Politics on the UW-Madison Campus

Wisconsin Students

By Roz Koff

By Roz Koff
Unigo Campus Rep at UW-Madison
Oct. 22, 2008

Across campus, the UW-Madison community is somewhat apathetic towards the primary issues of the 2008 election such as the Iraq War and the troubled economy.  Students across campus are the first ones to brag about their pride in their university and the strides it has made in various academic areas.  University of Wisconsin is home to some of the world’s leading HIV research; sustainable agricultural methods have been developed on campus the campus itself. However, unless it is one of our nationally renowned parties - Halloween, Mifflin, or…every weekend — mass amounts of students are not motivated to get involved.

There exception to this apathy of course. Students applying to one of our prestigious undergraduate “schools” (our business, journalism, nursing, and education schools are top ten in the country), then students feel the need to enhance their application.   Professor Phil Jackson of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department sites that while his students are extremely motivated, as they try to meet certain requirements to be accepted into the “J-School,” or Journalism School, he is aware that many students simply attend class and hang out with their friends in the rest of their free time.

Personally, I am in the process of applying for the Journalism and Mass Communications School.  With the little extra time that I do have, I spend it writing for school newspapers or attending meetings at the Advertising Club– not at political enthusiast groups, despite the fact that I might actually enjoy those groups.   It is important for me to be able to display to the “J-school” admissions committee that journalism is truly a passion; something I immerse myself in. With a crazy schedule, the few hours that I can designate toward extra-curricular activities are limited to those that fit in with my major-to-be.

 Although it is difficult to find, there are in fact students that seem to be passionate about politics.  “It is really hard to get other students involved,” said a junior interning with Barack Obama’s campaign.  “I target religious voters, and try to get them involved in the campaign’s newly launched initiative to bring young people of faith together in support [of Barack Obama.]”  Recognizing that many students on campus are not religious, she remarked, “we have a lot of focus groups within the campaign to try and target as many students as directly as possible, but it just hard on a campus with so many other [events] going on to get students involved.”

Students who are not occupied by the pressure of applying to the various undergraduate schools occasionally get involved.  However, the leaders of clubs tend to be quite passionate about their purpose, which can often be intimidating to those who are less informed.  Jackson noted, “the students on this campus have their individual passions, and with so many opportunities to get involved [in various groups on campus], anything that is not one’s passion is easily overlooked, or forgotten.”   Such intimidation often makes students reluctant to branch out and try new activities.

Some brave students, however, are motivated by the intensity of some groups and spend their time working for candidates.  Barack Obama’s   One Wisconsin student who currently interns for the Barack Obama campaign took around about way towards political activism.  “Politics have not always excited me, but I just recognize our country falling apart and felt that I couldn’t sit back and watch our world come to an end.  I had to do something – if not for me, for my peers.  So I contacted the College Democrats on campus and they gave me a few [phone] numbers to call, and here I am today!  Working on Obama’s campaign, trying to spread his message of values and moving our country forward.”

Whether directly participating in election efforts or not, all students on campus are absolutely aware of the election and their responsibility to vote.  Jackson explained that, “despite [UW-Madison] being the liberal campus that it is, it is really important to the administration and faculty across campus that we teach without a bias – that we do not reveal whose side we are on.”  This motto truly is reflected in lectures as a professor usually does not reveal what candidate s/he likes, or even what rallies s/he is attending.  The professors will, however, repeatedly tell you to vote.

“There is nothing more important than teaching the students the value of their vote,” said professor Samantha Roth of the Women Studies department.  “Everyone always asks me where my loyalties lie – with Obama, or with the chick.  And of course, their assumption is with the chick.  I will never let my students know my [political] affiliation, but I will say what I said when Hillary was running – voters should not vote McCain just to support a female.  [Sarah] Palin should not gain support simply for being female, just as we do not want her to be discriminated against for being a woman.”

The campus that seems quite apathetic at-first about the election secretly has underlying passion and enthusiasm about the upcoming November 4th events.  Students’ lack of involvement with the election should not undermine the great passion that they have for life as an active member of society.  At UW-Madison, students are each individually driven to change the world in one way or another.  With their passions in mind, and our administration on board with constant must-vote reminders, our dedication to the election this semester lies in the action of voting – having a say in the changing future of our country, for the better.