Politics: Perspectives on Rice's Political Scene
Rice Young Democrats President Myles Bugbee came to Rice in 2008 at the peak of a presidential election – a time when the Rice Republicans were a defunct group and the Rice Democrats had only a handful of active members.
"I was kind of disappointed as a freshman because I was hoping that more people would be involved in politics of such a historical election," Hanszen College senior Myles Bugbee said. "We had our first African-American nominee for president, and a lot of young people were excited across the country, but at Rice there didn't seem to have as much political energy."
Ensuingly, Bugbee worked with Duncan College senior Kevin Bush to create a series of events that included documentary showings and policy meetings.
"The big breakthrough was [that] we started a student debate series along with the Rice Conservatives held at Baker Institute once a semester, and that typically gets 75-100 students," Bugbee said. "I think there's definitely been progress since I've come to Rice, and I take only a small bit of credit for that there have been a lot of people [who have contributed]."
Incoming Rice Young Democrats Presidents Rahul Rekhi and Raj Salhotra plan to continue the progress made by hosting an annual State of the Union party and bringing local candidates onto campus. Incidentally, Sid Richardson College juniors Rekhi and Salhotra also teach COLL 125: Public Policy Boot Camp.
"What we find is that students are very opinionated with a very strong set of beliefs and ideologies … they're willing to explore issues with critical reasoning and solid analysis," Rekhi said. "People know what they're talking about … it's just a matter of drawing that out, which is what we're trying to do."
According to Rice Conservative Forum Vice President Taylor Williams, the RCF also offers opportunities for political participation in the form of weekly lunch meetings and anticipates hosting socials like the Rice Democrats once its funding improves.
"There's pretty much zero activism at Rice … I'd say about over half the school doesn't really keep up with politics, and people don't really get aggressive over politics – apathetic is how I'd explain it," Hanszen College junior Williams said. "I don't know if you'd say we're less political – we're definitely informed, which is something we have over other college campuses who operate more on a craze."
Bugbee, Rekhi and Williams all agreed that one of the factors behind Rice's apparent lack of activism is its location in Houston, which is less politically active in comparison to the other major cities of the U.S.
Jones College sophomore Clinton Willbanks said that, as opposed to being affiliated with a specific political party group, Rice students are more involved with special-interest groups focused on issues like sustainability, which are political in nature.
"If you look at what is politics, it's not just getting somebody elected or mobilizing voters and running campaigns – it also has to do with figuring out public policy," Willbanks said. "I guess you could say we have a lot of public policy organizations, which are interest groups on campus."
A political science and policy studies major, Willbanks observed that a lot of research Rice students do is public policy itself — trying to find ways to improve the day-to-day lives of people and trying to get grants from the government. He noted that while students rarely sit down and have a debate about abortion and tax policy, the quirky, funny things that happen, like the gaffes in politics spark an interest in a topic with people.
"The ‘oops' moment for Rick Perry, for example – that's another instance when people watched the video and not only did they learn a little about his campaign, but also [ it motivated] them to learn about Perry as a candidate for themselves," Willbanks said.
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The Student Association General Elections rerun resulted in a win for Ravi Sheth, a write-in candidate. Sheth, a Martel College junior, ran in the SA General Elections after the first election was appealed and ruled “partially invalid” by the University Court.The Student Association Elections Committee reran the General Elections and merged it with the previously scheduled SA Internal Vice President Elections. The rerun elections closed Feb. 28 at 11:59 p.m.Sheth said he was excited and humbled by the amount of support he got as a write-in candidate. He also said he was impressed with the level of voter turnout from the entire student body.“I think there was 1636 votes; that’s more than was seen in 2009, and [I think the turnout in 2009 was more than Rice] had seen in a decade, so this might be one of the highest voter turnout elections in Rice history,” Sheth said. “I’m really excited to see that level of student involvement and turnout, and I think it puts the [Student Association] in a really great position because we now have the attention and the engagement of the student body and I think that will really allow us to do great things over the next year.”Sheth will assume the role of SA president at Changeover on Monday, March 10. He said he already has ideas about what he wants to do during his term.“I have a list [of things I’d like to get accomplished in the next year], but I think a lot of them need to have buy-in from different parties before we officially announce them,” Sheth said. “I will be opening up creative proposals for something to do with the SA iPad because that should never have been bought with student money, so we’ll find something productive and good to do with it.”SA presidential candidate Trent Navran, who won the original election, said he was frustrated by the decision to rerun the election. He said he was initially disappointed by the outcome of the most recent election, but ultimately feels confident that Sheth will be a good SA president.“I was really impressed to see the energy that Ravi helped excite on campus, and the fact that so many people were talking about elections and that there was so much buzz was exciting,” Navran said. “As a friend and as someone who I’ve worked with, I think Ravi will make a fantastic president. I’m very proud of him and I look forward to working with him in a lot of capacities.”Although he did not win this election, Navran said he learned a lot about himself during the elections process, and he will use that insight to continue serving the Rice student body in other ways.“President or not, I’m really excited because I know I can still make a big impact on campus,” Navran said. “I’m going to be focusing a lot on social innovation and social entrepreneurship, which is something that happens a lot at Rice, but I want to work to build more of an identity and more programming and resources around that. It’s something I’ve cared about and expressed recently in my campaign, but I think I have valued and will now be able to focus on as a senior.”Baker College junior Abby Gordon won the race for SA Internal Vice President. The remainder of the items on the ballot were also rerun. A full list of the results, according to an email sent to the Rice community by current SA President Yoonjin Min, can be see below. ReferendumsThe referendum on the Ratification of the SA Constitution passed.The referendum on the Honor Council’s Proposed Constitutional Amendment passed.The referendum on the Rice Environmental Society’s Proposed New Blanket Tax failed, because it failed to get a majority in favor that was greater than two thirds of votes cast on the item.The referendum on Rice Catalyst’s Proposed New Blanket Tax without the Sunset Clause failed, because it failed to get a majority in favor that was greater than two thirds of votes cast on the item.The referendum on Rice Catalyst’s Proposed New Blanket Tax with the Sunset Clause failed, because it failed to get a majority in favor that was greater than two thirds of votes cast on the item.Elections for positionsRavi Sheth won the election for Student Association President.Abby Gordon won the election for Student Association Internal Vice President.Amritha Kanakamedala won the election for Student Association External Vice President.Olivia Hsia won the election for Student Association Secretary.Joan Liu won the election for Student Association Treasurer.Cathy Hu and Pooja Yesantharao won the election for RSVP Chair.Joann Pan won the election for RSVP Internal Vice Chair.Brian Baran won the election for University Court Chair.Aisha Jeeva won the election for Rice Program Council President.Sal Tijerina won the election for KTRU Station Manager.Miles Kruppa won the election for Thresher Editor-in-Chief.Rachel Gray won the election for RTV5 Station Manager.Lauren Thompson won the election for RTV5 Program Director.Julia Liu and Isabelle Lelogeais won the election for Honor Council Senior Class Representative.Michael Williams Hart, Josiah Grace and Seth Lauer won the election for Honor Council Junior Class Representative.Claire Bonnyman and Luke Van Der Spoel won the election for Honor Council Sophomore Class Representative.
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