As the new school year begins, you probably have the following on your to-do list: sorting out your class schedule, buying textbooks and choosing extracurriculars. We urge you to put something at the top of that list: political engagement.
Rice students are notoriously overcommitted, and it can feel like you don’t have the time to give. We know — we’ve been there. But political engagement shouldn’t be treated as something external to your Rice education or as a competing interest — it’s an integral part of life as a student.
Whichever academic discipline you’ve chosen to pursue and whatever passion led you there, there’s likely a political component to it. If you’re pre-med because you want to help patients, the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and the potential loss of insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions should inspire action. If you chose bioengineering because you wanted to develop cutting-edge medical technologies, we ask: What’s the point of inventing the world’s best cancer diagnostic if most people are no longer able to afford basic care? If you’re in the humanities, you should be aware that the current administration has tried to cut funding for cultural agencies and the arts.
Furthermore, politics personally impacts individuals at Rice. We pride ourselves on our culture of care, and a complete definition of this requires concern for our peers and all aspects of their identity. LGBTQ+ students continue to fight for rights after the 2015 Houston Equal Rights Ordinance vote in Houston and the Supreme Court’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. Undocumented students are afraid to leave campus due to this administration’s attacks on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Muslim students are subject to travel bans and hate crimes at their places of worship. Survivors of sexual assault have to watch these crimes be normalized — by the U.S. president, no less — and the perpetrators go unpunished. As proud Rice students, we must stand, and act, in solidarity with members of our community.
There are numerous ways to make an impact. If you’re eligible, check that you’re registered to vote and make your voting plan for the Nov. 6 midterm election (early voting starts Oct. 22). Then, take a one-hour class to become a volunteer deputy voter registrar so you can register others to vote. Even if you cannot vote, you can get involved with a campaign or campus organization. This fall, there are many competitive races at the federal, state and local levels, and candidates in all of them would benefit from students blockwalking, phone banking or texting for their campaigns. Student political organizations, both partisan and nonpartisan, host on-campus events to phone bank and contact representatives. Clubs like Civic Duty, Rice Young Democrats, Rice College Republicans and others are always looking for more volunteers and participants at their events. There’s no excuse when there are opportunities even within the hedges, not a 10-minute walk from your college. Talk to your friends about voting. Make plans to volunteer together.
A study by the Tufts University College of Civic Life found that only 54.7 percent of eligible Rice students, undergraduate and graduate, voted in the 2016 presidential election. In any other area of Rice life, this failing score would be considered abysmal. Why, then, do we accept it as par for the course for political engagement?
Rice students show impressive initiative when it comes to building a stellar med school application. Now, it’s critical we demonstrate that same initiative when it comes to political engagement. Elected officials won’t represent you if you don’t make your voice heard. Ultimately, the results of the 2018 midterm election will be far more consequential than your grade on that midterm exam.
No matter who you are or what you aspire to accomplish, politics involves you, too.