When Dr. Jay Shivamoggi, Director of the Office of External and Competitive Scholarships, first came to America in 1988, she was shocked. “The participation [in politics] was so low. There was no excitement. And even anything that you see here is dwarfed by what you would see in a country like India…a low turnout election [in India] is 70 percent. A high turnout election is 90 percent-plus. So to me, this whole ‘39 percent of people turnout for election’ was a very weird thing to see because I felt like [America] was the home of democracy.”
But contrary to popular stereotypes about apathetic college students, the political scene on campus has begun to thrive. When asked to assess the political situation on campus, Shivamoggi said, “It’s very student driven. When I came to Rollins ten years ago, there was a group that was very active. But then the students graduated, and those groups went into hiatus. This year, I feel like both the Rollins College Democrats and Republicans are doing well.”
Currently, student involvement with politics seems to be on the rise. The Rollins College Democrats (RCD) regrouped last year, and now the Rollins College Republicans (RCR) has restarted this semester by RCR President Dan Berlinger ’13.
Katherine Barnekow ‘15, RCD President, was deeply involved in politics since before she arrived at Rollins College a year ago. “I worked on the campaign of Bill White and I was the president of our chapter of Young Liberals at my high school,” she said.
“When I got here, I was told that there were political organizations, but I tried really hard to find them and I had a little bit of difficulty with it. So after eventually finding other people who were interested and who had the drive that I did, we revamped the club, rewrote the constitution and elected a new executive board. We got in touch with the Florida College Democrats Federation, as well as the College Democrats of America, to really see what we could do on campus and get people involved and ready to go for the election in Nov.”
Since then, RCD has only been growing. Barnekow said, “At our first meeting, we had between five and ten people. Now, at our weekly meetings, we have an average attendance of 15 to 20 people, and on our roster we have 60-plus people. And those are people most of whom can’t attend meetings due to classes or other involvements, but are actively doing voter registration, canvassing and helping reelect the president in Nov.” Since starting this semester, RCR has grown at a fast pace as well. “We currently have 30+ members and are still growing,” said RCR Vice President Andrew Braun ’15.
Besides enjoying an expanding membership base, one of these political organizations has already received a national award in recognition of its achievements. On Sept. 2, the RCD received the Rising Star Award for the previous year at the College Democrats of America’s annual convention. The award is given to a college Democrat organization that is new and has shown admirable dedication to Democratic causes. The convention was held in Charlotte, NC.
This isn’t the first award that this group, which has been around for almost a year, has won. The Florida College Democrats Federation previously recognized RCD as a Rising Star Chapter in March of this year at their annual convention.
Currently, RCD is working tirelessly to help reelect President Barack Obama. They have canvassing and phone-banking events planned every week. During the upcoming weeks, they will sponsor voter registration drives on the Rollins campus to get as many voters registered as possible before Election Day. Many of RCD’s members are also involved in local politics through volunteer work and internships.
Naturally, RCR is currently focusing on trying to get Mitt Romney elected as president. Braun said, “RCR is currently volunteering at the Romney Victory Office in Winter Park, going to public events in the area which [feature] politicians and we are also going to be tabling on campus on Oct. 2 in order to spread the word of our organization more.”
However, Braun realizes that it is sometimes a challenge to get people to care about politics. “Sadly, not many people on campus or around the country that are in our age group show much interest in politics,” he said. “Students today are not as active in politics as they should be. It is important that we all get out there and voice our opinion, because we ultimately run this country, and every person’s opinion counts.” Of course, there are many other political groups at Rollins that are not centered on the political party system, but on social issues. Spectrum, Voices for Women, and Eco-Rollins are just a few of these types of organizations. These groups also demonstrate how political activism on campus is increasing.
Barnekow makes a similar observation. “In the year or so that we’ve been active, we’ve found that a lot of people really do have strong political beliefs, but just haven’t really found an outlet for it on campus. Once we gave them a forum to come together and meet other people with similar beliefs, and get involved and do something about it, there’s been a real growth of excitement among these students.”
If you are interested in joining RCD, email President Kate Barnekow at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can like RCR’s and RCD’s Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter to learn more about the organizations’ upcoming events. Both groups meet on Tuesdays, with RCD in Orlando Hall Room 213 at 6:00 p.m. and RCR at 8:00 p.m. in Room 234 in the Olin Library.