The State of Political Activism on Campus

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The Iowa caucus kicked off the primary season as the country gets closer and closer to the 2020 presidential elections in November. This brings into question how students become politically active in their communities. For many, college can be a time of growth where you find or develop your political opinions.

The Seattle University website boasts a high percentage of socially active students. Among students, though, it can be difficult to get involved in political activism—especially for those that never have before.

The lack of political interest seems large in some areas, including those that want to work as campus coordinators for political candidates. One example of a campus coordinator is Will Stein, a third-year political science student who volunteers for the campaign to elect Bernie Sanders. Stein got the position quite simply through a few emails and by signing up for a training course.

“Sometimes it feels like there is not that much of an activist culture at Seattle U, which is understandable because it takes a lot of time,” Stein said.

Stein believes Seattle U students are actually well-informed on a lot of issues.

“I definitely don’t think people are suffering from a lack of information or motivation,” Stein said. “I think they just don’t know of a way to channel it into working to change, so there is a lot of lost inertia.”

Not knowing that these options exist might be a part of the problem for students that express an interest in getting politically involved. However, there are options on campus that can help connect students with opportunities to get involved. This includes the Seattle U chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists and the Seattle University Conservative Union. Some are official clubs, like the Students for Economic Justice, while others are informal groups of friends that work towards making change.

For many students, being a politically active member within their community can be a difficult thing to do. There are a myriad of issues involved and a large number of organizations on campus—and some issues receive a groundswell of student support while others make less of a dent.

Some students are involved in many issues that they support. Alison Scheder, a second-year political science and womens and gender studies major, works to advocate for equal pay for women. She is also involved in the campaign for Elizebeth Warren, canvassing over the phone. For Scheder, getting involved in politics is something that she thinks everyone should do if they can find the time, but it can be more than just physically going to movements.

“For me, activism isn’t something that you do, it’s a part of you,” Scheder said. “Even if you can’t directly be out providing support for the people that can is important. It’s hard being out on the street asking for change and a community behind you really helps to make sure you know that the work you’re doing is important.”

Conversely, many students cannot find the time such as Aiden Beatty, a first-year pre-engineering student, who wants to become more active but finds it hard to figure out how. Figuring out what groups align with your ideas can be difficult, especially while maintaining good grades.

“I wish that I could be out on the street but apart from the big things like the women’s march, it’s hard to know when things are,” Beatty said. “My schedule is just too hard to fit things in with my job and school work.”

With the start of a new political season on the horizon, students will be undoubtedly affected going into next fall. For some like Stein though the upcoming elections are just the beginning of getting students active and caring about politics.

“We’re hoping to bring people from all walks of life together through our campaign to help Bernie Sanders. We just want to be a place to help students that want to get involved in a way to do that, so that the energy can get used in a fulfilling way.”