As we enter the home stretch of the 2016 presidential election, the subject of politics has become increasingly relevant outside the classroom. Whichever of the candidates (“none of the above” also clearly being an option here) you support, it’s likely that you’ve engaged in some sort of political banter, discourse, or debate by now.
To learn about these conversations taking place on campus, The Argus sat down with a few Wesleyan students to discuss how this election cycle has affected social interactions back home and at the University.
For international students such as Jericha Major ’20 of Ontario, Canada, the presidential race is as much a source of entertainment as concern.
“It’s like watching a disaster unfold from afar,” Major said. “Even though [it’s] literally in a different country, the alliance and geographic proximity between Canada and the U.S. mean that this American election cycle could have catastrophic implications [for us]…to say nothing about foreign relations if Trump is elected.”
When asked about her transition from Ontario to Middletown, Major noted the difference in the depth of political conversations at the University compared to those she often had back home.
“Students at Wesleyan are so much more informed about these detailed issues and are also way more invested than their Canadian counterparts,” Major said. “The urgency of the situation hit [us] a little bit when Trump got nominated, but it hasn’t quite reached its peak level yet. It’s definitely a stressful issue here at Wesleyan, but I see that stress being turned into productive conversation and lively debates around me every day.”
However, Major recognizes that these political debates can become divisive.
“I think that because this election has brought such extreme voices to the table, the issue of who’s voting for whom becomes quite polarizing,” she said.
Her sentiments echoed those of Mathias Valenta ’20, an international student from Austria who noted that Donald Trump’s candidacy has brought more radical voices to the fore.
“[Trump’s] nomination has led to the radicalization of an ideological minority of conservatives on campus, but also of conservatives in a larger sense,” Valenta said.
Recounting a conversation he had with an elderly Austrian woman in Vienna in February, Valenta said he was struck by the woman’s terror at the prospect of a Trump presidency. Valenta, too, is unsettled by the possibility, particularly by the effect Trump’s Middle East policy would have on the refugee crisis.
“As a European, some of my biggest fears regarding Trump involve his unpredictability and foreign policy, to say nothing of his personality and the other things he stands for,” Valenta said.
Since coming to the University, Valenta has enjoyed the opportunity to hone his views among the more liberal-leaning student body. He currently serves as the treasurer of the Wesleyan Republican Club and recently became a member of the Arcadia Political Magazine.
“The fact that conservatives and libertarians are minorities [on campus] means that we can reflect on our convictions with a new context,” Valenta said. “This can lead to strengthened beliefs, or, if you find some new information or a new point of view, you can adapt and evolve, as all students do, regardless of political ideology.”
Jejomar Erln Ysit ’19 of New York City also praised the University’s political climate, suggesting that the liberal majority encourages all students to reason their political positions more carefully.
“Even though diversity of ideologies is definitely a good goal, having colleges be slightly liberal or conservative is a good thing, in the long run,” Erln Ysit said. “Having things be skewed causes both sides to think hard about their positions, and results in well thought out and reasoned debates.”
However, Erln Ysit said that he prefers to maintain political neutrality while on campus.
“Personally, I try to keep [politics] out of the conversation altogether,” Erln said. “It doesn’t make me super uncomfortable, but it can do that to others. Plus, I’ve never been the type to get super into that sort of thing.”
By contrast, Erln Ysit said, most University students represent an extreme on the spectrum of political consciousness and activism.
“Coming from a super working class family…[I had parents who] couldn’t afford to get involved in talking about politics, even though they were affected by the outcomes of elections and political decisions at so many levels,” Erln explained. “It’s really a privilege that the students [at Wesleyan] have, to be able to discuss all these high-level things without that same struggle.”
Sydney Taylor-Klaus ’20, from Atlanta, Georgia seconded Erln Ysit’s observations about the intensity of political involvement at Wesleyan.
“[Politics] and the election are always looming in the background, and when you have so many intellectual minds in one place, discussion is inevitable,” Taylor-Klaus said. “[As] November approaches, these critical conversations keep popping up, and it’s amazing how many people have something to say.”
While students’ perspectives on and passion for discussing the current election cycle may vary, one thing is for sure: the intellectual machine that comprises the students of Wesleyan has kicked into gear around politics. This machine, it seems, will stay in motion, stopping only after this November.