By Megan Kelly Correspondent
TCNJ Political Union held its “Students as Changemakers: The State of Campus Activism, 2016” panel on Friday, March 4, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. in the Brower Student Center to discuss student activism on campus
The panel’s purpose was to discuss past political events run by various student organizations at the College, to come up with ideas for future events and to brainstorm ways to increase student participation.
Senior history and urban studies double major Sam Fogelgaren, director of TCNJ’s Political Union, was the moderator of the panel. Three other students were panelists representing their organizations: junior political science and Spanish double major and member of TCNJ College Republicans Ryan Jones, junior political science major and President of TCNJ College Democrats Ian Penrose and sophomore international studies major and Vice President of NAACP Vanessa Fiore.
The discussion began with the current level of student activism on campus, as observed by the members of the panel, and the difference between becoming politically involved on and off campus through internships and other professional opportunities.
“I think we do have a lot of venues when it comes to internships, but being an activist on campus is (more difficult)… I think as a campus, we probably do have to do a little bit more,” Penrose said.
The panel discussed how students need to get involved in politics not just through activism, but voting, as well.
Fogelgaren said it is important that discussions regarding topics like voter registration are held now to ensure that everyone is on the same page for the upcoming presidential election.
The panel talked about different ideas and theories on how to peak students’ interest in getting prepared for the election and voting.
“To get the attention of college students, we have to engage them in fun ways… I know speakers help a lot, but I’m like, ‘OK what can bring freshmen (to these events) and what can bring seniors, who have other things to worry about other than these events?’” sophomore nursing major Jhamillex Carmen said.
The panel also discussed the importance of networking as many groups have held political events before and found it difficult to spread the word.
“It’s hard to kind of get the word out or to get people to come because a lot of people sometimes feel like it’s not their place or like they might not be welcome,” senior psychology major Queneisha Jones said.
The group moved on to talk about how politics is a broad topic that most, if not all, students would be able to find an aspect of it that speaks to them.
“I think a lot of these national issues, or political issues in general, relate in some way to each of our interests and I think if people were to really pinpoint that, they could come out to these events and realize, ‘Oh, a little bit of what I’m interested in pertains to this,’” Jones said.
Fogelgaren expanded on this to discuss the connection between each student’s area of study and that it is important to show students how attending a political event could be interesting to them.
“Every student has a major,” Fogelgaren said. “Every student has an area in which they put 30 hours of their week to studying and doing research and learning about. So if we can find a way to identify the intersection between politics and different areas of study, then there would be a compelling reason for every student at TCNJ to participate, in one way or another.”
The panel considered the reasons behind the lack of student political involvement, including the fact that students are sometimes unfamiliar with the speakers that come to the College or that they have classes when these discussions are going on. Those in attendance mentioned a lack of effective advertising by the College.
“My freshman year, we had (New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman come here… The event was very well attended and the difference was that professors were advertising it themselves,” sophomore international studies major Precious Molokwu said.
The discussion came to a close with the students and panel members listing what they took away from the panel as well as creating a plan of action for the coming months to encourage activism among student organizations. The group will continue to meet and discuss activism as well as prepare for election time throughout the semester.
According to Fogelgaren, TCNJ Political Union was formed to get students to participate in politically-charged events, and they held the panel to get students’ opinions on how to do this.
“(TCNJ Political Union’s) goal is to engage all students with a particular focus on the substantial number of students who are politically engaged,” Fogelgaren said. “We will do this by meeting halfway — by identifying intersections between politics and common areas of student interest, and working with student groups, TCNJ faculty and administration, and off-campus partners to build effective programming.”