By Tennyson Bush
This semester marks the debut of the Student Voter Education (SVE) series, a collaboration between Student Government (SG) and politically involved campus organizations aimed at informing the student body on the hows and whys of civic engagement. The series kicked off on January 15th with a talk by Assistant Professor of International Relations Timothy Taylor and Dean of Social Sciences Bryan McGraw on “Why Your Vote Matters.”
“Your vote matters, but maybe not for the reasons you think it does,” Taylor said at the talk. “Your vote doesn’t matter in turning elections, but as an expression of what you see as the way things ought to be.”
The event is the first of many that SG hopes to organize during the semester to promote healthy political conversations on campus ahead of this year’s presidential election. Although the SVE series is a SG brainchild, event planning will involve partnership with student-led clubs and college-sponsored organizations within the Office of Multicultural Development, the Student Activities Office and the Center for Faith, Politics and Economics (FPE).
“The idea is not to have Student Government completely running these events,” said Amy Rice, junior class co-president and one of three SG leaders who make up the SVE task force. She is joined on the task force by Junior Class Co-President Jake Rhoads and Luke Witzig, the EVP for technology and finance.
While acknowledging that a formal voter education task force is without direct precedent at Wheaton, Rice clarified that she doesn’t intend for SG to get political. “This isn’t for any political campaigning purposes, but to inform students as to why civic engagement is important.” To that end, the task force will offer a forum for interested student groups from a range of political perspectives, from the College Republicans and Democrats to Unidad and the William Osborne Society. The events will raise questions about how Christians can appropriately engage in politics.
Navigating the intersection between faith and political engagement is a concern shared by many on Wheaton’s campus. Sophomore John Colson is concerned that a culture of political apathy has taken root on campus. “I think this is fairly detrimental to the community. It’s important as Christians that we engage and confront the world, applying our particular Christian code of ethics.”
Colson sees the SVE as a step in the right direction. “Charity begins at home, and social change begins on campus,” he said.
In the near future, the SVE task force plans to set up voter registration tables in Lower Beamer, with members helping to educate new in-state student voters and be a resource for out-of-state students who are registering for absentee voting. The task force is also planning functions to help quantify student electoral participation following the primary elections this semester and the general election in the fall.
Rice hopes that Wheaton’s campus will one day be alive with substantive civil discourse. “I would really hope that this stirs up conversations among students to engage and not stray away from political conversations,” she said.