Editorial: The power of civic engagement

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We are experiencing a very tumultuous time in America. Bombs have been mailed to politicians, innocent people have been killed in their place of worship and there is a growing partisan divide leading to friction and resentment.

The upcoming midterm elections are critical because both parties intend on grabbing a majority in Congress. The partisan divide has fired people up, making them eager to cast votes for their preferred party to gain control at the local, state and federal levels.

On campus, students have been stepping up to acknowledge political and social injustices on several fronts. For example, within the last year, students orchestrated a vigil in remembrance of the Tree of Life shooting victims and rallies to combat racism on campus as well as Trump’s call to repeal DACA.

As students aim to convey political and social messages on campus, the university should complement their efforts by showing support of students actively using their voices.

Different offices and initiatives at Lehigh, such as the Center for Community Engagement and the South Side Initiative, act as pockets of concentrated effort to help transform students into more active members of our community. But at an institutional level, civic and community engagement is not high on Lehigh’s agenda.

Programming that gets students involved in the Bethlehem community remains minimal compared to the plethora of academic requirements students must fulfill during their time here. 

Providing opportunities to learn about voting and the political system is only one way Lehigh can encourage civic engagement at the institutional level. Allowing voting to be more accessible is another way Lehigh can encourage students to exercise their right to vote.

This year, four o’clock exams directly conflict with Election Day, which might discourage students from getting to the polls. We hope administrators and professors alike will be more cognizant of this in the future. 

Although exams are important, the university should encourage students to focus on things that are bigger than themselves. In the end, scheduling exams around elections is not worth jeopardizing students’ rights to have a voice in the future of our country.

As time goes on, we hope that Lehigh will become more political in general. College students comprise our nation’s youngest voters and should be given the resources they need to become well-informed before casting their ballots. One way to encourage this could be mandatory coursework in political science, in addition to the general course requirements each student must fulfill.

Students in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), for example, must fulfill distribution requirements in order to receive their degrees. These include courses in mathematics, natural sciences and arts and humanities, among others. Students in CAS are required to take eight credits in the social sciences but are not obligated to choose political science. Perhaps a mandatory political science course would teach students the fundamentals of our nation’s political system — and emphasize the significance of voting.

On top of extended education, leaders of our institution, such as high-ranking members of the administration with far-reaching voices, should encourage students to practice civic engagement and vote.

As students continue to use active voices in today’s political and social issues, we hope the university will increase their advocacy for them. 

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8 Comments

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    I agree that 4 o’clock exams should not be scheduled on Election Day. There are early and absentee voting options available but really it should be a national “holiday” to encourage participation.

    I don’t think a mandatory course in political science would be all that helpful. That advice may be worthless because as an engineering student I didn’t have much of an opportunity for non-technical courses; political science was not one of my choices. I would recommend a course in American History covering a somewhat limited period containing internal conflict such as Revolution through Constitution or pre Civil War. Survey courses tend to fail in identify the details that led to decisions and the fallout from the decisions.

    “As time goes on, we hope that Lehigh will become more political in general.” I hope that Lehigh students become better educated to become better citizens in the generations following graduation not more political; notwithstanding a few to whom politics will become a profession. Surely Lehigh students are intelligent enough to understanding the importance of voting even if it seems as though your vote means little, Your vote should be of utmost importance to you.

  2. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    The last thing you need to become politically informed is to take a course at Lehigh in political science. The department lacks a fair & balanced approach but rather spews socialist propaganda with retribution for those with alternative views.

    Just take courses in the business school to learn the fundamentals of capitalism & the prosperity it has provided to your forefathers & to individual achievement.

  3. Amy Charles '89 on

    Homies, find something real to complain about. You’re not being disenfranchised by four o’clocks.

    (Seriously, are you paying any attention to what’s been going on? Jim-Crow-style voter suppression games, ID garbage, all this on top of the trouble normal poor people have with hourly schedules and childcare and transit, and you’re complaining about a late-afternoon exam? I feel like the next complaint’s going to be that they don’t serve fruity cocktails at the polls. With a little “I Voted” umbrella.)

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        No. What delegitimizes them is that they’re pathetic. You have weeks of early-voting eligibility and literally all day around the exams to go and vote. I managed to *forget* my first election day till mid-afternoon and still had time to ride my bike from Lehigh back to Allentown in order to vote. I’ve caucused, which is a hell, hours-long experience in a jammed and overheated room on a school night, as the working single mother of a young child. I’ve voted abroad, voted without transportation, voted while working three jobs. If you can’t manage to vote because you have an exam during two hours out of the 12+ the polls are open on election day, not to mention the dozens of hours open through early/absentee voting, the problem is you, not the exams. Rummage around inside yourself and find a stronger commitment to democracy.

        • Ah, I see what you were getting at. Yep, you’re spot on.

          I’m just gratified to see more opinion pieces in the B&W that aren’t about stress, greek life, or the Lehigh bubble.

        • Robert F Davenport Jr on

          One would think someone with intelligence could summon up enough effort to think about something other than their limited experience. Your experience goes far beyond that of most people; it’s a shame students can’t imagine at least one or two of your situations or other ones and make the effort to actually vote.

          Despite the time pressure at Lehigh, students will probably have as much time available to them as they ever will until retirement

  4. Kari Arienti ‘86 on

    Seriously? Talk to folks working two or more jobs who still have time to vote. Talk to working parents who haul their kids to the polls because it is a priority. Polls are open after exams, or, with a little planning, absentee ballots may be cast. There are bigger obstacles to voting than exams. Read, become involved, make your civic duty a priority, not a afterthought.

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