Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Beyond 2016: BC’s Future Politicians Shine Light on the Next Generation of Civic Engagement

As November rapidly approaches, all eyes are on the national election. The results will undoubtedly shape the country’s future, and for many college students it’s the first time they will cast a ballot. Today’s college students hold a unique and impactful role in the political process—they are not only the next generation of voters, but the next generation of candidates as well.

Some Boston College students are already looking beyond the 2016 election and into the future; one day, they hope to run for office themselves. The Gavel spoke to two of these students, Conor Hicks, MCAS '20, of the College Democrats, and Brendan Ferguson, MCAS '20, of the College Republicans, about their aspirations, involvement on campus, and thoughts on the presidential election.

What sparked your interest in running for political office?

Hicks: At its heart, politics is supposed to be about people. This idea has served as the driving force for me since first becoming interested in the field. I’ve always wanted to do something that afforded me the chance to benefit people in a meaningful way, and while there are so many worthwhile professions that do so, government service provides the ability to enact change on a much greater scale. In this way, I can work to identify and address the root cause of the struggles that impact families in our country. I’ve been interested in politics for most of life, but I only started thinking about running for office when I was in eighth grade, a time when Social Studies focused heavily on American history and politics. That was the first time I considered the idea of my own name on a ballot, and that dream has stuck with me ever since.

Ferguson: I've always felt a desire to help people and I believe that being involved in political policy—not necessarily political office—is a great way to help people's lives and, on the grand scale, to better society.

What have you gotten involved with at BC to pursue your interests in politics?

Hicks: I had never had an opportunity to participate in politics in any fashion growing up, so when I came to BC, I was excited to get involved with the College Democrats of Boston College (CDBC) and the College Democrats of Massachusetts (CDM). Through these organizations, I’ve been able to experience campaigning on a level previously unavailable to me. In the past two weeks, I’ve joined CDM on trips to the critical swing state of New Hampshire to canvass on behalf of Hillary Clinton and local candidates in the state. In addition, I’ve joined CDBC’s Progressive Xchange program in order to take on a deeper role within Boston College’s Democrats.

Ferguson: I have gotten involved in the UGBC Student Assembly as well as College Republicans. UGBC has helped show me how policy is actually configured and the College Republicans has helped me better understand conservative ideas on national policy. I also am a member of the Eagle Political Society, in which I work to gain unbiased insight on issues.

There are some political issues that affect college students more than others, and this creates an interesting dynamic between politics and a university like BC. What issue(s) do you see as particularly important to BC students and/or the university community as a whole?

Hicks: Obviously I’d like college students to pay attention to all issues of importance to Americans, but above all, we as a demographic are most affected by the rising cost of tuition here in America, the state of the economy, and the crisis of sexual assault on campuses across the country.

We here at BC are so lucky to have the chance to pursue a higher education, but that education comes with an immense financial burden that is often too heavy for many American students to manage. States have begun the process of addressing this issue with programs like the Oregon Promise, an idea introduced in my home state that offers students financial support that can cover some or all of the cost of community college. In my view, the only thing that should stand between a student and higher education should be their willingness to pursue such an endeavor. No hard working student should be forced to forgo a college education purely because of monetary reasons. This issue also forces students to be even more mindful of the strength of our nation’s economy, as the need to find full-time employment is even more pressing due to the crushing weight of student loans on our finances in later life. While the volatility of the job market should already be a concern, the cost of tuition in this country causes college students to spend far too many of our waking moments focusing on finding jobs that pay well, rather than finding careers that are aligned with our interests.

Concerning sexual assault, it’s hard to ignore the unfortunate climate that has taken root at numerous campuses in America. When 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are likely to experience sexual assault during their time at a university, we need to acknowledge that this issue must be addressed. As college students, we have an obligation to work to change this dangerous climate, and reinforce to everyone in our respective communities that such behavior should not and will not be tolerated. Every student at every institution of higher learning should be able to pursue a degree without worrying about their safety on their own campus.

Ferguson: I think civil disengagement. With the political turmoil created by BOTH political parties, many students feel that the political system in the US is such a mess and so corrupted that there's no need for them to get involved. Students at BC face many pertinent issues, but I think the biggest is the development of apathy that prevents political progress from taking shape.

Without getting too political, what are your thoughts on the climate of this election cycle? Has the rhetoric and animosity surrounding this election affected your desire to eventually run for office?

Hicks: Regardless of what anyone’s personal opinion of the two candidates for President may be, it’s impossible to deny that this is the most polarizing and divisive election our country has ever seen. I love following elections, and even I’m tired of this year’s constant personal attacks and incredible disregard for any sort of facts or etiquette. The declarations made by candidates in the race have been abhorrent, and the issues have all but disappeared from the national spotlight.

In essence, presidential politics has been treated like a reality TV show this cycle, with news outlets advertising the debates like major sporting events. I’ll admit that some aspects have been entertaining, but I don’t really think a discussion of our most pressing problems is meant to be portrayed in such a way, and this only contributes to a climate of anti-intellectualism and bitter partisanship. We have serious challenges facing our nation, and we need informed, concerned people to solve them. That cannot be achieved by attacking candidates for their looks or their supposed lack of charisma, but rather by studying their positions and forming opinions based on the substance that is at the core of our political and social discourse.

If anything, this torturous election cycle has bolstered my desire to become actively involved in both finding solutions to major struggles that afflict everyday Americans and moving past the intense division found in Washington and across the United States. When a quality education or stable, fulfilling employment is out of reach for so many hard working people, we can’t afford to spend so much of our time worrying about the “R” or “D” next to a candidate’s name. It’s no easy task, but we need to let this election serve as a wake-up call to each and every one of us to put aside our partisan blinders and focus on forging a better and brighter path forward.

Ferguson: The climate in the 2016 election is toxic. I think it has made the world think the American political system a mockery, and I think it's truly a disgrace. The rhetoric has caused me to question my desire to enter the political realm certainly; however, I do believe in the Bill Clinton adage that there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed with what is right with America.

Is there any advice you would give to current or future BC students looking to become more engaged with politics?

Hicks: As someone who struggles with the idea of putting myself out there, I completely understand how difficult it is to push yourself to get involved, especially with a field like politics. However, I encourage every student to identify the issues that are of greatest importance to them, and then find a club or organization here at Boston College or in the city of Boston itself that allows them to advocate for that issue. We’ve all grown up in a time where American politics is increasingly dysfunctional and voter apathy is rampant. We have a responsibility as the next generation of leaders to change this narrative.

Ferguson: Learn as much as you can and don't become discouraged. If you're a Republican (like myself), speak to as many Democrats as possible. The most important thing is to get an understanding of both sides of any issue. There's minimal use in only understanding one side of an argument. To really become engaged, you need to understand all angles of an argument so you can decide for yourself what stance you possess.

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