Our Democratic Duty
By Lulu Chang, Staff Columnist
Published on Friday, September 21, 2012
This past Friday, I was reminded of the strength and venerability of our extensive alumni network when I participated on the “Dartmouth Today Panel” as a member of the Hill Winds Society. Our audience of primarily ’37s, ’42s and ’47s was not particularly interested in reliving the Dartmouth of their day. Rather, they were bursting with questions about the Dartmouth of the 21st century and how the campus and student life are changing. Indeed, we are far from being entrenched in old practices and are rather bounding forward into an increasingly interconnected era.
Among the questions about our favorite professors, Greek life and campus involvement, I was surprised that the most common subject addressed by our alumni was, in fact, politics. How aware are our friends of the political scene? How deeply, if at all, do Dartmouth students care about the upcoming election? How often do students read the newspaper, and how carefully do they keep themselves informed about “relevant” issues?
The answers that the four of us gave differed significantly. While there was unquestionable agreement that, for the most part, Dartmouth students keep themselves reasonably well-informed about current events and remain relatively interested in who our next president will be, there was certainly a degree of dissent as to the extent of our collective awareness. Obviously, our differences in perspective were contingent on the variety of organizations and interactions represented by a diverse group of students, but it still raised an interesting question: Do Dartmouth students pay enough attention to the politics of our country, and what exactly constitutes “enough?”
There seems to be little argument against the importance of political participation. Given the recent emphasis on the young voter population, brought most prominently to the spotlight with Obama’s 2008 campaign that relied heavily on social media, politics often appears inescapable. From Twitter to Tumblr and Flickr to Facebook, today’s candidates are obviously cognizant of the resources available to them and have no hesitations in maximizing their potential. Dartmouth, even in its bubble, is no exception to the rule. As one panelist pointed out, while not all Dartmouth students read the newspaper on a regular basis, we manage to remain informed by way of Facebook posts, status updates or tweets. And although these are certainly valid ways of obtaining information, our knowledge base then becomes dependent on the opinions of a small populace that cares enough about certain issues to raise awareness among their internet friends. This is not enough. As forward-thinking and independent individuals, we should control our knowledge intake ourselves, and we cannot rely on others to filter and comb through the news for us.
As important as political participation is, then, it would be entirely useless without an informed demographic from which the voting and participating population must be drawn. Dartmouth practically serves as a breeding ground for not only the voters of this generation, but the leaders of the next. We are a target audience for political mobilization machines — as a young cohort of bright and innovative individuals, we are an ideal group to motivate to action. Evidence has shown that those with more education are far more likely to participate in politics than those with less education, but higher education does not necessarily correlate with higher political awareness. It is our duty, then, to live up to the Dartmouth standard in applying the education we receive here on broader horizons. There is no pervasive defeatist attitude at Dartmouth that would hinder our feelings of political efficacy, nor do we suffer from a lack of an intelligent and motivated student body. As such, we must capitalize on the vast resources provided by our peers and find a sense of purpose and commitment in taking a part in our own government.
The opportunities available at Dartmouth for political involvement are truly astounding. From our phenomenal government department to our College Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, there certainly exists a wealth of knowledge at our ready disposal. Though events like the Bidens’ grassroots campaign on campus and the Republican debate certainly draw a large crowd, it shouldn’t take big names or media attention to dictate what we think is important. Our government and its politics happen every day, and its effects, though seemingly small, resound even in the Still North. It is time to take an active part in our government — whether by voting, campaigning or even submitting ourselves as candidates — and in doing so ensure that at Dartmouth, today’s politics do matter.