SU provides $55,000 for election programs
To stimulate political discourse among Washington University students as the general election draws closer, Student Union plans to distribute additional funds for election-related programming.
The Election Programming Fund, consisting of $55,000, will be directed toward groups interested in mobilizing in preparation for Election Day on Nov. 4.
The fund, which will supplement regular Student Union (SU) funding channels, is open to any student group and will be distributed by a special committee consisting of undergraduates inside and outside of SU, graduate students, faculty and staff.
Another committee, headed by SU President Brittany Perez and Robin Hattori, program director of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, will organize the scheduling of campus election programming.
SU student groups, as well as informal groups of students with program plans, can appeal for funding starting on Aug. 27. The fund will be open until Nov. 15, giving groups time to hold post-election programs.
While student groups may appeal for programming money through their semester budgets or by way of the SU Treasury’s appeals fund, Perez feels that the establishment of an additional election fund serves to energize political activity on campus.
“We wanted to make sure that we definitely had money to dedicate to political programming for the semester, that there was money to make sure that we have an active political atmosphere,” said Perez.
Creation of that atmosphere is a priority for SU in light of what Perez sees as a lackluster student effort to get involved in the political scene, especially with the national vice presidential debate taking place on campus on Oct. 2.
“In the three years I’ve been at Wash. U., I feel like students have not been involved politically at all,” she said. “It’s the nature of what’s coming our way with the vice presidential debate coming here, along with this being an election year, that people naturally want to be involved.”
Although the fund is aimed at getting non-political groups involved in the election, the fund will also attract some of the campus’s prominent political activists, the College Democrats and College Republicans.
Ben Guthorn, president of the College Democrats, said that a broadening of political activity on campus serves his group’s interest as well.
“It’s important to understand that political action is not necessarily about candidates, and parties don’t express every single outlet that people need,” Guthorn, a junior, said. “To open this outlet allows every group to serve its own niche [and] protect [its] members.”
Guthorn plans to apply for the fund and would like to use part of it to bring Comedy Central political commentator Mo Rocca to campus as one of his group’s central election programs.
The College Republicans, conversely, have not yet decided whether they will use the fund. Senior Charis Fischer, the group’s president, expressed skepticism over whether the fund’s presence would draw activity from non-political groups.
“The cultural groups might have something they want to highlight but I don’t know what level of interest there is among those groups, though it is relatively high because of the heated [presidential] campaign,” Fischer said.
Student groups’ election programming will come in tandem with SU-sponsored political events, the largest of which will be the Stand Up Campus Rally to take place on Sep. 11, a day when students and local speakers will voice their political views while student groups will be able to showcase their missions.
Although Perez sees the rally as another opportunity to heighten students’ political sensitivities, Fischer feels that it will not provide significant benefit to groups.
“I thought [the rally] was redundant because there’s already the activities fair,” she said. “At the rally you can do your own thing but I don’t see how it will do that much for the groups. People know what we’re about so it’s not worth our time.”
The fund has raised concern because of the strain it put on SU’s budget, which was the focus of controversy within the body late last year, and because of the potential it creates for SU to display political favoritism in deciding which groups to fund. Perez, however, believes that these problems have been resolved.
“I hope that from funding all of the different efforts, we’ll have a very diverse group of events,” she said. “With $55,000 we can’t fund every program in full but we encourage everyone to seek additional funds elsewhere.”
Fischer feels that the fund will favor some views over others because of the campus’ political scene, but does not feel that it is a major concern.
“I know that the preponderance of groups that apply will be liberal,” she said. “As long as it doesn’t come down to blatant favoritism it doesn’t worry me.”