January 16 , 2007
Students rocking the vote
Benjamin van der Horst is an Emory College sophomore and intern at Emory Report.
There is a perception that young people are generally apathetic about our country’s democratic process, and the data supports the perception. In the 2004 election, people in the 18- to 24-year-old demographic were not only the least likely to vote, but they were also the least likely to be registered to vote. College students make up a large part of this demographic.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, college students were at the forefront of the political debate. The Vietnam War and lowering the voting age were two major issues affecting college-age people. Now it seems that most college students, much like their non-student peers, do not care much about politics or the democratic process.
Why are college students apathetic? Is it because they really have no interest in politics? Or is it because there is not a good forum for students to explore and learn about the political arena?
I argue that many students are shunning the political process because of the polarizing nature of politics, nationally and even on college campuses. This is why I helped to start the Collegiate Society of America.
Last November, working with other college students, I filed the first papers with the Ohio Attorney General’s office to create the Collegiate Society Foundation. The Foundation is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports CSAmerica.
We created CSAmerica to combat political apathy on college campuses through a new kind of political club. There are many political clubs at colleges, but nearly all of them promote a specific cause or viewpoint. CSAmerica is a nonpartisan political club. We draw members from the left, right and center, as well as people who don’t know where they stand politically. By bringing people from all parts of the political spectrum together, we can debate different viewpoints.
Debate is the main component of the CSAmerica program. Emory already has the nationally ranked Barkley Forum, so why do we need another debate organization like CSAmerica?
Most debate societies at colleges are focused on technical debate. This type of debate often values rhetoric over ideas and is often only for those people in the debate society. It does not necessarily encourage participation by the average person.
CSAmerica debate is different. Ideas are more important than rhetoric and anyone can participate. Audience members can ask the speakers questions or make speeches of their own. The format encourages audience participation, allowing people to participate at their individual comfort levels. At the end of a CSAmerica debate, people leave having heard ideas and arguments from all sides of an issue.
Yet CSAmerica is much more than just a debate club. One of our goals is to promote political awareness among college students. We do this through our debates, as well as more informal discussions called dialogue sessions, watching and discussing political movies, holding voter registration drives, running get-out-the-vote campaigns directed specifically at college students who are voting absentee, and inviting guest speakers from the political arena.
The Emory Chapter of CSAmerica was one of the first CSAmerica chapters nationally, launched in September. We have held debates on the nuclear crisis with Iran and on bringing troops home from Iraq. We have also co-sponsored a Georgia Gubernatorial Debate at Emory and a debate between the College Republicans and the Young Democrats over affirmative action in the college admissions process.
In February the Emory CSAmerica chapter will attend the first CSAmerica National Convention in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of college students from CSAmerica chapters across the country will converge on our nation’s capitol to discuss the major issues facing our country and our generation.
Since November, I have worked with Zack Conyne-Rapin, CSAmerica co-founder and program director and a student at Indiana University, to get the legal and national framework for the organization in place. I serve as the executive director of the Collegiate Society Foundation, which is responsible for making sure the foundation can advance its educational mission of getting more college students involved in the democratic process.
Not only is the Collegiate Society Foundation and the CSAmerica program completely run by students, we are all volunteers — from the students who work on making sure we secure grants and donations to keep our programs funded, to the students who work on our Web site, to the students who run the CSAmerica program.
Since its launch only a few months ago, CSAmerica has experienced tremendous success. More than 15 chapters from California to New York have been established, and new chapters are starting all the time. Several hundred students who are not in chapters have indicated interest in the organization and in starting new chapters.
It is my hope and belief that by providing a welcoming, nonpartisan forum for the discussion and debate of political issues that we will encourage more students to be aware, interested and involved in our democratic process. Students from all around the country have embraced our organization and its goals. We will continue to work to expand the organization until political apathy on college campuses is a thing of the past.
Find out more at www.csamerica.org.