College faculty: Issues that affect students

On Oct. 9, Tim Clydesdale, professor of anthropology and sociology, lectured on past voting patterns of the college-age demographic and how many believe 2008 will be the “year of the youth vote.”

Despite many college students’ apparent interest in Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, Clydesdale concluded he was unconvinced America’s youth would take a real interest in the presidential race.

So why should college students care about our country’s next leader? Is there a real reason to go out and vote?

Five members of the College’s faculty discuss the main issues facing the country during this election – the economy, education, foreign policy, healthcare and social issues – and how they effect young voters.

Economics – Michele Naples, associate professor of economics

Michele Naples, associate professor of economics, says no issue during this election has warranted as much attention as the U.S. economy. The recent Wall Street credit crisis and market plunge have Americans of all ages worried.

Naples said, “This is a life event, what’s been going on in the stock market, in the bond market; the drying up of credit. Banks can’t even lend to each other, they’re so fearful. This is depression level, potentially.”

According to Naples, the American public is searching for a leader who has enough business savvy to help the Federal Reserve swing the economy away from this downturn as unscathed as possible.

“This is going to be a time of rewriting the rules for a lot of things, I think, in the United States,” Naples said. She said it is imperative for students and the public to understand the candidates’ economic policies in order to vote intelligently.

“I just think students should be paying attention to reading the newspaper,” Naples said. “You can get bummed out by a lot of bad news, but (read) more in terms of what are the sectors that seem to be surviving the storm. What sectors are going to be promising for growth or are going to be subject to major reorganizations?”

Education – College President R. Barbara Gitenstein

According to College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, “Historically, higher education has not been a pressing topic in national elections. I believe that many have considered higher education as a state issue or have not seen it as significant as K-12 education.”

However, the educations received by the candidates have played a considerable role in establishing their identities.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., in 1958. His military service and experience as a prisoner of war have been used to establish his leadership qualities.

His counterpart, Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama, graduated from Columbia University in 1983 and completed his studies at Harvard Law School in 1991. Obama’s law background has aided his rise from Illinois state legislator to U.S. Senator.

“It is apparent that during this particular election, there have been two very important issues that have driven out conversation about any other matters – the economy and foreign affairs,” Gitenstein said. Yet, she doesn’t disregard the significance of education because, “in the knowledge-based economy, few of us can be successful without at least an undergraduate degree.”

Foreign Policy – Bill Ball, chair of the department of political science

Bill Ball, chair of the department of political science, says public opinion has expressed its dismay with the leadership guiding American policy overseas.

He believes, “the last round of elections certainly indicated an extreme dissatisfaction with the way that we went into Iraq and initiated that war and conducted that war.”

Ball said students should pay attention to foreign policy for a variety of reasons.

“Young adults are the ones that end up fighting the wars and dying in the wars,” he said. “Even though we don’t have a draft in this country, this age group is the one that’s most targeted for recruitment in the military.”

America’s foreign policy also dictates the way it is globally perceived. “What do we really stand for to the rest of the world?” Ball asked. “Lately, it’s about military aggression, and I think there is a lot of desire for that to change.”

Ball added, “When you’re the biggest player in the game there’s always going to be a lot of criticism.”

For students, choosing a candidate who can uphold positive foreign relations will be crucial in the incorporation of American policies, including global commerce and energy sources.

Health Care – Nino Scarpati, assistant dean of nursing, health and exercise science

According to Nino Scarpati, assistant dean of nursing, health and exercise science, with the economy struggling and thousands of American soldiers fighting overseas, health care hasn’t been given much attention this presidential race.

“Those who are among the more than 46 million Americans without health insurance are at greatest risk of suffering needlessly and dying prematurely,” Scarpati said.

He added, “This is unconscionable in a civilized society with the highest standard of living in the world.”

America’s health care system not only significantly impacts older generations as they become more susceptible to injury and disease, but younger generations as well, Scarpati said.

He said it is important for students to understand the candidates’ health care proposals to guarantee they and their future families receive a decent standard of health coverage.

Scarpati said, “All Americans, including college students, should be asking this fundamental question: ‘Is health care a commodity and therefore, a privilege, or is it a common need and fundamental human right?'”

He added the public’s interpretation of the candidates’ proposals will help America decide which direction health care policy should take.

Social Issues – Kim Pearson, associate professor of journalism

Unlike any election campaign the American public has seen before, gender and social roles have played a huge part. From Gov. Sarah Palin to Sen. Barack Obama, this election has seen more than the typical white, male candidate.

According to Kim Pearson, associate professor of journalism, these roles have motivated a younger generation to become politically active.

Pearson, who teaches a course on race, gender and the news, said younger students are now more engaged in the political process, voicing their opinions more frequently.

“Younger voters generally have become involved in this election in unprecedented numbers, and that’s something we’ve seen building since 2004,” Pearson said.

The focal point for many young voters has been disapproval of the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Because of the troubled economy, college students are paying attention now more than ever.

This brings into focus other issues the candidates stand for.

Social issues such as gay marriage and abortion are entering the conversations as well.

“Who’s in Congress and who’s in the White House really affects their lives,” Pearson said.