Editorial boards at three universities’ independent student newspapers came together to reflect on political activity on their campuses. This editorial was published in The GW Hatchet, Washington Square News and the Daily Collegian.
This semester has been unlike any other for most universities. The 2016 presidential election season is finally coming to a close, and just as the country will soon move past these presidential races, students will, too. Every student body demonstrates activism in its own way. The editorial boards from GW’s The Hatchet, NYU’s Washington Square News and Penn State’s The Daily Collegian considered student activism in higher education on their individual campuses throughout this election season.
Our universities are clearly different, but this semester has been equally political on each of our campuses. Before we all headed back to school this fall, we expected the political activity on our campuses to be high — after all, this is the only presidential election for which most of us will be in college. But we didn’t know just how divisive the election would be. Regardless of where we go to school, we believe in political activity throughout the campaigns, and we believe it’s important that students at any university stay politically aware long after Election Day.
Student organizations have gotten into the election spirit on all three of our campuses. We’ve all had debate watch parties, NYU and Penn State have hosted mass rallies for candidates on their respective campuses, and membership in GW’s political student organizations is at an all-time high. While it’s great to watch university Democrats and university Republicans around the country debate about the candidates, hopefully we’ll see these groups come together on Nov. 9.
But not all discourse is civil. At NYU, the presidential election has been a source of anxiety. Students have clashed in the past when some Trump-supporting students felt intimidated by NYU’s liberal atmosphere. NYU, academically and socially, tends to skew toward the left of the political spectrum. Conservatives at NYU may sometimes feel marginalized, but that does not mean they do not have a voice on campus. College Republicans, for example, are an active participants in campus debates and represent a broad cross section of conservative viewpoints.
And just last week, members of the Penn State Bull-Moose Party erected a wall around the American flag pole on the Old Main lawn. Soon enough, Students for Hillary arrived in response. There wasn’t a violent clash between the two groups, but it was symbolic of a larger issue in the divisiveness of this campaign. At a scheduled debate between the Bull-Moose Party and Students for Hillary, tensions rose before the debate even began, with the Bull-Moose representative claiming that Students for Hillary pulled out of the debate. While the debate still took place, the two debating representatives traded blows all night.
Similarly, GW’s College Republicans and College Democrats were set to debate Nov. 1, but just two days before the event, the College Republicans withdrew from the debate. After a confusing night of Facebook statuses from both student groups, College Democrats implored any Republican at GW to debate them. Eventually, the College Republicans issued an apology, writing on Facebook that misinformation provoked them to pull out of the debate and retracting their statement.
While this election cycle has been divisive on all of our campuses, we have good reason to hope and expect that our student bodies will come together Wednesday and focus their political energy on campus issues.
Student activism is a trademark of college life on all three of our campuses. At NYU, students have identified and protested several causes that affect their lives on campus. One of the most well-documented demonstrations was a sit-in staged by NYU’s Incarceration to Education Coalition — a group that advocates against penalizing prospective students with criminal records. NYU Divest, which aims to pressure the Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels, organized a protest in the library. And recently after student protest, the university committed to providing free menstrual health products.
GW students have found similar success in protesting university policies. In 2015, GW’s Students Against Sexual Assault marched to officials’ offices to demand mandatory sexual assault and prevention training for students. They succeeded: freshmen are now mandated to complete trainings during orientation. After years of protest coupled with effective Student Association leadership in 2014, the university’s student health center was moved to campus.
At Penn State, the relative isolation of Happy Valley creates the perfect environment for political activism, as it breeds a range of opinions. Penn State welcomed its largest freshman class in recent years and has consistently drawn a varying population of international students, so together this draws the student body toward different types of issues. Civil issues of race and gender equality have resulted in protests and awareness campaigns on campus. Raising awareness of sexual assault and bystander intervention have created leadership roundtables, inspired HUB (Penn State’s main student center) takeovers and marches and increased the overall visibility of it on campus.
It makes sense that college students have made this semester into a political marathon. But just like any fad, the interest in this presidential election will fade. Students should remember the causes they fought for this semester and continue advocating after Election Day. Hopefully, students can apply their excitement about national political activity to their own campuses to make tangible changes.
This staff editorial was written by the The Hatchet’s opinion editor Melissa Holzberg, Washington Square News’ opinion editor Emily Fong and The Daily Collegian’s opinion editor Lauren Davis. The opinions expressed are based on conversations with the editorial boards of The Hatchet, Washington Square News and The Daily Collegian.