Of the more than 400 officially registered student organizations at Harvard College, only a few have explicitly political goals. But over the past few weeks, our campus has seen a level of engagement and interest in the upcoming presidential election that is heartening, given the traditionally low rates of voter turnout amongst 18-29 year olds. Various groups of students from diverse backgrounds and divergent agendas have come together to engage each other in a civilized, intellectually honest, and energetic discussion. We commend all of these students for their efforts, and applaud the College as a whole for fostering these encounters.
Perhaps the most interesting developments include the issue-specific debates hosted by a variety of ethnic, cultural, and student support organizations. These groups and their membersmany of whom hold heterogeneous political viewshave helped to highlight important issues for their specific constituencies, many of which might have been overlooked in a less specific context for discussion. Last weeks debate on Latin American relationssponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studiesand this coming weeks discussion on womens issues in the upcoming presidential electionsponsored by the Association of Black Harvard Women, the Asian American Womens Association, the South Asian Womens Collective, Radcliffe Union of Students, and the Harvard College Womens Centerprove that student groups without explicitly political missions are willing to and capable of engaging in provocative political discourse.
Of course, political groups on campus have done their share of rallying excitement as well. In a political climate as potentially vitriolic as this one, both the Harvard College Democrats and the Harvard Republican Club should be praised for their willingness to create a dialogue that focuses more on the issues at hand rather than engaging in vicious personal attacks. The outcome of this election is likely to have a major impact on both sides of the aisle, so we are especially appreciative of their efforts to focus the debate on an intelligent and respectful exploration of the various conundrums that confront our future policymakers.
Despite the harsh words of older critics, who have taken our generation to task over our political apathy and low turnout rates, we urge our fellow students to maintain this high level of involvement. Students who are voting for the first time have not only sought out the resources necessary to vote absentee, but have taken the time out of their busy schedules to campaign for both presidential candidates and their Congressional counterparts, even during the primary season. Similarly, veterans of the campaign trail have taken it upon themselves to organize and motivate large groups of student volunteers to spend hours talking to undecided voters.
Before November 4, Harvard College undergraduates will have travelled to battleground states as far away as North Carolina; both the Democratic and Republican communities on campus will have travelled to New Hampshire on almost a weekly basis. Phone banking events have generated a great deal of enthusiasm and interest; similarly, students across campus have tuned into the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates.
As the election cycle reaches its highest point in the next few days, we hope to see these sorts of events continue to inspire our student body.