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Convocation fights election apathy

Justin Tardiff | Friday, September 3, 2004

Freshmen culminated a summer of study Thursday with the second annual First Year of Studies Academic Convocation – an event focused on the upcoming election and the effects of voter participation.

The Convocation, titled “Election 2004: A Watershed?”, gave students the chance to explore and discuss the 2004 presidential and congressional elections through interaction with Thomas Patterson, author of the assigned summer reading “The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty”.

Students were asked to consider the various factors that will influence the election in the coming months.

The program began with an interview with Patterson, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, conducted by Matthew Storin, associate vice president of news and information.

The interview provided a general outline of subjects brought up in “The Vanishing Voter”, and also developed topics that would be explored in greater detail with student questions.

When the question and answer session began, the students had inquiries that spanned the range of issues brought up by Patterson in his book. “The quality and intensity of the student’s questions were impressive,” said dean of the First Year of Studies, Eileen Kolman.

The topics of primary elections, voting tendencies and various party strategies were considered, among others.

The idea of media influence was also a substantial part of the conversation. When asked about the “dirty politics” of various media outlets, Patterson said “I like Michael Moore’s contribution, and I like Rush Limbaugh’s contribution, but I don’t like it when they’re the dominant contribution. … We’re not being well served by our primary sources of information.”

Throughout the convocation, Patterson emphasized the significance of this election.

“I think we’ll see a six to eight-point increase in ranks [of voter turnout],” he said. “I think this is one of the most important elections in decades.”

Despite the interest expressed in the topic, however, many students had a mixed reaction to the convocation as a whole. At the end of the convocation, approximately a third of the students who originally attended were remaining.

Alexandra Persley, a freshman attendee of the convocation, said “It was really disrespectful that people got up and left [during the question and answer session]”. Michael Redding, another student in attendence, said “The whole event reflected elections in general … a lot of those who stayed might have been more set in their ways [politically]”.

“People are at all different levels of engagement,” explained Kolman. “For many, this was their first exposure to a topic like this, so their attention span might be understandably limited. ”

“The people who are into it will come away with a lot,” said freshman Erin Mulholland.

Kolman said that the convocation was a useful introduction to the freshman about the value of their political participation.

“This convocation was important in itself, but it was even more important as a first step for these 18-year olds to take in preparation for the election,” she said.