Students weigh in on elections

In many ways, it is hard to believe that Carnegie Mellon was ranked the most politically apathetic college or university by The Princeton Review in 2002. Since then, the air at Carnegie Mellon has become more politically charged — not only has the university been bumped from the list entirely, but it’s been students themselves who have led the transformation by sporting buttons and t-shirts in support of the prospective presidential candidates and manning voter registration tables, encouraging their peers to register or re-register to become eligible to vote in the Pennsylvania primaries on April 22.

“We want to spread the energy and excitement we have to campus to get people ready for the primary,” said Maria Mauro, a sophomore biology and political science major and co-founder of Carnegie Mellon Students for Barack Obama.

Students are not the only ones preparing themselves.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made appearances in the Pittsburgh area over the last two weeks. Clinton spoke before a crowd of thousands at Soldiers and Sailors in Oakland the night of Saturday, March 15, while Obama paid a visit to an audience of close to 1000 people at Beaver County Community College in nearby Monaca, Pa. on the following Monday.

In addition, Chelsea Clinton held a question-and-answer session on Hillary’s behalf at Point Park University on Wednesday, March 12. John McCain has yet to make it to the area.

Some of these events were held during Carnegie Mellon’s spring break, making it difficult for students to attend.

However, more students have been taking action on campus. Students for Barack Obama, which was formed last year and became active on campus about two months ago, has focused almost entirely on on-campus voter registration. As of last Thursday, the group had registered several hundred voters in last week alone, and stationed themselves at Saturday’s Greek Sing to register more, according to Mauro.

“I see this as a turning point for our generation and an opportunity for us to take hold of the direction our country is taking, and that is the reason that Barack resonates with me so much and the vision he has for our country,” Mauro said.

Next, the group will continue to focus on building its volunteer base along with excitement levels, Mauro said. The organization will be working with students at Duquesne University, Chatham University, and the University of Pittsburgh to spread the news.

“We all have the same message and the same goal,” Mauro said. “If you can get everyone together, great things are going to happen.”

Mauro urged students who want to become involved in Students for Barack Obama to e-mail

Zenobia Bell, a junior political science major and president of College Democrats, had a similar message.

“We need to actively vote and get actively involved,” she said. “Politically active groups are the basis of what gets people into politics.”

The group recently hosted a late-night event in conjunction with other politically minded groups for which they brought in speakers on behalf of Clinton and Obama to discuss the importance of getting young people to vote. They also assisted in voter registration efforts during the fall semester.

Bell could not endorse a specific candidate on behalf of College Democrats.

While students supporting Clinton have not been as visible on campus, they are equally as fervent in their support of their chosen candidate.

“I don’t think Hillary’s experience disqualifies her from making change in our country,” stated William Hum, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering and Clinton supporter, via e-mail.

“Hillary has a more sensible and realistic plan to get out of Iraq that involves extensive planning and care, which I think shows that she is a very practical leader,” he added.

While Hum was unable to attend Clinton’s speech on March 15, he said he is trying to work with the Clinton campaign headquarters to get Chelsea Clinton to visit the Carnegie Mellon campus and aid in voter registration.

In the past, Carnegie Mellon has held rallies for presidential candidates, hosting President George W. Bush in 2004.

With Election Day on Nov. 4, 2008, there is a long road ahead for student activists.