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ISSUE 116 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/11/2002

Politically speaking: Liberal views dominate campus

By Bethany Jacobson
Staff Writer

Friday, October 11, 2002

Political groups from across the spectrum agree that Saint Olaf is a politically diverse college with an active and involved student body and many opportunities for learning about political issues. While there is a Democratic majority, the College Republicans and College Greens also have a strong presence on campus.

Saint Olaf is one of the most highly politically involved colleges of its size in the nation. An estimated 60% of all students are politically aware and involved to some degree. Saint Olaf boasts the largest chapter of College Democrats in the nation and the largest chapter of College Republicans in the state for small, private colleges. The Political Awareness Committee sponsors weekly speakers on issues from all over the political spectrum. In addition, students are highly involved in social issues such as the environment, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, welfare, social security, and others, and there are numerous clubs on campus to support students’ views.

The Political Awareness Committee works to keep students informed and channels open for forums on different issues. However, said Lauren Topel ‘03, president of PAC, "people need to find out for themselves," where they stand. Once they determine what views they hold, St. Olaf has a number of outlets for expressing and acting on those views, as well as drawing together others who feel the same way.

"Channels exist for expressing even minority opinions," said Matt Pelikan ‘03, a member of the College Democrats.

A majority of St. Olaf’s students and faculty hold liberal views. This can sometimes be a problem for members of other parties.

"I think a lot of people don’t realize that not everyone is liberal," said College Republican chairperson Rachel Belter ‘03. "People are afraid to admit they’re Republican because of stereotypes. People think that if they’re Republicans they’re automatically pro-war or anti-environment. There’s a definite feeling of intimidation."

Many social clubs also have a liberal slant.

"We have a lot of social organizations that aren’t specifically political but tend to be liberal," said Christina Hilleary ’06.

This makes it difficult to discuss or represent both sides of all issues and have fair debate. The College Republicans are working to reduce stereotypes and advertise the significant Republican presence on campus by informing people about Republican positions on issues and encouraging members to wear buttons advertising their political affiliation.

Topel also noted that overwhelming student opinion on an issue can make it difficult to provide an opposing viewpoint. She, along with Pelikan, believes that there needs to be more discussion on complex issues where time and discussion are needed to properly define opposing viewpoints. One such neglected issue, she feels, is the war on Iraq and Middle East issues in general. PAC plans to set up a Middle-East forum this year, focusing especially on United States foreign policy and the proposed war with Iraq.

While students are interested in social issues and things that affect them, Pelikan said that students need to become more generally politically aware. Less than half of St. Olaf students voted in last year’s election. The College Democrats put a high priority on "getting out the vote," and educating voters about issues.

"During elections we don’t just try to get Democrats to vote, we try to everyone to vote," said Pelikan.

This year he hopes for a 70% turnout at the polls, aided in part by moving the voting place onto the campus itself.

Both the College Republicans and the College Democrats work hard to recruit new members and educate students about their views on important issues. Both groups run membership drives and distribute literature and buttons, as well as making their presence known at the Co-Curricular fair. Along with the PAC, both groups bring speakers to campus. Turnout for speakers brought to campus by either of the major parties is generally large and nonpartisan.

"Many people consider us to be a politically strong and diverse campus," said Topel.

Saint Olaf’s political diversity was also shown by a straw poll taken in the last presidential election by the College Republicans, which indicated that 50% voted Democratic, 30% Republican, and 20% Green.

Most students are satisfied with the degree of political options available to them on campus.

"I think there’s a nice mix of political views," said Lauren Anderson ‘06.

"I feel like there’s a place for everyone," said Beth Bevis ’04. There’s probably a group on campus to fill anybody’s needs."

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