Liana Riley is a political science sophomore and Mustang News columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Early last week Mustang News’ Leah Horner covered the Cal Poly student body’s knowledge about Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) presidential elections in a Jay Leno “Jaywalking” fashion.
Students were questioned about the pool of candidates in the ASI elections and who will be running in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The extent of their knowledge was minimal, to say the least.
America’s youths are notorious for under-voting, which reflects the responses in the aforementioned video. Yet when the election at hand is so close to home, it’s puzzling how so many manage to remain ill informed. Booths, signs and notifications swarm our walks to and from campus, yet a mere 22 percent of our student body voted in this month’s ASI elections.
ASI President-elect Owen Schwaegerle weighed in on the disappointing voter turnout, saying, “There’s a connection between apathy on college campuses and our general age group. It’s probably different on other college campuses that are more politically minded. This may be because our school hasn’t adopted any common cause or goal to work towards. We just don’t face much adversity.”
With 66 percent of our student body hailing from white middle-class families, this could be a defining factor of our apathetic attitude toward on-campus elections. We live in a sort of utopia here in San Luis Obispo, where we aren’t forced to consider real world issues on a regular basis.
This is not to disregard the intelligence of our student body. On the contrary, we have students of the highest caliber; we simply lack an active expression of our political inclinations.
Compared to a campus like UC Berkeley, where every issue is polarized and protests are weekly occurrences, Cal Poly’s levels of activism surrounding contentious social justice issues can be dubbed haphazard at best.
The movements toward affecting change and social activism lie in the hands of the few progressive resources on campus such as the Cross Cultural Center and Pride Center, which regularly question and attempt to change conventional social norms. The rest of the campus seems to keep its causes at low stakes.
However, there is something to be said for our apathetic political climate and minimal activism; I do feel safe here.
But I can only speak for myself in saying that. Other students may feel as if their voices are muffled and their narratives are untold.
For those of us who embrace Cal Poly as our home, it is a haven where we are fostering personal growth and knowledge. We are extremely fortunate to receive an education from such a place; for others, it may not feel as inclusive.
Many minorities feel alienated, unable to relate to the experiences of the campus’ majority. “We are such a small percentage, you can feel the imbalance. It was hard to get used to it compared to L.A. which is extremely diverse,” said political science freshman Xochitl Villa about her experience as a member of the Latino community on campus.
“Mostly I feel as if people’s mindsets aren’t really changing, and that’s the problem. It’s one thing to tell someone, it’s another to experience it,” she said.
At the bell hooks talk on campus this past Tuesday, a question was raised that I have yet to consider in my time here at Cal Poly. The revered African-American feminist speaker posed the question: Do we not want to feel challenged when we come to Cal Poly?
This struck a chord with me, seeing as I grew up in a predominantly white town with similar demographics to San Luis Obispo.
This is why it’s imperative that we point the microphone in the direction of those whose voices have been left unheard. This is why we are obligated to log on to our portals and take part.
It is our civic duty to participate and promote our values and beliefs in one way or another. I’m sure you’ve heard this cliche before and have rolled your eyes each time; but nevertheless it still holds true.
We should care and remain informed because we actually have the option to do so, unlike in oligarchies and masked tyrannies across the world where political participation is a privilege only for the richest and most powerful.
Our majors are hard and we each face adversities — I am not attempting to trivialize these struggles. Yet when we are so consumed with our GPAs and where we are going to graduate school, we lose a valuable connection with the outside world.
This connection means taking a step outside of your bubble and considering the implications of involving yourself in a cause beyond your normal dimensions. It means looking up from your textbook and analyzing the circumstances of students with different backgrounds than your own.
It means voting in ASI elections, because we’re lucky enough to have that privilege.
It means becoming more conscious, perceptive and wise.
After all, that’s why we’re here, right?