Election Class Seeks to Deepen Political Savvy
September 1, 2004 9:56 AM
A long line of students, 20 deep, stretched from the entrance of the auditorium in the Humanities building Wednesday night, Aug. 25 for the first class in a series of lectures on the upcoming political election.
They waited adjacent to a table encouraging them to not only vote but vote Democrat. The students murmured to each other, asking if this long line was to get into the class. Some picked up political pamphlets on the table while others attached Kerry pins to their backpacks.
With the prospect of giving students and voters a deeper understanding of this year’s election, the College of Behavior and Social Science (BSS) started its second year of lectures entitled, “The 2004 Presidential Elections: Issues and Analysis.”
Organized by BSS Dean Joel Kassiola, the nearly two-hour, two-unit lectures are a response to what he considered the superficial and often simplistic coverage the media give to elections and politics in general.
He developed the series – which will focus on the role of the media in elections, same-sex marriages, the environment, health care, and other issues – to provide a class-by-class development of the current political climate starting with the history of the Electoral College.
“Faculty members approach topics differently than the press and they have more time express those ideas than a 20-inch article,” Kassiola said before the class on Wednesday. “They bring scholarly reading to the topics and I think they approach topics in a different way than journalists.” Academics, he added, are more committed to the process of reasoning and can pursue unpopular ideas, an uncommon thing in journalism.
“There is tremendous interest in this campaign,” said Jules Tygiel, a professor of history at State and the College Democrats faculty advisor, when asked about the student turnout. He, along with his wife, passed out fliers, John Kerry buttons, posters and voter registration forms to students waiting to get into the class.
“This is the most important election of our time and I am motivated [to be here] by how important it is for students to get involved.”
The auditorium filled quickly exceeding the 75 enrolled students. The lecture featured three speakers: Robert Cherny, professor of history; Michael Graham, professor of political science; and Christopher Waldrep, chair and professor of history.
Each speaker discussed a different part of American politics, the Electoral College and the evolution of the presidential campaign, providing insight into how these institutions have impacted the contemporary political landscape.
“I don’t know anything about the election,” said Sarah Oberman, a business major who attended the class. “I don’t know why I want to lean one way or another.” The class, she said, would help make her a better-informed voter though she would have understood more if the lecturers used “elementary terms about what they were explaining.”
The number of students attending the class was an indication of changing attitudes on campus in the last four years.
When asked at the end of the lecture if voting had become obsolete, Waldrep replied, to much laughter, “It was a very common attitude on this campus in 2000 to hear there’s little difference between Republicans and Democrats. I haven’t heard that lately.”
The San Francisco College Democrats, a fledging student organization headed by SF State student Wes McGaughey, encouraged students to register to vote outside the auditorium.
Arriving directly from work in a blue dress shirt and yellow tie, McGaughey passed out information about the College Democrats, hoping to recruit more members and officers.
“If I had time I would have dressed more college student like,” he confessed before recounting the many obstacles he faced in organizing the College Democrats, like surmounting the political apathy of college students and the lack of support from the university administration. He hopes the organization will change student awareness of political decisions.
The protests earlier this year over fee increases, he said, where largely ineffective because students were demonstrating after the policies were already in place.
He also hadn’t been able to get university permission for the College Democrats to gain non-profit status, making contributions tax deductible.
“People have become disenchanted with politics and I want to present an image that’s cool,” he said about the College Democrats. So far the organization has registered 86 students to vote; 72 of who are registered Democrats.
The lectures will be held every Wednesday night starting at 7:15 p.m. through Dec. 8 in Humanities 133. During Election Day, Nov. 2, the class will be held in Jack Adams Hall for a special election night session featuring live commentary and post-election analysis from faculty.
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