POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – With an onslaught of voices to be heard in this thorny political climate, the spotlight has shifted from commentators and public figures to unrestrained aunts on Facebook and just about everyone in between. The one voice that has remained a constant, however, is the voice of student bodies across college campuses.
For large campuses with long histories of political activism, this past election has amplified their voices. But for smaller campuses, the election has made their silence even more telling. Are there voices to hear or are there no voices at all?
“I don’t think we are necessarily a politically active campus,” Hayley Rae Critchfield, the interim president of the Marist College Democrats, said. “We have students who have opinions and don’t really act on them, on either side. I don’t think we constructively share our opinions most of the time. We’re all ‘my way or the highway’ prone.”
This mentality of being “closed off” to certain viewpoints has proved to be a real issue on many college campuses, seen locally last semester, when a political debate at Marist College went awry.
“There would be a lot of clashing on this campus if there were so many passionate people with opposing views,” Critchfield said. “We had a small issue at our debate last semester, where things got really heated, and we were not able to resolve it well. When people are passionate about an issue, it can make them lash out. I don’t want to see violence on our campus.”
Though this did not occur at Marist, violence, mostly seen within riots and protests that suddenly turn intense and aggressive, have appeared on campuses across the country. Most notably, the University of California at Berkeley has exhibited many protests following the 2016 election. Its most recent protest was concerning Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator, who was delivering a speech at the college.
The massive turnout at the protest for Shapiro’s speech, though it resulted in arrests and injuries, is a testament to the passion and voice of students at Berkeley.
“I think the best way to stimulate political activity is to make students aware of the significance they play in the political world so that they realize how direct of a role they actually have,” John Stoumbos, a junior at UC Berkeley, said. “The risk of a politically charged campus environment, however, can involve surfacing internal tensions among the students and administration, which can lead to aggressive or violent situations that can jeopardize the safety of students and the campus.”
Many students at Marist College do feel that their voice, or, even more so, their vote, does not actually contribute to change in the country. Because of this, their voices are thus silenced, even though they do have opinions on the matters at hand.
It’s so much pressure for one little vote, and I just feel like my voice won’t change anything.”
“With such a massive student body, it is more possible to feel like the students can make a difference and stand a chance against such powers as the administration or other corrupt forces,” Stoumbos said. “At a smaller, private institution like Marist, it’s understandable that the individual could easily feel more isolated or alienated with certain beliefs or arguments, and that a sense of student power would likely be much more difficult to foster.”
Divides in beliefs around campus make it difficult to fully unite as a college, as one, cohesive unit. The reason behind this lack of action may lie within the fact that there is simply too much of a division to join together as a politically active campus.
“If students get in a dispute over something political, it stays floating in our little snow globe and that can have a negative effect,” Marist College 2019 Student Government Association (SGA) President Isabella Duenas-Lozada, said. “It could be proposed that it would cause an even bigger divide, unless we could all come together at the end of the day—which is a risk we have to be willing to take.”
Several students on campus want to see a change in the college’s political voice as a whole, but efforts will need to be made in order to actually substantiate this claim.
“My main goal is to celebrate and support the diversity here at Marist,” Critchfield said. “I like it when we show up and we use our voices and our knowledge and our passions to create change. Right now we are not accepting defeat. I’ve definitely seen a decline in protests and activism in the country and we need to realize that there is still work to be done.”
There is still much work to be done at Marist if change is wanting, and willing, to be made. With students from different backgrounds and with varying beliefs, the student body has come together and let it be heard, that political activism will be welcomed.