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Freshmen focus on election

Amanda Michaels | Saturday, August 21, 2004

In keeping with the election buzz charging the nation, the second annual First Year Academic Convocation, “Election 2004: A Watershed?,” asks freshmen to examine the trends of voter apathy in Thomas Patterson’s book “The Vanishing Voter.”Along with “The Vanishing Voter,” the University Committee for the First Year of Studies selected an interview with Robert Putnam regarding the theories in his book, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” to prepare students for the mandatory convocation on Sept. 2. Due to concerns voiced by current sophomores, this workload is a decrease from last year’s, when students were asked to read four articles and three Web sites in addition to the “Heart of Islam,” which is approximately 300 pages.The idea of the program is to allow students to explore a pertinent topic through a set of readings culminating in a discussion of the issue, and was deemed a success after its inaugural trial. At last year’s convocation, “The Heart of Islam” sparked debate on the religious and political conflicts between the United States and the Middle East; now “The Vanishing Voter” is intended to bring the focus to the role of citizenship in democracy and the state of voter participation in the country.”Last year, the Middle East was certainly in everyone’s mind, and everything we did was good background for the things happening today,” said Eileen Kolman, dean of the First Year of Studies. “This fall, the November elections will be a top concern, and we hope to be part of the buzz on campus over them.” Rather than the original three-panel discussion that received some criticism for its length, this year’s event will center on an interview with Patterson by Matthew Storin, Associate Vice President for News and Information and a past editor of the Boston Globe. There will be an extended question and answer session after the interview, and Kolman said that she is encouraging the 400 students who have been posting on the convocation’s online discussion board to come with strong inquiries for Patterson.”We’re not planting questions this year, but we certainly don’t want silence,” she said. “But given the amount of chatter on the Web site, I don’t foresee that happening.”The convocation is also being held earlier in the semester than last year’s, so the subject matter will be fresher in the students’ minds, said Kolman. More class time will also be devoted to working with the book and topic, specifically in First Year Composition courses, and attending at the convocation will most likely be an assignment for those courses. “Voting Irish” T-shirts will also be distributed to encourage attendance.Kolman said she hopes the changes in format and subject matter will draw more students to the convocation.”The election seems to be such an active topic this year nationally, and especially among young people, and the literature seems to indicate that there is probably going to be more voter participation than in 2000,” she said. “This is a topic that everyone is getting involved in, and that affects everyone.”