By ANGELA STANTON
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Being a college student in America is probably at
times the best deal in the world.
Imagine being surrounded by flashy cell phones that ring "Fur Elise" in
the middle of a psychology lecture and laptop computers through which access
to favorite clothing stores or sports highlights is just a button push away.
Many students spend their nights at the local watering holes and some of
their days going on excursions with friends, while missing the lecture on the
intricacies of supply-side economics.
For them, such a cozy environment often makes it difficult to reflect on
the problems in the Middle East, or that Bill Clinton accomplished more in
his eight years in office than making everyone wonder what interns really are
hired to do.
But today's college students cannot be easily labeled. Some are totally
turned off to politics, blaming their apathy on everything from the media's
obsession with the Monica Lewinsky scandal to politicians' unwillingness to
address their concerns.
Others care, often passionately, about issues that affect them most --
the environment, education, the economy and a woman's right to choose. Like
the population at large, the nation's college campuses offer a diverse range
of opinions about who should lead the country after Clinton leaves office in
My University of Maryland at College Park journalism class has spent part
of the fall semester talking with college students across the country, people
just like us, to see what they thought about democracy in America, politics,
government, Al, George and the rest of the pack.
Some such as Meghan Crowley, a junior communications major at Boston
College, admit that "when you're in college, you live in this bubble. You
sometimes forget that there is a real world."
But Crowly added: "We could be talking more. There's not enough in
everyday classes. No one talks about (public issues)."
Gosue Cent, 26-year-old information systems major at Drexel University
in Philadelphia, is among many in the under-27 crowd, who said they would not
be voting Tuesday because politicians make false claims and do not follow
through with their promises. "I don't trust any of them," he said.
A senior engineering major at the University of Virginia who gave only
his first name, John, said the country's prosperity has given way to a
generation that is not passionate about politics. "Our generation has grown
up in a peace time, a sheltered existence, for so long that they overlook
many important issues," he said.
These are the sons and daughters of those who endorsed John F. Kennedy's
vision for America -- "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you
can do for your country." Their parents burned draft cards to protest
Vietnam and burned bras as a battle cry for the feminism. They harbored the
largest political, sexual and cultural revolutions in America's relatively
short history. So what about the apathy of many in the X and Y generations,
which constitute a decent portion of the nation's population.
Do they care that the man elected Tuesday will run this nation for four
years, possibly more? George W. Bush or Al Gore will be president when most
of them get their first professional jobs, possibly when they buy their first
real homes, perhaps even when they have their first child.
Sara Kamins, a politically active college student from California, credits
the apathy of some of her peers to cynicism of government. "Our parents
have taught us to be cynical, but we have learned to distrust our
government," she said.
Cheryl Lambruschi, a senior religious studies major at the University of
Virginia, said the apathy is because "no matter who gets elected, things will
not change for the better or for the worse."
Then there are those such as Robert Rieske, a 21-year-old student from
Newton, Mass., who sees in politics a chance to make a difference.
"I am going to work in Senator Edward Kennedy's office on Capitol Hill
this spring so that I can really get a grasp of what issues are important to
the constituents of my state," he said. For him, the priority issues are gun
control, abortion and the environment.
"I'm scared about a Republican Congress and a Republican president
appointing conservative Supreme Court justices and overturning Roe v. Wade,"
Elaine Howard, a student at University of California at Berkeley, said
that political awareness is not a choice on her campus. "There are rallies
about everything at Berkeley. I swear, there are rallies every day," said
Howard, a junior political science major.
My classmates and I learned that across the nation a relatively small
portion of college students were gung-ho for either Gore or Bush. The most
passionate support came for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who all
acknowledge can't win, but who stands for ideals many find representative of
Robal Johnson, 21, a student of Fort Lewis College in Colorado, says: Q â€œI
love the outdoors and nature, so I pay close attention to how the candidates
approach the topic of environment.
"I would vote for Gore over Bush any day, but Nader seems to be the best
choice. Iâ€™m a fan of his dedication to environmental issues, and I think
heâ€™ll do his best to protect what I love,â€� Johnson said.
Perhaps in the case of Gore and Bush, apathy for politics is not the real
problem. Perhaps the presidential candidates are so tied into the big-bucks
political establishment, that they don't care to address young people's major
Thus, most students seem somewhat ambivalent about choosing between the
"I don't love either candidate, but President Clinton did a decent job
with the economy, and I am confident that Gore won't stray from what Clinton
has done," Alia St. Peter Lamborghini, a journalism major at the University
of Maryland, said.
Chris Smith, a sociology major at the University of Massachusetts at
Boston, began watching the debates when the candidates came to his school.
Until he saw the debates, he didn't care about the election; afterward, he
"A lot of kids I know are looking out for themselves. Until the debate, I
wasn't in to it. I got interested and watched all three," he said.
Tom Silberman, a Republican at the University of Texas at Austin, in a
state where Bush and his brand of conservatism rule, said he will vote for
his governor because he likes downsizing government. He would like to vote
for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate, but sees this as "a waste of my
Overall, my class learned that our generation does want to be a part of
the political process. Perhaps just not yet.
Maybe we are just waiting for the right person to come along to put our
passions behind. Or maybe even the most boring lecture often can seem more
intriguing than Gore, Bush and their pandering promises will ever be. But
most likely the problem is the major-party candidates aren't reaching out to
our generation enough.
No matter, the college students who do vote on Tuesday will have an
impact on which candidate will be the 43rd president of the United States.
And when they do vote, they'll be talking about it.
On their cell phones, of course.
(Angela Stanton is a junior journalism major at the University of Maryland
at College Park. She and her classmates have spent part of the fall reporting
on the concerns of college students across the country as Election 2000
approaches. Megan Garnett, Jacqueline Kelly, Kristyn Peck, Dana Ciutacu,
Sundai Riggins, Lauren Schalin, Ashleah Walker and Mark Afshar provided
reporting assistance for this article.)