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Need to Brush Up On the Issues? Join College Debate

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By Francyne Hari March 04, 2016

Since 1972, shortly after the voting age was lowered to 18 in the United States, the number of young adults voting has declined. In 2008, only 41% of young adults voted, and 2014 saw the lowest recorded youth voting turnout ever at 20%.

It’s a worrying trend considering that the political decisions made today will shape our future and the future of the people who come after us. The state of our environment, the future of college education, and civil rights laws are just a few issues that many of us are concerned about. But our concern doesn’t always translate into action.

60s protest

Past generations were politically active—through protests, sit-ins, voting. Programs like College Debate motivate today’s young adults to be aware and involved. (Wystan/Flickr)

The lack of political engagement from young adults stems from many factors, but the most prominent one seems to be lack of knowledge about the United States political system, the voting process, and the political candidates in general. Looking back on my high school education, if I hadn’t enrolled in an Advanced Placement US Politics and Economics class, I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did at the time. Students should learn the basics about our country’s political system in all classes, not just the advanced ones.

“I feel as if I don’t really know that much about the debate going on,” Jordan Vasquez, a Dominican University of California junior, said of the most recent presidential debate.

I often feel the same way. It can get tough sorting out all the platforms and ideals each presidential candidate (or political leader) holds, especially when only a handful of them will be widely publicized, such as Bernie Sanders’ platform on affordable college education or Donald Drumpf’s platform on how to keep immigrants from coming into the country.

To combat low political engagement among college students, Dominican University of California spearheaded College Debate. College Debate is a voter education program that strives to engage more students (and more youth) in the upcoming presidential election. The initiative works on two fronts, campus-wide discussions and national conversations among colleges.

At first I was a little confused about what College Debate was. I thought that it would entail actual political debates similar to those of the presidential candidates. Instead the initiative, which is largely student-run, focuses on a series of discussions on campus and on social media aimed at getting other students, teachers, and faculty around the country informed and involved. I think that the College Debate does a good job of focusing on the issues at hand, rather than on the personalities of the politicians.

One of the ways this program is working to engage more youth voters is by making the voter registration process easier through the use of TurboVote. TurboVote allows you to register to vote and sign up to get reminders and updates via text and email. Voters who won’t be in their hometown during the election can sign up for absentee ballots. TurboVote simplifies the voter registration process, which is a necessary first step.

College Debate also makes use of Brigade, an app that allows students to discuss issues online. Initially, you decide whether you agree or disagree on an issue and you can then write your reason. Users can introduce other issues and start discussions on them via Brigade, too.

Finally, College Debate implements social awareness weeks on key issues. Throughout the week there are various activities that students can participate in to show support, debate the topic, or discuss how they think the issue might be resolved or improved.

During DU’s first social awareness week, we talked about gun violence. The vibe around campus was pretty tense considering how split the country is on the subject of gun control. There were aspects of the event that made me feel uncomfortable, but it was a learning experience.

And that’s an important point. I think that part of what makes the College Debate initiative so valuable is that participants learn how to address what makes us uncomfortable in order to engage in intelligent discussions without hostility.

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Posted March 7th, 2016 | Debate 2016 | General