvement stems from the few students who come regularly to the SUCD meetings.

"Overall it seems that students are pretty apathetic in terms of our attendance at our Democrat meetings," the senior government major said. "A lot of that has to do with so many kids commuting-they're just not around."

Despite the lackluster political action, Quinn said Suffolk's political leanings in general seem to support Obama.

"If we were to hold a mock election I definitely think Obama would win," he said. "I don't know a lot of Republicans, but this is Boston and they tend to keep quiet here."

The Suffolk College Republicans' biggest goal is to increase intellectual development and diversity on campus by preserving conservative ideals. Its membership has reached about 60 students and President Jim Wilson hopes to increase this number as the election approaches.

The political involvement on Suffolk's campus has been stronger this year than any previous election because of the historic candidates running. The urgency of the election, Wilson said, promotes a lot of interest in the campaign itself.

"We have a polarized America right now and people are going to have different visions," the senior history major said. "People are going to want to get involved."

The Suffolk Republicans sometimes coordinate with the Political Science Association and will co-host other events in the future with the Suffolk Democrats. A debate was held on Oct. 28 on Suffolk University grounds. Wilson said he expected about 50 people to attend the discussion between the Suffolk University College Democrats and the Suffolk University College Republicans in an interview prior to the event.

Junior Emilia Losowska, president of the PSA at Suffolk said the debate is the most popular event co-sponsored by the college Democrats and Republicans because it allows the issues to come to life. Potential attendees of the debate were asked to choose the most popular subjects to cover prior to the event. Once the responses were tallied, the debate covered Iraq, The War on Terror, education, global warming, economic reform and American foreign policy.

bSimmons College/b

Next door to last year's World Series champions, Simmons College is home to about 1,900 female students and potential voting voices. New chapters of the College Democrats and College Republicans of Massachusetts have popped up on the small campus. In hopes to sway students from sitting the fence in their choice of candidate, these organizations are trying their best to get these young ladies involved.

Marine Vallet, a senior political science and international major is president of the Simmons chapter of the College Democrats of Massachusetts. As the membership director for the group, Vallet is in charge of dispensing information about CDM and of starting new chapters, as well as strengthening existing chapters. She said Simmons has active College Democrats and College Republicans chapters, which often co-sponsor events. For example, next week they will host a debate based on the candidates' positions on the issues.

"Simmons is mostly liberal, but it does have its contingent of Republicans and they are becoming more active since the creation of the College Republicans," Vallet said in an e-mail to iThe Bea

con/i, "Most people are interested, but do not have time to be active."

She said the Democrats get along with the College Republicans chapter and that they often host events together. On Oct. 29 there was a debate between the Republicans and Democrats, moderated by a professor with questions being given by the faculty covering issues of social security, science and the environment, and the timetables in Iraq in terms of the war on terror.

Senior Corie Whalen president of the College Republicans said she has a good relationship with the Democrats on campus despite what the majority of students may advocate in their voting decisions.

"There is obviously a very liberal leaning on campus, but at the same time there is a lot of political activism on campus in general," the history and political science double major said. "I've found that people who are politcally active and generally understand what's going on all get along despite different views."

Whalen said when it comes down to people interacting, Simmons created a well -informed environment that promotes discussion despite what side the speakers are on. The Republicans and Democrats work together at least once a semester to host events and debates like the one on Oct. 29 and Whalen feels this serves as a good model for political activists everywhere.

"When the clubs get together, it's a good way to show people that there can be that degree of bipartisan cooperation," she said.

bHarvard University/b

The big Ivy in Cambridge is known for churning out politically inclined graduates, like Barack Obama, and for Nov. 4 the current student organizations are doing their best to sway voters in their area.

Both the Harvard Democrats and the Harvard Republicans have sent buses of students to nearby swing state New Hampshire to canvass for their respective candidate. The Democrats will also send another group to Winston-Salem and Raleigh, N.C. on the donation of frequent flyer miles from an Italian support group called Americans for Obama.

The head of the Harvard Democrats, senior Ben Nelson, said the campus leaned to the left for most of its politics.

"The campus is pretty liberal especially with Obama being an alumnus," the government major said. "The business school is naturally a little more conservative than the rest of the schools."

Jeffrey Kwong, president emeritus of the Harvard Republicans, said his group regularly works at the phone banks at the McCain headquarters on Tremont Street and has also sent groups to New Hampshire. He said this year he was pleased that the Republican nominee was so strong.

"We have a candidate that's really experienced," the government and East Asian studies major said. "For the first time we have a real war hero, has worked hard in the Senate for 20 years and served the country well. We are proud to have him on our side."

Harvard's daily newspaper, iThe Crimson/i, endorsed candidates on the editorial page from both primaries and will announce their pick for the general election within the next week.

"[The editorial staff] endorsed Obama in the Democratic primary and McCain in the Republican," said managing editor Paras Bhyani. "I assume that the general election endorsement will be coming out soon, and given that their stances are generally pretty liberal, I imagine that they will endorse Obama."