Election fueling political engagement on campus

imageWith the 2004 election just a few weeks away, the level of political engagement on the SUNY Oswego campus has been on the rise through a voter registration drive and special awareness activities.

Several Voter Empowerment Week events, led by the Oswego chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group, brought the message of involvement to students the week of Sept. 27.

Oswego is one of 29 campuses taking part in the SUNY Rock the Vote Challenge, a student voter registration drive founded by SUNY Oswego senior Jen Pufky.

The week marked a “last hurrah” for the statewide “friendly competition” among student leaders to find creative ways to engage their campuses, Pufky noted. “I think students are really starting to realize the importance of their involvement and engagement. The idea is that once students become involved, it could become a lasting habit.”

More than 1,100 SUNY Oswego students have registered to become new voters this year, Kate Evanciew of Oswego’s NYPIRG office said.

The American Democracy Project steering committee joined several student organizations and United University Professions in promoting a series of pre-election events. The project is part of a nationwide push to increase civic engagement on college campuses, said Doug Deal, who convenes the committee of administrators, faculty and students.

On Monday of Voter Empowerment Week, the message of the American Democracy Project took to the airwaves. For his WNYO radio show, Student Association President Kevin Sutherland interviewed David King, special assistant to the president and interim director of graduate studies, about student engagement. In the previous election, 64 percent of those 25 or older voted, King noted, while only 38 percent of those 18 to 24 did. “That’s a rather stunning statistic,” King said. “You basically have only a third of those in that 18-to-24 age group participating.”

All week, NYPIRG sponsored a table in the Hewitt Union to register students to vote. Additional special events included a Rock the Quad event featuring a live WNYO broadcast on Wednesday afternoon and a Rockin’ Out the Vote Bash with live music and comedy on Thursday night.

A Debate Watch on Thursday night featured more than 100 students gathering in the Hart Hall basement lounge to watch the first televised presidential debate and discussing it afterward.

Both political parties have become more active at Oswego. That week the College Democrats of America and the SUNY Oswego College Republicans both registered as official campus organizations.

While registering and voting are important activities, Deal said, the goals of the American Democracy Project go beyond the election season to creating a permanent culture of civic engagement and community service on campus. The steering committee plans to start by hosting more fall events such as speakers, debates and films.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Voting voice—Kelly Olsen (left), a senior art and broadcasting major at Oswego, fills out documents in the academic quad during Rock the Quad, one of NYPIRG’s Voter Empowerment Week events. Providing the forms and answering questions is Kate Evanciew of Oswego’s NYPIRG office. Evanciew said more than 1,100 new voters had registered on campus by the end of the week.

(Posted: Oct 06, 2004)