Editorial: political life on campus

Posted by The Editorial Board

Wednesday's debate between New York Democratic Senator Kristin Gillibrand and her challenger Republican Wendy Long marked one of the biggest political events that has ever taken place at Skidmore College. This momentous occasion is one to be celebrated for its historic significance for the school, and also for the inclusion of students.

Despite the fact that the use of the Helen Filene Ladd Hall in the Arthur Zankel Music Center was a great influential factor in YNN and NY1s' decision to approach the College about hosting the debate, the administration and the Department of Special Programs in particular - both parties who helped organize the event - did place emphasis on student involvement by saving approximately 200 tickets for the student body and simulcasting (live-streaming) the debate in the Davis, Emerson and Gannett auditoriums as well as in the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall.

This debate served as an opportunity for students to exercise political initiative; an opportunity that was lost and ignored by a number of students. The problem is that a lot of students did not seem to be aware that the debate was even happening and missed out on their chance to secure tickets.

News of the debate seemed to spread mostly through hearsay until an official announcement was made. A single email was sent out by the administration on Oct. 1, merely two days before the release of tickets, which were distributed on a first-come first-serve basis at 8 a.m., Oct. 3 via a webpage. There were no posters. There were no other emails. On the day of the debate many students were still unclear about what was happening and some were still entirely unaware that it was even occurring.

This unfortunate situation only ties into a greater phenomenon on campus-the effects of the 'Skidmore bubble.'

Students have complained that they are unaware of what's going on in the world-whether due to their own negligence, busy schedules or general disinterest. As college students in the age of technology and an ever-more competitive job market, these excuses are not acceptable.

The administration does what it can to foster political involvement by holding events such as this debate and the voter registration function that took place in the Tang on Oct. 4. We are given the New York Times for free five days a week, which is a blessing when you are on a college budget. We are also allowed to vote on campus, which only further limits any excuses students have for a lack of political involvement and awareness.

It is worth noting that as a tax-exempt institution, the College and its faculty members must adhere to strict IRS guidelines when it comes to expressing political opinion, as noted in the 'Expression of Political Opinion Policy.'

In fact, that very policy prohibited former president Bill Clinton from coming to campus in 2010 when he was visiting Saratoga Springs to endorse former U.S. Representative Chris Murphy. Under the 2010 guidelines: "College space and facilities may not be used to solicit political funds or endorsements." The revised edition of the policy, released in May 2012, removed the part about endorsements.

Under IRS guidelines, and the College's policy, students and student groups are allowed to invite candidates on campus for whatever reason. Debates are allowed assuming that they are on an impartial basis.

In 2010, the administration did what it could to address the problem while navigating through strict government guidelines. The College was able to work around and revise the policy to avoid losing out on another opportunity of this magnitude should it arise again.

While it is not the administration's job to force political involvement on students outside of the classroom, it is within their power to continue strengthening their efforts to keep students informed and active through academic means.

The new Inter-Group Relations minor is a great example of a field that takes contemporary issues into account. Other disciplines have courses that take similar approaches, such as the 'Art History Major and Beyond' capstone class in which students must bring in current event articles pertaining to Art, a great example of a non-political subject that still manages to incorporate contemporary information.

Even if current events are not applicable to every department's academics, the College could take the route of simply offering a one or two-credit current events course-an opportunity for students to stay actively informed.

When students venture out into the real world, employers will not be interested solely in the transcripts and resumes-they will ask you about your opinion on what's going on in the world.

The College grooms us for post-college life in just about every other way. The student body should take advantage of the opportunities the administration has given us and follow this growing trend in political awareness and activity on campus.

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