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ISSUE 117 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/14/2003

Doin' It: Janine Wetzel PAC Coordinator

By Carl Schroeder
Staff Writer

Friday, November 14, 2003

There are two driving forces behind some of this fall’s most talked about campus events: Janine Wetzel ’05 and the Political Awareness Committee (PAC). As this year’s PAC Coordinator, Wetzel has organized a visit to campus by liberal historian Howard Zinn, several lively political dinner discussions and the upcoming Nov. 18 debate on civil liberties between 2000 Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and current American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) President Nadine Strossen.

Wetzel, a political science major from Stillwater, Okla., takes her job of raising political awareness on campus seriously and personally. “I always feel responsible when I hear anyone say they live in a bubble,” Wetzel said. One of PAC’s goals, she says, is bursting that bubble. A non-partisan political organization, PAC aims to foster awareness and activism by presenting balanced perspectives on a variety of current political issues.

The Political Awareness Committee is the third-highest funded branch of St. Olaf’s Student Government Association, with an annual budget of $80,000. How does PAC spend that money? “One of the biggest things we do is bring in speakers,” Wetzel said. PAC also sponsors dinner debates and discussions in the Valhalla Dining Room nearly every Tuesday, and provides political magazines in Fireside Lounge, as well as a daily Star Tribune at the front desk of each residence hall.

On Oct. 14, PAC’s guest speaker Zinn attracted hundreds of students, faculty members and guests to Boe Chapel for an address on current events from a historian’s perspective. Wetzel was thrilled with the turnout. “Zinn’s talk was political, but the event drew people who weren’t just into politics,” Wetzel said.

According to Wetzel, all the organizational work behind such events pays off when positive feedback comes back to the eight-member PAC committee. “When someone compliments you on an event, you can feel personally responsible that the event turned out well,” she said. She also enjoys connecting with academic departments and other student organizations through her.

The downside of the job, Wetzel noted, is “knowing that you can’t do everything, and trying to do it anyway.” Also, she said, “some people feel their needs aren’t being met [by PAC],” although Wetzel keeps track of their comments and factors them in to future programming decisions.

Politics is hardly Wetzel’s only interest at St. Olaf. She’s also a JC in Kittelsby Hall, and is involved in the Education Talent Search mentorship program. In addition, she participated in track during her first year at St. Olaf, and currently works as a business manager of the Viking Yearbook. “I would like to pursue a career in law, at least for awhile,” she said, noting her interest in family law and child advocacy in particular. “I’ve also considered running for public office.”

Wetzel tries her best to keep her own political ideals and ambitions separate from her work with PAC. “It’s fair to say that I fall left of center,” she said, “but even though I hold a particular ideological perspective, I made a personal commitment not to advocate any political positions while serving as PAC Coordinator.”

So how is PAC planning to top this fall’s guest speaker lineup of Howard Zinn, Pat Buchanan and Nadine Strossen? “We’re working on some things,” Wetzel said with a smile. While next semester’s major events are still coming together, Wetzel noted that she’d like to organize PAC dinners on ideological diversity among St. Olaf faculty and on the current state of international politics.

With the White House up for grabs in November 2004, Wetzel said she expects PAC to have an increasingly important campus role in the coming months. However, the head of the PAC also has an election campaign of her own to plan: her sights are set on the SGA Vice Presidency.

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