Colgate Students Get Political

Unless you live under a rock, which sadly many Colgate students seem to, you would know there is an election going on for U.S. President. And while the election has brought up important issues such as the economy, the war in Iraq and whether Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, it’s made me think about the concept of political activism. It seems that everybody at Colgate agrees that Colgate is not a particularly politically active campus. But, what does it mean to be politically active? I have a lot of faith in the Colgate student body, even the ones who live under a rock, and I feel if we examine the real definition of political activism, Colgate won’t seem so apathetic.

Two of my good friends attend schools in Washington, D.C. and both their colleges are perceived and ranked accordingly as “politically active.” When I talk to these friends, I do hear a lot about political events they have on their campus. One of my friends describes to me weeks packed with Pro-choice rallies, visits by Henry Kissinger and speeches by Madeline Albright, while my other friend has started her own Young Libertarians club. These factors — speeches, protests, and clubs — seem to determine what it means to be politically active on college campuses today. For a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, we do get a surprising number of prominent speakers, like last year’s visit by the Dalai Lama and this month’s lecture by Dennis Ross. While lectures by prominent people and impassioned protests are all important to a vibrant campus life, why do those factors seem to be the only determinant of political activism? Looking back at my experience watching the presidential and vice presidential debates, I saw an important brand of informal political activism that probably goes unnoticed by administrators and rankings.

The Friday night of the Presidential debate, a few friends and I gathered in our friend’s room to watch. However, as the debate began more and more students came in to join us. At first I thought these strangers may just be there for the Slices and assorted carepackage leftovers, but I was quickly proven wrong. While watching and reacting to the comments made by the candidates, the friends I was with did not stare at the screen apathetically nor did they parrot back something their parents told them to pass off as a political view, instead everyone was engaged. Long after the debate ended, everyone sat discussing their opinions, with no hard feelings and no pretension. Afterward, I not only left happy that I found people who share my own views, but also learned a lot about the other side of issues I had never explored. Leaving that night, I felt incredibly politically engaged and optimistic about my fellow students.

However, the administration or any other organization that somehow ranks political pulses of campus had no idea about this informal gathering; they were probably too busy searching for how many “register to vote” signs were posted in the COOP. I do not mean to discount the highly organized political events on campus, but I believe there is an important value of informal political discourse, the kind of discussions that take place around dinner tables throughout the country. After all, unless you live in New Hampshire or Iowa, after college no candidates or famous pundits are going to show up at your door demanding you become interested in current political events. But if you are fortunate enough to live in a town as intellectually curious as Colgate’s campus, the discussions you have with friends and neighbors will be an important basis in forming your political views. While I was not here for the Dalai Lama’s speech, I managed to have a politically enriching experience during my first month at Colgate, sitting on the floor of my friend’s dorm arguing and debating with friends and strangers. At least we all agreed that Slices was good.