Politics and the Election at Columbia University

Columbia University Students

By Juliet Savits
By Juliet Savits
Unigo Campus Rep at Columbia University
Oct. 10, 2008

Students gathered across campus in floor lounges and common areas to watch as Sarah Palin and Joe Biden took part in their first and only debate. Sitting in a room with twenty other students I could feel the tension mount as the VP candidates discussed their stances and the Columbia students discussed the VP candidates. Even after the debate had ended, the discussion continued amongst the viewers.

Columbia Students Election
Students gather in John Jay dorm to watch the VP debate. 

“They didn’t even need to make the SNL sketch because that was exactly the way it was,” commented Layan Fuleihan, a first-year at Columbia College interested in sustainable development.

The majority of the conversation centered on how the candidates performed as compared to how they were expected to perform. Though Palin’s jokes may not have flown well, there was a general consensus that her performance was much improved. Although Biden’s performance was not discussed to the degree of Palin’s, one student observed that Biden’s performance lacked one major component.

“He didn’t talk about Obama enough,” said Paul Lerner, a sophomore mathematics major. “It was all about him.”

Biden’s general performance seemed to be satisfactory but was shadowed by the debate over Palin’s responses.

Columbia is a very politically charged campus. Students are known for having strong political convictions and not being afraid to show them. Political rallies and riots have been staged by students to protest both university policies and broader, national issues. Columbia does not fail to disappoint in its activism towards the campaign. Students have recently been participating in a number of election-related activities on campus. Lectures and debates have been held by the university to discuss economics as well as sustainable development. Students attended an organized showing of a documentary about Obama and gathered on Lowe steps to view the National service forum hosted at the university. Columbia is dominated by Democratic support and liberal ideals. Nonetheless, the average Columbia student is interested in political debate and knowing the issues.

And so, Five days later the cycle began again, but this time to watch the meeting-hall styled presidential candidate debate. And whereas the commentary in the VP debate was focused on the candidates, this time the discourse moved to the policies themselves.

“Obama is supporting off-shore drilling, which I didn’t realize before,” said Brian Donahoe, a first-year CC student interested in history. This comment divulged into a ten minute debate covering issues from energy policy to economics and foreign policy.

Student’s main concerns on issues range from gay rights to environmental conservation. However, with the current economic problems the economy, energy, and foreign relations seem to dominate discussions.

“I don’t understand how you couldn’t be concerned about the economy,” said Lerner.

On the campus level, debates have been staged to discuss the issues that have caught the attention of the student body. The Columbia Political Union (CPU), a non-partisan political group, has arranged these, as well as other political events, including larger screenings of the debates, for students. The CPU has also made a project of registering students to vote. The organization has set up several booths to provide students with voter information as well as allow them to register to vote on-campus.

The CPU is just one of 40 different politically active groups. Smaller political groups range in focus from world issues, like Free Tibet, to local issues, such as the University’s expansion into Manhattanville. There is a group on-campus for every view point and every level of involvement. And each is taking advantage of the election year to gather more members and more involvement.

“There is a group of people very involved in politics and there is a group of people who are very apathetic,” said Chris Daniels, a senior religion major at Columbia College and president of the Columbia University College Democrats. “One of the things our group especially tries to combat is getting the people really interested in politics really involved while also trying to combat the apathy.”

Both the college Democrats and Republicans have seen an increase in their participating members this year due to the elections. Each sees the influx of new members as a new opportunity to rally support both on and off campus for their candidates. Both organizations have also arranged for group campaigning, including taking involved members out-of-state during Columbia University’s break for Election Day to aid in registering voters.

Columbia has a very active political scene which allows for involvement for anyone who wants to get involved. Though Columbia is generally very liberal, there are political organizations to represent every viewpoint. Due to the upcoming election, the politics on campus are especially visible. As Election Day approaches, the politics on campus becomes more and more heated and will continue to do so even after the new president takes over the Oval Office.