Participation in Fall Politics

Wesleyan students are known as a political group, and often this means that we have been the scene of plenty of campus activism. I’d like to think that as an educational institution we develop capacities for citizenship in our students (and not just the capacity for protest), and that we have a culture in which people take seriously ideas from various points in the political spectrum. Sometimes schools like ours are criticized for being too homogeneous politically, and we should recognize that we have often been a place that has marginalized conservative voices. In recent years I have sensed a change in that regard, as groups of students who identify as conservatives have organized and gained more of a presence on campus.

Now we are little more than a month away from national elections, and we are being bombarded with advertisements. Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that deemed money to have the protections of speech, the pace of “investing” in the political arena through large donations has accelerated. The Wesleyan Media Project, under the guidance of Prof. Erika Fowler, is tracking these expenditures and getting a lot of attention in the press. Who is trying to influence us, and for what purpose?

All of this mass media politicking can seem like so much noise after a while, and there is a tendency to tune out. I want to remind the Wes family, especially our students, that this is precisely the time when you should be paying the most attention to politics. I want to remind our students, whatever their political affiliations, to get their absentee ballots or arrange to vote here in Middletown.

Please don’t neglect political participation because of some general dissatisfaction with the whole system. It would be a terrible waste if our campus community became merely skeptical about politics and didn’t participate. If you don’t exercise your power to vote, someone else will be making decisions for you.

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4 thoughts on “Participation in Fall Politics

  1. I appreciate your recognition of the conservative voices at Wesleyan. It deeply bothers me that Wesleyan students are known as a singular political group. Wesleyan boasts of its diverse academic curriculum, its students from all backgrounds, and its wide range of student activities, but Wesleyan students are seen as having a single political identity.

    Indeed, conservative voices have been marginalized at Wesleyan. As a conservative student, I have been ignored, casually disregarded, and mocked for sharing my thoughts in both academic and non-academic forums. I have spoken with numbers of conservative students who are afraid to speak up, because they feel their political beliefs are not tolerated here. Perhaps even more discouraging is the number of people I have spoken with who are unfamiliar with the conservative point of view, because they have never studied or considered it before.

    Thank you for reminding all of us to get out the vote this November. Hopefully, we can use this election as a time to begin a two-way dialogue on campus.

  2. Even though I tend to feel at least some responsibility for dragging Wesleyan’s Leftist majority toward a campus discourse with more options than just “Left” and “further Left,” I have to say the battle’s not yet won, and I admire your willingness to admit Wesleyan’s marginalizing attitude toward the Right, President Roth. I don’t think anyone would accuse you of contributing to it, given that you have gone so far as to speak to the Wesleyan College Republicans and have proven remarkably receptive to our voices. I do wonder, though, if Wesleyan’s administration as a whole might reinforce the fears of conservatives, given that much of the advertising I’ve seen for Wesleyan (or did see during Commencement of last year) seems to emphasize the accomplishments of Wesleyan graduates in the nonprofit/activist sector rather than their accomplishments as business leaders or entrepreneurs. Moreover, I have to say that some of the introductory speakers I remember coming to Wesleyan during my time were embarrassing – I specifically remember black socialist radical Manning Marable coming my freshman year and an apologist for Mao Tse Tung coming my sophomore year. Wes can do better than both of these policies.

  3. “…the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that deemed money to have the protections of speech…”

    SCOTUS also determined that the Federal Election Commission cannot ban a book or shut down a website just because it mentions a candidate unfavorably close in time to a primary or general election. (starting at p. 64):

    http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/08-205%5BReargued%5D.pdf

    Also, consider the ACLU’s brief in support of Citizens United:

    http://www.cuvfec.com/documents/case-08-205/Supplemental_Question_Amicus_Brief_of_ACLU.pdf

    Wesleyan University is a corporation. Wesleyan does not have all the rights of a person (Wesleyan cannot vote, cannot hold office, of course cannot serve in the military), but it does enjoy some rights and protections. The government cannot seize Wesleyan’s buildings or library collections. The government cannot shut down this blog just because President Roth is being paid by a corporation and using corporate facilities.

    The Citizens United case was a victory for Wesleyan and any other institution that believes civic engagement shouldn’t require a team of lawyers and special permission from the bureaucracy.

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