September 3, 2008

Purdue encourages students to get involved in political process

Alisha Myles speaks with visitors to the College Republicans booth at the Boiler Gold Rush Activities and Business Fair.

Purdue allows and encourages its students to be civically active in an effort to promote learning and engagement. Pablo Malavenda, associate dean of students for student activities and organizations, says the collegiate years are a prime time to learn about the political process, develop political ideology and participate in local and national campaigns.

"Students have the chance to express themselves and get involved in grassroots campaigning within the safe environment of the University and with resources that they may not have later in life," Malavenda says. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for college students to get real experience that helps develop their beliefs and a sense of personal leadership."

Chris Waldron (right) picks up fliers and speaks with Ashley Rooney at the College Democrats booth.

Students can take part in political activity on campus as individuals or as part of a formal or informal organization. The Student Activities & Organizations Web site lists 25 groups  under the category of "political and social action" as well as details on how to form an organization.

"As individuals, students have a lot of rights to express themselves and get engaged in campaigns," Malavenda says. "There's less of an issue with them wearing lapel pins or putting banners up in their rooms than there would be for a University staff or faculty member. This leeway is available because they are engaged more in learning about the process, and they don't represent the University in the same way its faculty and staff do."

Malavenda's office assists students with planning events on campus such as rallies, demonstrations and visits by candidates and party supporters. Students also are advised of the state and federal regulations the University must follow.

"Part of our job is to educate students on why the University has to be careful, and students are really receptive to that," Malavenda says. "Issues arise when individuals assume that we have invited certain candidates when in fact they have worked with a student organization to schedule a campaign appearance at Purdue. During the process of scheduling the event, we also make it clear to the student organization sponsoring the candidate that we must charge them for typical expenses like facility charges, sound equipment, and security."

Students are also advised on University regulations regarding activities on campus. The office asks that events be registered two weeks in advance to allow for review of safety and logistical issues.

"As a university, our primary mission is to educate students, and we have to make sure nothing will disrupt classes, research or administrative work," he says. "Amplification would be difficult to approve during the day, for example, because it would likely interfere with classes and University business. Holding an event in the wrong location could interfere with walking traffic or block entrances. These are all things that need to be considered by the students."

Several student groups recently sponsored candidates' visits. The candidates and sponsoring organizations include Sen. Barack Obama, Purdue Students for Barack Obama; Gov. Mitch Daniels, Students for Mitch; and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Students for Hillary.

Malavenda says the goal is to make sure students run the events and learn in the process.

"We are empowering students to be engaged, and we are teaching them about the importance of civic engagement," Malavenda says. "Hopefully some will get excited enough to serve in public office. At Purdue, we're not only giving them a world-class education in the classroom, but we're also giving them the opportunity to become great citizens and engaged citizens who become leaders in the community."

-- From the Aug. 28 edition of Inside Purdue.