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PSS Winter '09 - Bruce Springsteen Photo

The Edge of the Political Curve

HWS Votes

by Melissa Sue Sorrells ’05

The first race where presidential candidates raised more than $1 billion. The highest percentage of voter turnout in a century. The first viable female presidential candidate. The first black president. The 2008 election season was undoubtedly historic, and HWS made sure to stay right at the edge of the political curve.

In the classroom, students tackled the pressing questions of the election cycle during POL 203: Campaigns and Elections 2008, co-taught by Colleges President Mark Gearan and Political Science Professor Iva Deutchman. “The 2008 campaign offers us the chance to study modern campaigns in real time while reviewing the long term implications of voting trends and patterns,” says Deutchman.

In addition to typical readings and homework, students enrolled in the course were able to share on-going dialogue with several political experts, including journalist John King, political consultants Bob Shrum and Michael Whouley, as well as Congressman Dennis Eckerd, Senator George McGovern and Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas Bill Halter.

During the weeks leading up to and immediately following the election, the President’s Forum Lecture Series also welcomed several political insiders and analysts to campus. Their voices added a rich and varied perspective to the campus conversation and highlighted the complexities of the historic race.

The series kicked off with influential Republican politician and alumnus Richard Rosenbaum ’52, P’86, who spoke about his new book, “No Room For Democracy: The Triumph of Ego Over Common Sense,” the primaries and the greater landscape of politics and politicians. In early October, scholar and political philosopher from Vanderbilt University Lucius Outlaw provided perspective on the intersection of the election and race. Award-winning USA Today journalist Susan Page, the most widely read political journalist in the country, rounded out the semester by adding her 30 years of expertise to the post-election conversation on-campus.

Students set their eyes on extracurricular political action, too, registering more than 600 voters in the weeks leading up to the election. “Everyone was really excited about this election,” says Amanda Ward ’11, a member of HWS Votes, the non-partisan, student-run organization that led the registration drive as well as several “meet the candidate” events throughout the semester.

Similarly, the Colleges’ chapter of Americans for an Informed Democracy (AID) sponsored a series of five political forums at a local coffee house featuring commentary from HWS political scholars Associate Professor DeWayne Lucas, Associate Professor Cedric Johnson and Deutchman.

“We pride ourselves on getting a group of people together and facilitating meaningful discussions and subsequent action,” says Michele Viterise ’09, co-president of the HWS chapter of AID. “The events provided a great forum for student conversation and action.”

On election night, HWS Votes hosted a party in the Vandervort Room that was attended by students, faculty and staff as well as local community members like Geneva Mayor Stu Einstein. “We wanted to provide a space where people could have fun watching the results as they came in,” says Jacqui Sands ’09, co-coordinator of HWS Votes.

Playing political trivia games and monitoring the results of the general election as well as key Congressional and local races, party-goers stayed late into the night, some even sticking around to watch President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. “It was a lot of fun to watch the results come in with people who were as excited about the election as I was,” says Andrew Wickenden ’09.

And, while members of the campus community watched the races unfold from Geneva, many HWS alums were in the middle of the fray, working on local, state and national campaigns. From weekend volunteers and student organizers to campaign managers and finance gurus, HWS alumni and alumnae infiltrated all levels of the political system and tore up the trail this election season. (To read about alums on the campaign trail, click here.)

Whether they were registering voters or running national campaigns, HWS community members did themselves—and their country—a great favor by getting involved, according to Joseph DiGangi, professor emeritus of political science and founder of the Colleges’ program in Washington, D.C.

“I always encourage HWS alums and students to get involved in politics. I think it’s important for them to learn about the process and have their voices heard, and it’s important to our democracy,” says DiGangi. “The more people that get involved at any level, the stronger our democracy is, and when our democracy is strong, all citizens benefit.”