Some may remember when the Oak Room, located in the Moseley Student Center with a large couch and even larger bean bags frequented by students for naps, was the Oak Room: A space with formal seating, tables and an extended glass wall where the admissions sessions were held before the new Inman building. In that old room three years ago, the Political Engagement Work Group, which we were a part of, met for the first time. Joined by Bob Frigo, still a co-chair of the Work Group today, and other Elon “greats,” we started the conversation of how to make Elon a more politically and civically engaged campus.
We were two of the first students selected to be on the Work Group. Our roles were an Andrew Goodman Ambassador & Elon Votes! Coordinator (Gabby) and a Student Government representative (Spencer). Since that first meeting in a space that no longer exists, we have been proud members of this working group, a group that has put on Presidential Debate & Election Night watch parties, the Active Citizen Series, a partnership with Deliberative Dialogues and countless efforts at educating and registering students to vote under the leadership of the work group co-chairs, Bob and Carrie Eaves. The power of this group lies within the collaboration between students, faculty and staff to see where the civic engagement needs are on campus and ignite change.
We write today, as graduating seniors, to encourage the Elon community to continue, in their own ways, the work that we have begun towards a more politically and civically engaged campus.
First, what do those two words mean? What’s the difference between “political” and “civic?” By political, we mean activities that relate more to your own personal goals, beliefs and ideals – activities such as volunteering on campaigns and attending marches and rallies. By civic, we mean participating in general government roles such as volunteering, voting and attending public meetings and forums.
As Elon students, we all aspire to change the world, and the world needs Elon students to change it. But you do not have to wait until you graduate (though we are counting down the days) to make an impact or a change. You can vote, campaign for your candidate of choice, participate in marches & rallies, attend various events around campus, help your friends figure out when to vote or how to register and go to a public meeting of the town of Elon Board of Aldermen, Burlington City Council or Alamance County Commissioners, among many, many other politically and civically engaging activities as an Elon student. We are fortunate enough to attend a university that wants its students to speak their minds, be heard and get involved. Not all institutions across the country, and definitely not around the world, allow students a space for engaging in diverse political thought and action.
There is a common misperception around the millennial generation and engagement. Today’s generation of young people is debatably more politically engaged than ever before but in a different and unique form of activism. Young people today are generally more educated, supportive and self-expressive. These are qualities that directly align with those of voters. But we understand how the world of anything tangentially related to politics seems right now. When you saw the word “political,” a few of you might have contemplated not reading this op-ed. Each of you has probably heard someone in a class or on your hall say, “Politics is too divisive or corrupt for me.” That, in itself, is a reason to run towards such activities to get engaged in, not away from.
When we both walk across the stage in less than two short weeks, we hope you all think of the Group that began this needed work on campus. While we have started to move forward, there is still much work that needs to be done. Each of you has that power by going to these events on campus and going to the polls in November.
We hope that you will work towards such goals and embrace, as well as help bring into light, a future at Elon where voting is normal, political conversations are civil and common and attending a meeting, march or rally is something to look forward to.