College Students Targeted in Political Activism

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Harrison Phipps
Opinions Editor

College is an ideal time for many people to get out and test the waters of the real world. Gone are the days of deferring to your parents on all matters legal and financial. Now, you are the one learning the ropes.

One of the main freedoms that new college students have is the right to vote. We couldn’t always vote this early. It wasn’t until July 1, 1971 that the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was ratified, giving those under 21 the right of suffrage.

In the 45 years after its ratification, things have shifted. With the rise of students going to college immediately after high school, political campaigns have been seeking to make college-age citizens a part of their support.

Generally speaking, between the ages of 18 to 21, people get their political views from three main sources: social spheres, media and the classroom. The last of those might seem strange, as often teachers in high school are restricted from sharing their points of view, so as to avoid swaying children’s opinions; although these points of view are seldom explicit at the high school level they are generally very common in college classrooms.

All of these sources of political views can be affected by an effective campaign, and college students ought to be wary of every source of information.

An effective campaign can easily affect your social sphere (friends, family, coworkers, etc) by encouraging participation. For instance, a close friend of yours holds one view and always talks about it. In the absence of a counter-argument, you might be easily swayed to hold the same view. Because your friend was affected by the campaign, you were too.

In the same sense, group mentality and peer pressure play a large role in what political and social views you adopt. If more people are quoting a video by Jane Fonda in support of a candidate, it will be more socially acceptable to support that quote than to oppose the majority within your spheres.

This relies on the idea that truth and goodness are socially-constructed and collectively agreed upon. However, the good and truth that comes from this area of influence in a campaign only comes down to what catches on and what sounds like a good idea. There is no room for hard truths to be shared here, as they do not sound appealing and as such are not to be discussed at all.

The media, including social media, is perhaps the clearest battleground when it comes to political activism and discussion. Here, we see the direct agendas laid out by the candidates themselves, the critiques from the media outlets and the responses they all incite. This is generally where we go to learn about bias and rhetoric because there is little subtlety involved.

It’s not hard to see this played out either. News outlets call each other out by name, actively critique candidates and policies and select what stories — along with what facts about them — get published. Whenever there’s a tragedy, this becomes increasingly apparent. Candidates and news sources both put their spins and commentary on anything noteworthy, which then gets filtered and published for you to see.

Then, there’s the classroom. As much as some would like to tout it as a safe zone, there are few things safe about it. In a public institution, the government—influenced by those in office—has a large say in what goes on. At the high school level, things are very restrictive. As one advances, there are less restrictions on what can and can’t be said. However, no place is safe from political influence.

Professors bring their own biases into the classroom, and they should. No one is without bias and trying to act contrary to that is both damaging and deceitful. The issue comes from who is allowed to have their bias in the classroom and who is not. Universities will always have some overall leaning toward liberal or conservative, and if that bias is held at the administrative level, it affects the hiring and firing processes.

An effective campaign will know these leanings and play off of them. If something noteworthy is stated in a specific subject area by a candidate, there is a high chance of it being talked about in a college classroom. Many of such issues were salient in my humanities courses especially.

While you can’t escape being influenced, it is important to be able to see where these influences are coming from so you can assess them properly. Without recognizing the source of information or understanding why you think the way you do, there is little to be said about the worth of your vote.

Be conscious, especially as you explore your right to vote. Make an educated decision and know why you’re making it.

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