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Politics: Perspectives on Rice's Political Scene

By Ruby Gee     1/10/12 6:00pm

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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