Rutgers students engage in political discourse over pizza
On Nov. 20, the Center for Youth Political Participation (CYPP) hosted “Pizza and Politics,” an event where students gathered at the Eagleton Institute of Politics on Douglass campus to hear student activists describe their political experiences and goals at Rutgers.
Students heard from a variety of student leaders, writers and organizers who had made significant political contributions on campus. Speakers shared stories about organizing protests and marches, volunteering for political campaigns and speaking out for what they believe in.
Speakers touched on many aspects of political life on campus, including holding unpopular beliefs, facing political violence, retaliation and writing and publishing to spread information among the Rutgers student body.
After an hour of hearing about the political experiences of their colleagues, students were able to ask speakers questions about themselves, their work and how to get active on campus.
Among the speakers was Andrea Vacchiano, the president of the Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), who described what it is like being a politically active woman on campus.
YAL seeks to promote libertarian ideas on campus and get libertarian speakers to address students, which is somewhat difficult considering that the overwhelming majority of Rutgers students and staff lean more to the left, the School of Arts and Sciences junior said.
“I think students should take away that activism is a very important thing," Vacchiano said. "It's important to stand up for your beliefs and get changes enacted. It's important to discuss political issues with people you might not agree with, and it's important to join clubs and, well, important to keep an open mind.”
The speakers talked at length about political apathy and how some students fail to become invested in politics. Getting young people to interact with their community politically and to care about issues that affect them was a key point of the panel.
Adeel Ahmed, co-president of RU Progressive, said he seeks to do just that with his organization. RU Progressive tries to promote and elect progressive candidates for government positions and positions for civic engagement in the Rutgers student government.
There is a lot of political apathy among college students, the School of Arts and Sciences junior said.They might not see a reason to care about politics or feel that some issues might not affect them. But boosting political inclusion with events like this helps remove some of that apathy and get students more involved.
Ahmed said the biggest thing he hopes students take away from the event is that there are many ways to get involved in politics or civic engagement in general. Most people just see it as one side against the other, but despite differences in political opinion, starting discussions is the biggest thing.
“The fact that a lot of people came here ... and were willing to hear what every side has to say is really powerful," he said. "And I feel like that's a good start to really making sure the young community gets out and involved.”
The overarching theme of the event was showing students the ways they can be involved politically in the Rutgers community and what work other students have done, which reflects CYPP’s mission of getting young adults involved and invested in politics.
Elizabeth Matto, the director of CYPP, was at the event and commented on its importance as well as its relation to RU Voting, the campaign by the Eagleton Institute of Politics to get students registered and prepared to participate in elections.
“The purpose of RU Voting really is to engage Rutgers students in the political process, and we do that in a number of ways, whether it's disseminating information about voting or registration (or) polling locations," Matto said. "But we also want to make political participation accessible, we want to make it something that students want to participate in, we want them involved in politics.”
This is not the first time that Eagleton has hosted such an event. For years CYPP has hosted “Pizza and Politics,” where students can come to Eagleton, eat pizza and get politically informed about a specific topic. This benefits RU Voting’s mission of getting students politically motivated and involved, Matto said.
She said that Eagleton has had young, elected leaders in the past talk about why they ran for office. It has also hosted panels before state legislative elections to help students understand the importance of the elections — this is an ongoing series.
“At the very minimum, we hope students will tune in more to politics after this event ... ," Matto said. "Our ultimate goal, though, is having students play a role on campus regarding an issue they care about or a cause they care about.”