October 23, 2008

Do Students Care About Lectures?

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Tuesday night, five residential programs staff members sat in the Carol Tatkon Center seminar room waiting for students who were supposed to attend a lecture entitled “Health Care: Can you Afford to be Sick?” as part of the “Educate the Vote” series. But no one showed up, raising the issue of the importance of formal discussion and lectures to students.
Campus Life Residential Programs developed the Educate the Vote series in conjunction with several other organizations on campus. The series was anchored by the program’s first event, McCain vs. Obama in 3-D, a discussion and debate simulcast, which drew a crowd that filled Bailey Hall. However, since the success of this event, proceeding programs have not been as successful. According to Educate the Vote’s Mimi Benjamin, associate director for faculty programs and residential programs, “some programs have attracted upwards of 60 students and others have gotten zero.”
Educate the Vote was planned as a large-scale campus program and geared toward freshmen, with the purpose of educating students about the major issues facing America in the 2008 election. So, with the sporadic attendance of students to the series’ lectures, one wonders how well educated students are on the issues.
Residence hall directors all over campus have witnessed huge turnout in dorm lounges to watch the debates. Students, RAs and RHDs engage in frequent political discussions. However, when it comes to pre-planned programs, students seem not to care. “There’s always the problem that students have competing things to do. Add on participation in student organizations and homework and it’s not a total surprise that our attendance is low,” Benjamin said.
Susan F. Riley, associate director of residential programs, followed up by saying that, “It’s not students’ lack of interest.” She argued that with the amount of things that happen every night on Cornell’s campus, students usually do not make their schedules based on attendance to a lecture that is not required for a class or club.
Benjamin said that last Thursday’s lecture, given by Prof. Jay Mandle, who teaches economics at Colgate University, was the best attended lecture of the series. She didn’t know that members of Residential Student Congress, a co-sponsor of this specific lecture, were required to attend.
The low turnout at Educate the Vote events may be related to how much students know about the election.
Benjamin said that the goal of the series is to have students “feel like they gathered information to help in the decision of which candidate to choose” and to educate students, many of whom are voting in their first election, about the issues that will affect them over the next four years.
However, some students, like Jesse Briggs ’12, believe they already have enough knowledge to make an informed decision. But, she does feel that if lectures were advertised more, turnout would be higher. “They should advertise for these lectures in the dorms themselves. I have heard of Educate the Vote but I don’t know about the specific lectures in the series,” she said.
Briggs believes that with more publicity of the events, turnout would increase.
Programs thus far have been about issues such as health care and America’s image abroad. With the political race becoming increasingly negative in recent weeks, Educate the Vote programmers hope that their events steer discussion away from the negativity of the major candidates’ campaigns and to the issues most important to the American people.