Professors Offer Events; Students Lack Interest

Annette Ritzko, Reporter

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The Government Law and National Security club, along with multiple professors are making efforts to get students involved in the upcoming presidential election. The problem, said Dr. Christopher Stevens, Director of the Government Law and National Security program and an assistant professor of history, is that students are just not interested.

On Constitution Day, in September, the GLNS club held a discussion panel that looked at various  Constitutional issues and studied the candidates’ positions on them. Stevens addressed about the importance of the election for the Supreme Court. One seat is unfilled, and with so many justices of an advanced age, it wouldn’t be surprising if more seats opened up within four years.

Stevens said club members also held a discussion panel on Syria, which included a Syrian immigrant family, a members addressed facts about immigration and the current refugee crisis.

“We’ve invited students to these debates and discussions, but it’s hard getting students to want to come to these things. We shouldn’t have to bribe students with extra credit in order to get them to these discussions,” said Stevens.

He said these events can help students become more informed, but a higher attendance would also make the hosts feel good and more willing to plan such events in the future.

“If we bring someone big to talk on campus and they’re speaking in the theater, you certainly don’t want half the theater empty because that’s embarrassing. Having students actually want to go to events makes it worthwhile,” Stevens said.

The GLNS program also ran a non-partisan voter registration drive, which was supported by Dr. Rebecca Padot, professor in the History and Government, American National Government Service Learning Class. On Nov. 8. the GLNS will offer vans to provide students, faculty and staff with transportation to the polls, Padot said.

GLNS members aren’t the only ones bringing the issues to campus. Professor Irene Wisnieski, who teaches government, incorporated watching the debates into her lesson plans. After each presidential and vice-presidential debate, students had to submit a written summary of the salient points made by each candidate and assign a letter grade for each candidate’s performance, including reasons for the grade. A class discussion followed.

“Our goal in POL 100 is to have all students as informed as possible about how our government works in an election year.  We stress how important turnout is and how much each vote counts.   Students have been especially immersed in critiquing the two presidential debates and the single vice-presidential debate.”

Wisnieski said all voters need to acquire knowledge in order to cast their ballots.

“I encourage students to gather additional information from a variety of sources so that they are exposed to varying opinions,” Wisnieski said.

Junior behavioral science major Sarah Gawat said the class debate assignments are especially helpful even if they made her choices less clear.

“I do like that we’ve had to watch the debates since I feel like I never really paid that much attention in the past and it has forced me to really get into it. Watching the debates has actually changed my outlook on who I’m going to vote for. Being a veteran, I was against Clinton because of some of the things she has done with national security, but watching how Trump behaves in public has influenced my ideas as well. So now I’m really stuck,” she said.

As a final activity, Wisnieski wants her students to form small groups to compose campaign speeches, display political cartoons, and design original posters.

“We will cap all of our campaign work with a mock election to declare our official winner,” she said.

Discussions hosted by Dr. Glenn Willis, a religious studies professor, and Dr. Allan Austin, a professor of history offered students yet another chance to brush up on candidates’ policy positions. Willis said they had planned a series of small discussions on the five critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy – racism, non-violence, women, immigration, and the environment – in relationship to the candidates platforms and campaigns. Their final discussion, about American Greatness, was held Oct.26.

“Dr. Austin and I wanted to create a small non-classroom environment where students could express their views openly and develop their own voices, so that we could learn directly from our students about how they see our national situation. We’ve loved it so far,” said Willis.