Last night the African-American Cultural Center (AACC) organized the first meeting of the University of Connecticut's Alliance for Voter Participation, inviting a wide group of students and student organizations to discuss election issues, learn how to register to vote and listen to a speech from an Obama campaign volunteer.
The meeting was attended by members of all the other cultural centers, several greek organizations and groups like the Black Student Association, Undergraduate Student Government (USG), National Society of Black Engineers, West Indian Student Awareness Organization, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and ConnPIRG.
Despite the meeting's intention to stimulate conversation, only one student spoke, with attendees preferring to listen to the three speakers who took the stage.
USG External Affairs Chairman Seamus Keating spoke alongside AACC Director Willena Price to remind students to register to vote and to provide them with registration applications and absentee ballots, documents that can be procured at the nearby Mansfield Town Hall.
"[Voting] is so important, you have to start planning now," Price said.
Keating said that, since the 2002 midterm elections, voting levels at UConn had gone up 700 percent, a trend he and the rest of USG try to encourage by organizing buses to voting areas and arranging for free T-shirts.
He also said that registering to vote sent a message to government that UConn was a legitimate political power and voting bloc.
Price later said that the emphasis on voting was not inspired by UConn's lack of political interest, but as an informational session for the many recently arrived 18-year-olds who have never voted before.
The group was then addressed by Haneefah Al-Haqq, a professor of developmental studies from the Columbia School of Social Work, who serves a volunteer senior organizer for the Obama campaign.
According to Price, the AACC was contacted on Monday night about speaking to students and that it had been too late to find a representative of the McCain campaign, but that they would attempt to do so for a future event, saying that it was not her intention to sway voters one way or the other.
"We want [students] to make up their own minds," she said. "But have to get them involved first."
Al-Haqq went over some of Obama's main campaign points, such as his ambitions to reduce outsourcing, increase international trade restrictions and restore financial discipline on Wall Street.
"[Congress] has been spending like there's no tomorrow and [Obama] is very disappointed in how the country has been run for the last eight years," she said.
"I'm not even an economist and I foresaw [the collapsing housing market] taking us where we are," she said. "How the government didn't see that confuses me."
Al-Haqq particularly stressed Obama's views on education, lauding his efforts to extend reform to even kindergarten levels and reform No Child Left Behind Act funding. Al-Haqq said that early education reform was easier to do than it sounded, recalling a time when she was able to organize mothers in her community to act as assistants in kindergarten classes to help struggling, inexperienced teachers meet children's needs.
Following a question, she also elaborated on Obama's intentions to make health care more affordable, particularly by holding hospitals more accountable for how and what they charge people.
She finished by inviting students to attend a canvassing event on Oct. 13 in Hartford.
After Al-Haqq's talk, a member of the Black Students Associatio tried to start a dialogue by remarking that McCain's policy on education wasn't as well fleshed out as Obama's, but none of the other groups in attendance had comment and Price took the stage to lecture on the economic crisis.
She criticized the House of Representatives for not passing the proposed bailout bill, reminding students of how dire the situation was in her eyes.
"If the economy collapses, if another bailout act isn't approved, you won't be able to borrow a cent to pay for your loans," Price said.
"It's a trickle-down effect," she said. "You may not have a portfolio, but what little you have, you'll lose, so don't think this doesn't affect you."
Price went on to remind students that the entry-level jobs college student rely on will be harder to get if the economy fails and said that this meant it was important for students to vote for the candidate they think can solve the crisis.
Austin Edwards, a 3rd-semester sociology major and member of the Black Students Association said that he enjoyed the event, and was conscious of how important the recent election will be. He also said that he thought the student body was more electrified about politics then he had seen in awhile.
"More people are out there campaigning whether they are Obama or McCain supporters," he said.
Al-Haqq said the meeting made her happy.
"UConn is a special place," she said, and then, jokingly, "I guess I say that about all the schools I visit, though."
Price was disappointed more students didn't speak up, but said it didn't matter.
"I liked the attendance," she said. "And I think people went away informed. They definitely know more than when they came in."