Author: Kelsey Longmuir
Oxy students taking part in the Campaign Semester returned to campus last week to begin the academic portion of their experience. The Politics Department’s program consists of 19 students who volunteered full-time for a Presidential or Congressional campaign, mostly in contested “battleground” states. After the election, students return to campus to synthesize their experiences in the form of a seminar led by professors Peter Dreier and Dr. Caroline Heldman.
Many students chose to take part in the program to have a larger role in this year’s historic election and get Oxy credit for it. “I chose to do Campaign Semester because I realized it was the perfect way to blend my major into a real-life experience,” ECLS major Yemima Romm (junior) said, who worked in Atlanta for the Obama campaign. “Not only was I able to help Obama win the presidency, something I have been passionate about for years, but I was able to do it without taking leave from Oxy.”
“I chose to participate in Campaign Semester because, as most have realized at this point, this year we had an election that was perhaps once-in-a-lifetime,” Scott Garrison (sophomore) said, who worked as a field organizer for the Congressman Steve Kagen in Greenbay, Wisconsin. “It was my feeling that I could not sit out what I consider an era-defining election, particularly in light of the rare opportunity to receive a semester’s credit for this work.”
During the campaign, students worked a minimum of 40 hours per week, and participated in a range of activities including voter registration and turnout, volunteer coordination and media relations.
“This job [field organizer] encompasses lots of tasks, but most commonly I was recruiting volunteers to come into the office for canvassing [door to door] and phone banking,” Garrison said. “Additionally, I had responsibilities with the Congressman, staffing him at various events.”
“I designed and directed the youth vote program within our state, traveling around to college campuses all over Arizona and getting events up and running at Arizona schools,” Katherine DeMocker (junior) said, who worked as the Arizona Youth Vote Director for the Obama for America campaign. “I worked with groups like the Young Democrats and other supportive groups who would then report to me daily on numbers and how some of my suggested Obama events had worked.”
Now that the students are back on campus, they are continuing to think about their campaigns in an academic setting, and are readjusting to life on campus. “An important dimension of the program is the post-election experience on campus, with students participating in a seminar, writing a paper, and making a public presentation, to help them both debrief and put their intense experiences in a broader context,” Dreier said.
“I think the rest of the semester will be a good way to reflect on my experiences and interpret them in an academic mindset,” Margot Seigle (senior) said, who worked in Virginia for the Campaign for Change. “Working in such a small office, it was at times hard to see the bigger picture; I think the seminar will help me better understand the broader themes, strategies and challenges of the campaign.”
In addressing the larger themes of their campaign experiences, the students will help each other fit their off-campus experience into the context of their time at Oxy.”I am very excited about the seminar because it is helpful to talk to other students that just went through the same experience, but it is very hard being a student again and having readings and discussions, which are obviously major aspects of the seminar,” said Nonda Hanneman (junior), who volunteered for Campaign for Change in Virginia. “I am unsure of what the experience at Oxy will be like now. I think it will take all of us a while to feel like college students again, and when we do it probably still won’t be the same.”
Campaign work proved to be satisfying for the students involved, and made a lasting impact on their academic experience. “No matter how the rest of my experience at Oxy goes, I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience I had working on the Obama campaign. I would do it over and over again,” Hanneman said.
Doing campaign work has shown students in the program possibilities for life after Oxy, and given their academic experience a practical application.
“This has put life and politics in a whole new perspective for me, and as I continue at Oxy I believe I will be working harder and doing more,” DeMocker said. “Oxy is a great launch pad to do amazing things with your life. Barack Obama is a prime example, and in the time that I have left here, I plan on taking full advantage.”
More information about Campaign Semester can be found at http://departments.oxy.edu/politics/department%20news/index.htm
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