Will students engage in the upcoming presidential elections in the definitive way they did for Obama in '08? The general perception in the media is that they might not. I took advantage of a visit from Aaron Rodwin (my grandson), a sophomore and political science major at Hofstra, and a big fan of the ideas of Joseph Stiglitz, to quiz him on these matters. He reflected on the differences between the '08 presidential debates, one of which also took place at Hofstra, and now. On October 16th, the second presidential debate (moderated by Candy Crowley) will take place in a town hall setting at the university.
"Throughout the country '08 was perceived as a magical moment, which it was. But students now are focused on economic survival -- their personal survival, and that of the world. The world is a grimmer place," he paused, looking down at his blue and white "Democrats of Hofstra" T-shirt.
"In '08 there was a small democratic club on campus, but after Obama was elected, it petered out -- it was established more to help that particular election than as a permanent addition to Hofstra. The plan to create a student Democratic voice on campus was simultaneously initiated last fall by two groups of politically active students including Spencer MacDonald, Raj Bath and Stephen Steglik. After the two groups decided to merge they established the Democrats of Hofstra Club. We now have five executive board members including MacDonald, a freshmen, who is our Director of Communications. Our president is Imran Ansari, a senior; Stephen Steglik, a junior, is the Vice President; Raj Bath, a junior, is the Treasurer; and I am Director of Public Affairs. We have official recognition, and are an official chapter of the College Democrats of New York. This gives us the crucial permanent status with the University. (One hundred Hofstra students immediately signed up.) With October 16th virtually around the corner, we are concentrating on maximizing our outreach. Our club meets weekly in the dorm, the Netherlands complex, where, over pots of coffee, we work on our rapid growth. Our most immediate event is occurring right now: on September 6th we and the Nassau County Young Democrats are hosting a DNC viewing party at the Hofstra University Student Center Theater to watch President Obama accept the Democratic nomination."
Hofstra has many advantages: located about 25 miles from New York City in Hempstead, Long Island, it is one of the few universities in the country that has created a special Center for the Study of the American Presidency. It's saavy president Stuart Rabinowitz, the recepient of a plethora of honors (while a student at Columbia University Law School, he was on the prestigious board of editors of the Columbia Law Review) has firmly pulled Hofstra toward an expansive future. His efforts for the university have earned the support of powerful alumni like David Mack, who created the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex where the presidential debate will take place.
"What impact do you think your club, the Democrats of Hofstra University, will have on the local community?" I asked Aaron.
"We are highly community oriented. We mesh well with the local community which has very varied views, which is important. We are volunteering this fall with The Leadership Training Institute in Hempstead; our joint plan is to mentor young adults raised in poverty-stricken neighborhoods in order to help them build necessary skills and positive role models. In addition to the array of political events that we will be offering, we plan to engage the entire student body by organizing political debates, panels and discussions with college republicans and libertarians. We welcome a wide tent. Our aim is to increase student engagement and stimulate political activism among our generation," he paused. "This isn't a year when students can have a nonchalant attitude. And from past experience, we know that the second presidential debate frequently is the decisive one. And we would like it to be here," he paused again. "We like a smart intellectual storm."
The Democrats of Hofstra can be contacted at: Hofstrademocrats@gmail.com
Facebook: Democrats of Hofstra University