The Political Atmosphere on the University of Richmond’s Campus
Unigo Campus Rep at the University of Richmond
Oct. 10, 2008
If you had asked a University of Richmond student last semester what they thought about the political atmosphere on campus, you would have probably been told that the overwhelming political mood was generally one of apathy. Students were just too busy to care about politics and a far-off election in the face of tomorrow’s exam and Monday’s ten-page paper.
This semester, however, things are different. While apathy is still prevalent on campus, those who do care about the election are making their voices heard, and it has made a marked difference in the atmosphere here on campus. Pamela Duran, the president of Students for McCain on campus, sees this change as a positive thing.
"I think that the political climate on campus this fall has never been better," Duran said in an e-mail message. "There is a steady increase of involvement and people are really interested in this year's elections. There are a lot of expectations and finally a lot of us feel compelled to raise our opinions."
It looks like Richmond has suddenly become politically engaged!
Students walking through the Commons this semester can expect to be accosted by sorority sisters tabling trying to raise money for an event. However, one also has to make it past the Young Democrats Club, which is holding a voter registration drive, and the Students for McCain group, which is trying to recruit people to go knocking door-to-door in the neighborhood and promote John McCain and his campaign. Several articles in the campus newspaper, The Collegian, are now devoted to student opinions on the candidates as well as campaign related events on and near campus. The paper also has a weekly feature that goes over the opinions of both major candidates on various key issues as well as online blogs from election related campus events.
There has also been a noticeable change in the conversations students are having with one another on campus. Instead of always hearing, "Hey, are you going to that party this weekend," one now also hears, "Hey, are you going to the viewing party in the commons to watch the debates on Friday night?" Madeleine Albright even came to campus to give a speech in support of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign and McCain’s and Obama’s energy and environmental advisors met at Richmond’s School of Law to have an environment and energy forum! Those are some big names for a small school to host!
However, despite the prevalence of politics on campus this semester, UR is still ultimately what it always has been — apathetic — and many students believe that the increase in political interest is purely as a result of the upcoming election and will die down as soon as November 4th passes. In a survey conducted by The Collegian, 19.9 percent of undergraduate students surveyed said they were following the election very closely, 51.6 percent said they were following it somewhat closely, 22.3 percent said they were following it not too closely, and 6.2 percent said were following it not closely at all. So even though Richmond may seem politically engaged this semester, there is still an underlying apathy that is only momentarily covered up by the loud voices of the political groups on campus.
Another interesting change on campus this semester has been seen in political party dynamics. If Richmond students were asked which way UR leaned in terms of political parties last semester, most would have replied that Richmond had a majority conservative or moderate student body. However, this semester, the liberals are making their voices heard loud and clear and are overpowering others to the point that it might be difficult to find a McCain fan.
There is no better example of Richmond’s sudden Obama-mania than at the school-sponsored presidential and vice-presidential debate viewing parties, which, according to Collegian editor-in-chief Megan Wilson, garnered an attendance of about 115 students. Students constantly laughed when McCain or Gov. Sarah Palin spoke and clapped for Obama and Sen. Joe Biden.
If there were any McCainiacs at the viewing party they either discreetly left after realizing their minority status or they were too intimidated by the intensity of the Obama enthusiasts to speak up. One must wonder though, is this due to the actual large presence of liberals on campus, or merely to their efforts to be heard? The Collegian’s survey seems to point to the latter. About 50 percent of students in the survey claimed to be moderates whereas 29% said they were liberal and 18 percent said they were conservative.
The political atmosphere on campus this semester is intense, charged, and active; however, it’s questionable if this will last once the election passes. If last year is indicative of anything, one might conclude that the political activity that now pervades everyday life on campus is merely a result of the election. This level of political awareness is not the norm and does not represent the majority of students on campus or the usual political engagement of students.
Both the Students for McCain as well as the Young Democrats on campus expressed surprise at the amount of people who wanted to get involved in politics at UR, however, they both also view the recent engagement as indicative of the future of politics at Richmond.
"The important part is that [students] are getting involved in a process that previously was not a concern to many," said Elyse Kenealy, the president of UR’s Young Democrats, in an e-mail message.
Pamela Duran, the president of the Students for McCain, showed similar optimism.
"We had a good response and people do show interest in getting involved," she said in an e-mail. "Sometimes people want to get involved but just don't know how to."
Others on campus, however, feel that a few students have always cared about politics and those few will remain active and engaged, however, come November 5th, the majority of students will return to their usual political party: apathy.