It’s election season in America, and that means many college students around the country are volunteering, interning and organizing their fellow students in support of a presidential candidate. Students are doing everything from holding and attending rallies to canvassing and registering people to vote.
Here, at the College, students are getting a more up-close-and-personal, front-row view of the election through the Bully Pulpit Series. This unique, nonpartisan event series is a collaboration between the departments of communication and political science and aims to grow political participation throughout the College community by enabling and supporting active dialogue with leaders who are seeking our nation’s highest elected office. The Bully Pulpit Series is comprised of town-hall events with political candidates, voter-registration drives, student debates, hosted media events, unique campus-service opportunities and relevant independent-study experiences.
Since its launch in 2008, the Bully Pulpit Series has hosted many presidential candidates, such as future President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. John McCain, U.S. Sen. John Edwards, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich. Then-candidate Obama’s event filled the Cistern Yard and, to this day, is the largest crowd in the series’ history. During the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries, the Bully Pulpit Series received substantial national media attention as numerous candidates visited campus for speaking engagements, public forums and television news appearances.
For the 2016 election cycle, many current and former Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls, such as Gov. Martin O’Malley and U.S. Senators Sen. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, have held events at the College. From town halls in the beautiful Stern Center Gardens to remarks and Q&A sessions in the Stern Center Ballroom and Alumni Hall, students, faculty, staff and community members have had the special privilege to hear directly from candidates.
“The Bully Pulpit Series has grown to be so much more than a few events during the presidential primary season,” says Amanda Ruth-McSwain, associate professor of communication and director of the series. “It is truly an experiential learning opportunity that provides a unique platform for participation in the political process. The series truly takes advantage of our location as first in the South to provide a lab environment for communication and political science students.”
In fact, students work on everything from event management to media relations for the series. Students involved with CisternYard Media, a student media organization, gain experience through exclusive interviews with presidential candidates. In addition, student volunteers are invited to work alongside national news outlets on complementary media events.
“Working for the Bully Pulpit Series has been an amazing experience that I know most college students never have,” says Katie Kajfez, general manager of CisternYard Video and a senior communication major with a double minor in French and political science. “Being able to meet presidential candidates, talk with them and introduce their ideas to other students are some of the many highlights I have had from working with the series. This has easily been my most memorable class during my four years here and I hope to see the series grow even more over time.”
Similar to Kajfez, many students find that the series is a wonderful reflection of the College’s holistic approach to education. Further, it’s a direct example of the university’s commitment to providing opportunities outside of the classroom. Simply put, the Bully Pulpit Series is a dynamic, interactive experience that many colleges do not or cannot offer.
“Being a member of the Bully Pulpit Series has been unlike anything else,” agrees Alexa Chiarelli, a senior communication major. “Seeing the reaction from students following our events, specifically with a greater interest in registering to vote, is like going home with a victory for our nation’s future.”
The Bully Pulpit Series reinforces the message that the growth of our country is backed and guided by the process of citizen interest and involvement – a concept that has been echoed throughout time by many people, including former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt: “Our children should learn the general framework of their government and then they should know where they come in contact with the government, where it touches their daily lives and where their influence is exerted on the government. It must not be a distant thing, someone else’s business, but they must see how every cog in the wheel of a democracy is important and bears its share of responsibility for the smooth running of the entire machine.”
The College continues to do its part in making sure the machine runs smoothly by developing informed students and, in turn, citizens. And as the Bully Pulpit Series keeps growing in size and stature, perhaps we’ll see again that the road to the Oval Office goes through the College.