The General Political Atmosphere of Rutgers University
By Thom Prewett
Unigo Campus Representative at Rutgers University
Oct. 9, 2008
Like most American colleges, Rutgers University is a great school of democratic forum where young individuals can share their passions and express their political beliefs.
However, that is not to say that Rutgers has an aggressively political environment with partisan rallies and protests a la Berkeley in the 1960s. Instead, the student body that makes up “The State University of New Jersey” seems to have accepted their consistent blue-state status for the most part and shows little need for a heated political atmosphere. “I think most students are voting for Obama,” said Eliot Harrison, a Rutgers journalism and media studies senior. “We’re typically a liberal college like most others and Obama gets energy from youth voters across the country.”
“The one key thing that all of politics is about is change,” explained Ronald Miskoff, a Rutgers Professor who has been teaching for over 20 years, to his media ethics class. One student remarked, “Yeah, even McCain’s campaign is about change now, you know? ‘Change you can believe in’…Stuff like that.” “Yeah, but he doesn’t believe it,” Professor Miskoff replied. Nobody in the class refuted the statement, voiced any disagreement, or took note to the irony behind a biased statement from a media ethics professor. Instead the class nodded in agreement, suggesting a passive and content attitude towards Rutgers’ position within the political spectrum.
That is not to say that students at Rutgers deny the obvious left leaning aura of their school. Lisette Voytko, a senior Rutgers journalism and media studies major and editor for a university paper The Rutgers Review, described how and why the paper takes a liberal stance. “We have a forum section which is all political and really emphasizes opinions,” explained Voytko. “We typically take a very liberal stance because it’s who we are.” The work of The Rutgers Review simply reflects the identity of the paper and its audience within the student body. “You can’t go anywhere around College Avenue without seeing some sign of the election like voter registration tables or something. There are kids wearing Obama pins, stickers, and shirts. It’s obviously New Jersey. A professor from another class was even handing these out,” said Voytko as she flashed an “RU VOTING?” pin.
Political campus organizations have tried to use the past few months as an opportunity to gain momentum. Considering the lean towards the left on campus, the Rutgers Democrats have been particularly active. “[Rutgers is] Very excited for Obama. He's struck a chord with young people across the country, and he's made politics cool again. The Republicans are excited over Palin, but they don't have the organization on campus the Democrats do. We're making the most of the excitement,” said Brett Tinder a Rutgers senior political science major and president of the Rutgers University Democrats. “We've been offering ourselves up as representatives from the campaign, going from group to group to represent Obama and the Democratic Party. We've also been doing voter registration, and planning two political rallies with Gov. Corzine and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.”
While their membership pales in comparison to their counterparts, the Rutgers College Republicans have also been active during the past few months. Kevin Nedza, a Rutgers history and political science double major and vice president of the organization, explained. “We’ve been actively tabling to try and find new members. We have also helped a non-profit environmental group to show students there this is no scientific consensus on whether or not global warming is man-made. I have also been part of two political debates and will likely participate in 2-3 more before Election Day. I have also spent a few hours phone banking at McCain's regional HQ in New Jersey.” Kevin claimed that Rutgers College Republicans are “a strong and healthy conservative movement at the University, but to say we are any larger than a small fraction of the student body would be an outright lie.”
As October rolls along, Rutgers University shows little sign of being a college of aggressive political stature. This is a significant factor for students to consider as new, young voters may come to play an important role in the upcoming election. But without a sense of fire and passion within students, the youth vote may fall short as it has historically done in the past. “The youth vote is more difficult to tap into,” said Harrison. “Anyone who has ever relied on the youth vote has lost.”