The Candidates are the Issue on the University of Richmond’s Campus
Unigo Campus Rep at the University of Richmond
Oct. 30, 2008
The University of Richmond isn’t usually a politically engaged campus.
However, the 2008 presidential election between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain has momentarily inspired many students and created a semblance of a politically active campus. School-sponsored viewing parties for the debates and party conventions were both well attended, and it’s not uncommon to find “Palin Power!” or “Vote for Change, Vote Obama” scribbled in neon colored chalk on the ground in front of our dining hall. With all of this fuss made over the candidates themselves, however, are there any particular issues that have attracted the attention of UR students?
Carly Vendegna, a junior double majoring in geography and economics and the president of theRichmond Environmental Network for Economic Willpower(RENEW),the environmental advocacy group on campus, is working with her group and Power Vote, a non-partisan group spearheaded by the Energy Action Coalition, to create more awareness of environmental issues on campus and to encourage students to vote with environmental issues in mind. She has passed out and posted Power Vote cards around campus that read, “I pledge to vote for clean and just energy!” In addition, her group has developed a five part plan for the university to decrease energy consumption, increase recycling, and encourage greener living as a whole. The success of their hard work has paid off as seen in the recently implemented “Trayless Fridays” at the dining hall that are designed to decrease food and water waste as well as in the new energy saving appliances installed in dorms. Their efforts represent one particular interest on campus.
However, Dr. Daniel Palazzolo, a professor of political science and the professor for a newly created Live and Learn program called “Campaign 2008," believes that, on a whole, environmental issues are not a major concern for students. Instead, he stated that “it’s all about the economy” now. Students in his classes have expressed concern for job opportunities and viable living options after they graduate and this concern, he believes, reflects the general mood of the nation as a whole.
Ashley Graham, a junior majoring in political science and journalism who, for the past two months, has worked as an intern for the Obama campaign, echoes this emphasis on the economy. She has noticed that voters seemed particularly concerned about economic issues.
“We have tried to answer any issue questions each voter has in particular cases, but overall we have pushed the seriousness of the current economic situation,” she said.
Although students have focused on several interests, overall, the candidates have become the most important. Dr. Palazzolo commented that many of his students in the Campaign 2008 class were familiar with the candidates but were unaware of some issues the candidates represented. Students on campus express great enthusiasm for the candidate they endorse, yet they never mention the policies behind the personalities. In addition, if a student were to attend any of the debate viewing parties, he or she would notice that while, yes, students did react to the comments the candidates made in regards to their policies, they also responded to the way McCain paced around the room, the way Obama calmly and rationally talked, and the way Sarah Palin winked or Joe Biden seemed to momentarily choke up when talking about his past. The candidate’s personalities have become one of the main issues of the election.
Ashley Graham’s experiences with the Obama campaign also speak to this focus on the candidate. While she says that she and other workers on the campaign did answer questions regarding issues, their main cause was to merely promote their candidate, the personality that overshadows the issues, and, only if someone asked about the issues, would they then go into them.
So, while RENEW and Carly Vendegna’s efforts say much about a particular issue on campus and concern for the future of the economy has been expressed by several students, UR — in a manner mirroring that of the nation as a whole — overwhelming views the candidates as the issues. In essence, people don’t know the issues, they know the candidates, and come November 4th these personalities will be the deciding factors for the majority of UR students.