Opposing Minds Challenge the Political Climate of UVM as Election Nears

UVM Students

By Lauren Foley

By Lauren Foley
Unigo Campus Rep at UVM

The political climate on the University of Vermont’s campus is undoubtedly liberal. Political activism is rampant on campus, with some students selecting UVM largely based on that element of the school.  During my undergraduate career alone, I have witnessed a hunger strike, political rallies sans clothing, students who created a tent city on the campus green, and overzealous Christian preachers, unaffiliated with UVM, insisting our souls must be saved. The majority of the student body is actively involved in some kind of political activism and eager to show it.

With the presidential election quickly nearing, activism is at an all time high. The two student newspapers, The Vermont Cynic and the Water Tower, have been dedicating more and more coverage to issues around the election. UVM students wander Burlington with clipboards, eagerly registering young people to vote. Obama posters are prominently displayed in residence hall windows and other public posting areas on campus, students intently tune into many of the debates, conventions, and updates on the Daily Show, and the College Republicans and College Democrats continue to meet often and campaign in any way they can for their party.

The political activity on campus is thriving, though for the most part, liberal, especially in regards to the election. In fact, Many conservative students are openly ridiculed, which is ironic considering many more liberal students insist they are open-minded and generally accepting, and yet seem to forget the fact that all students have a right to their personal political beliefs—however right wing they may be.

Rick Valenta, Vice President of the College Republicans, does not feel that the club is at a disadvantage considering it is part of such a liberal university: “Being the minority gives us a chance to have our voices heard on campus and open people’s minds up to issues they might not have thought about.” He noted that in regards to the upcoming election, “Individual members are working on state and federal election campaigns,” and that members continue to fight to have their voices heard, largely through weekly meetings and Op-Ed pieces for the Vermont Cynic. Seemingly aware of the liberal bias on campus, he notes that, “[The College Republicans] are not pushing the same agenda as the rest of the country,” insisting that the members are from Vermont, and though Republican, unusually liberal.

After being derecognized as a student club by the SGA due to financial reasons, the College Republicans are up and running once more, and working very hard to campaign for presidential candidate John McCain, though they are clearly in the minority. They first lost funds in 2005 after an appearance by Former Republican House Speaker, Newt Gingrich failed to raise profits that they needed to repay a loan. In early 2008, however, when Democrat Chelsea Clinton arrived to speak on behalf of her mother, hundreds of students enthusiastically met her downtown despite frigid temperatures, waving signs and chanting Hillary’s name. Later, students joined her at the Davis Student Center to listen and participate in a lengthy question and answer session. In such an atmosphere, members of the College Republicans must work twice as hard to be heard.

The College Democrats, though they could not be reached for this article, have been holding weekly meetings and promoting Obama in any way they can. The group is large and very popular on campus, which makes sense considering UVM’s generally liberal atmosphere.

The Student Government Association President, Jay Taylor, feels that the political climate on campus this fall may be active, but in general, young people have yet to live up to the great standard UVM has embarked on: “Our population is aging and empowering the youth of this state is the best way to engage this generation that I have yet to see politically engaged (at least on a large scale).” When asked about what he is doing to promote a specific candidate on campus this fall he notes on behalf of the SGA, “We will not endorse any one candidate because I think that would polarize part of the student body against the SGA and we are merely attempting to present the issues and the candidates to the students and empower them to make up their own mind.” This seems fair, though it is strange that he does not mention the liberal bias on campus.

In regards to the upcoming election, it is no secret or surprise that the majority of UVM students have embraced and eagerly campaigned for Barack Obama. Campus continues to reverberate with the tension caused by a small conservative population struggling to be heard over thousands of liberal students, and many do not forecast it as fizzling out anytime soon. Amber Clark, Staff Editor for The Vermont Cynic, notes that while, “Sitting around the student center I hear students debating the opponents as often as they regale each other with last weekend’s shenanigans.” And despite the overwhelming population of liberal students on campus, she must remain unbiased in her writing. “When covering the election as a news-writer it is crucial and imperative to not only deliver the story from an unbiased view as well as giving equal coverage to both sides. You cannot present simply one opinion or side of the story,” says Clark. However, “If you're writing a column or an op-ed piece then anything goes, the more opinionated you are the better.”

UVM, a notoriously liberal and politically active school, is obviously a hotbed of opposing views for certain causes. In regards to the upcoming election, tempers are running high as passionate students campaign. At a school like UVM, one can certainly expect nothing less.