Student organizations have played a major role in nurturing political involvement and awareness among fellow Yalies in the lead-up to this year’s election.
Throughout this election season, many groups and publications across campus have hosted speaker series, debates and voter registration events at Yale, as well as in the greater New Haven and Connecticut communities. Some students have also gone to cities as far as Philadelphia to campaign for their candidate of choice. Regardless of political affiliation or inclination, members of Yale’s student groups said their activities have allowed them to provide an avenue for students to express and embrace respective political interests.
“I think it is important that our generation be informed about the political climate right now because I think we’re at a pretty pivotal moment in America’s political culture and political atmosphere,” Madeleine Colbert ’18, co-editor in chief of the Yale Politic, Yale’s only undergraduate political journal. “I think if we begin to educate ourselves now on how to consume news in an ethical way … we will become more effective voters and a more informed electorate which is what any good democracy needs.”
A nonpartisan publication, the Politic has focused primarily on organizing speaker events and producing content tailored toward the election, such as a feature on Texas in the 2016 election. This fall, the group hosted political journalist John Dickerson, host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and Susan Glasser, editor in chief of Politico magazine.
The Yale Political Union, another nonpartisan group, has also organized political events on campus. Interested in planning a bigger event beyond the group’s weekly debates, the group’s president Lina Xing ’17 spearheaded the planning of the group’s first-ever Democracy Colloquium, which ran last Friday through Saturday. The Colloquium included two main panels — “Democracy and its Procedures” and “Populism and Fascism in the U.S. and Beyond” — and keynote addresses by political journalists Ross Douthat and Ron Elving. Xing expressed her hope that the interdisciplinary nature of the event, which intertwined the law, political science, history and philosophy, would appeal to the larger student body.
“I consider what we do a kind of civic engagement because even if students go just to listen, I think it’s a very useful learning experience to understand the internal rationality of the left and right, which is something we’re increasingly bad at,” Xing said of the organization’s many events, including debates and the 2016 Colloquium.
The YPU also held a joint debate, entitled “Resolved: Cast a Protest Vote,” in conjunction with the Yale Debate Association on Monday.
Political advocacy groups, such as the Yale College Democrats and the Yale Republicans, have also been heavily involved in campaigning on behalf of national and local candidates. The Yale College Democrats partnered with the Democratic Party of Connecticut, Hillary for America campaign and other college chapters of the Democratic Party to hold phone banks and campaign for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, Election Coordinator Michelle Peng ’19 said. In addition, the group also campaigned for State Sen. Joseph Crisco’s (D-17) re-election bid, State Rep. Caroline Simmons’ (D-Stamford) re-election campaign and the bids of Susan Eastwood and Cathy Bachiochi for Connecticut’s 52nd and 53rd districts.
The Yale College Democrats have also held a speaker series, something Peng called “unusual” among other college chapters. Furthermore, the group held multiple voter registration events and has a registrar of voters — a student who oversees voter registration on campus.
“We’ve registered several hundred people on campus so far and that’s in addition to the students we registered this spring,” Peng said.
The group also joined with the University of Pennsylvania’s College Democrats chapter to take Yalies to Philadelphia and “connect” with swing voters there. The swing voter effort spread to New Hampshire as well, where the Hillary Campaign provided buses to take Yalies to canvass and support Clinton’s campaign.
“It was my high [point] of the semester because I saw how excited freshmen were on the trip,” Peng said. “It’s a bright memory they will remember going into whatever political organization they end up doing.”
Yale Students for Hillary also engaged heavily with the broader community this election season. According to Delaney Herndon ’17, co-president of Yale Students for Hillary, the group has held weekly phone banks, conducted two canvassing trips to New Hampshire and collected signatures in Vermont to “ensure ballot access” for Clinton. It also held a special phone bank with former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean ’71 in April.
Last year, the group held an #ImWithHer campaign on Cross Campus, where students wrote on whiteboards their reasons for supporting Clinton during the primaries.
After the election, Herndon said, the group will “cease to exist.” Herndon added that should Clinton win the election and seek a second term, the group may possibly reorganize in 2018 or 2019.
On the other hand, the Yale College Republicans have been focusing primarily on supporting Republican candidates in local and state races for this election season.
“We’s been focusing on down-ticket races, primarily Dan Carter [a Connecticut Republican candidate for U.S. Senate] and the sort of candidates running in the local area. That’s where our interest is,” said Ben Mallet ’19, elections director for the YCR.
The group also coordinated a trip to phone canvass for Carter in Hartford earlier this fall.
The YCR has not organized any campaigning events for 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, despite its official endorsement in August.
Mallett stressed the importance and accessibility of student involvement in local New Haven politics.
“There will be a lot of opportunities for any student to get involved in these campaigns,” Mallet, who has worked on two Board of Alders campaigns while at Yale said. “These are student-led campaigns around real issues and policies and things that will affect the city … in which we all live.”
He specifically highlighted the upcoming Ward 1 elections in November 2017.
The Yale New Republicans, which was formed this summer by a group of former Yale College Republicans dissatisfied with the group’s endorsement of Trump, also set their eyes on furthering local campaign efforts in New Hampshire. Co-chairman Benjamin Rasmussen ’18 said the group has been working on first-term Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s (R-N.H.) re-election campaign in New Hampshire, including scheduling a phone bank for Ayotte close to election day.
“We believe that Ayotte is in a very tough race to keep her seat and we hope that our work with her campaign can help to ensure that she keeps up the good work in Washington,” said Rasmussen. The group also held debate viewing parties “to help voters become better informed for Election Day.”
The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale has also served as a venue for political conversation and debate on campus. In February, the group hosted a Firing Line debate about the rise of populism in the Democrat and Republican parties. Additionally, last Friday, the group held its annual conference on the topic: “The Future of the Party System in America.” President Joshua Altman ’17 said the conference discussed major shifts and demographic trends in the two parties this election season and how these changes will affect the futures of both parties.
“It is essential that students hear a wide variety of opinions on how this election has revealed major tensions in both the Democratic and Republican Party,” Altman said.