How to Become Politically Active on a Busy College Schedule

By Nikki Donohue

With local elections coming up and the 2020 Democratic presidential debates in full swing, college campuses nationwide are going to be buzzing with election campaigns and political debate. 

Regardless of political activity on college campuses, people between the ages of 18 to 29 have the lowest voter turnout nationally, consistently falling below the 50% mark. However, according to a 1998 study by Abigail J. Stewart, Isis H. Settles and Nicholas J. G. Winter from the University of Michigan, students engaged in activism experience educational benefits along with developing a drive to remain politically engaged into “mid-life” and obtain a greater sense of their civic duties. Many college students are passionate about political issues but do not get involved due to a lack of time or a sense of hopelessness with the thought “my vote doesn’t count.” Here are four simple ways to become more politically engaged and motivated while on a busy college schedule.

Register to vote

The first and most simple way to get politically engaged is to register to vote. According to President of Democracy Matters at SUNY New Paltz, Haley Hershenson, it is vital to register to vote. “A lot of politicians see the numbers of how many people aged 18 to 24 came out to the polls in the 2016 elections and it means they can afford to ignore the concerns of young people,” Hershenson said. “If you students aren’t politically active or voting then it’s as if you are invisible to the political leaders who are supposed to represent you.” Students can register to vote in the state where they attend college. This makes it easier for students to vote because they do not need to fill out an absentee ballot or go home to hit the polls. It also allows students to get involved in the local elections in their college town.

Find a political issue you are passionate about

There are a ton of political issues that are being focused on nationwide from women’s rights to climate change. Theresa Marzullo, a SUNY New Paltz student who campaigned for Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, during her third year, recommended attending political events and panels if they are hosted on campus to hear politicians discuss different issues. She also recommended staying educated and up to date on issues going on in your area.

Get an internship in public policy

In many cases, colleges require their students to get an internship in order to graduate, so getting an internship with a local representative would help you get internship credit and become more politically engaged. In her second-year at SUNY New Paltz, Jenna Mei Ling Lyle interned for Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, and said getting an internship is “probably the best way to get more politically engaged.” An internship with a local Assembly person or State Senator will teach you the “ins and outs” of lawmaking and help you talk about politics in a “more intelligent way.”

Take advantage of general education classes

Colleges offer a variety of classes on many different topics that you can take regardless of your major. Mei Ling Lyle recommends using your University’s general education requirement to your advantage and take a class on environmentalism, economic development, or sociology to gain more knowledge on the issues you care about. “Once you have a greater knowledge of the science behind issues, it’s easy to think critically about the ways policymakers are trying to solve them.”

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