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HANOVER, N.H.--Although only ten days remained before the fabled New Hampshire primary, the upcoming presidential contest was not the most important event of the month for the Dartmouth students gathered in the flooded parking lot of the Psi Upsilon fraternity last Saturday afternoon.
For more than a decade, the fraternity has turned its parking lot into an ice rink for the much-beloved Winter Carnival Keg Jump. The well-attended event, which features students on ice skates jumping over beer kegs, typifies the spirit of celebration that characterizes Dartmouth's Winter Carnival.
The festival weekend draws alumni from all over the country and completely occupies the attention of most students in the weeks before the carnival.
Because of the carnival--as well as many other factors--many Dartmouth students are not involved with the upcoming primary.
Only those registered as Republicans in New Hampshire are eligible to vote. On a campus where some students confess they have never met anyone who legally resides in the Granite State, it is not surprising to see a low level of student involvement in this year's campaigns.
Apathy on Campus
Dartmouth students characterize the student body as generally apathetic politically, with whatever student involvement exists centered around journalistic and political organizations.
This general indifference frustrates some student leaders.
"I don't think that Dartmouth students are very political overall," says first-year Rex L. Morey, a member of the Student Assembly and Freshman Council.
Instead of being involved with outside politics, Morey says, Dartmouth students tend to be more interested in internal school affairs, which they believe they can directly influence.
"The most active groups on campus are the Student Assembly and the class councils," Morey says. "They focus on school policy and student concerns. These groups are popular because students see that they achieve things and their work has an impact."
Students questioned during last weekend's Winter Carnival demonstrated a greater interest in the festival than in the political process, confirming Morey's view of an indifferent student body.
Senior Gholson J. Lyon, a biochemistry concentrator, says some political groups on campus "sent out a mailing about trying to get people involved in the candidates."
But he says he, himself, is not active politically at Dartmouth.
"I'm a science person," he shrugs.
Having registered to vote as an independent in his home state of Texas, Lyon says he "imagines" that he will vote by proxy in the election.
Junior Ben R. Sweetzer, also registered as an independent, says he has seen "posters and stuff" on campus advertising the campaigns.
"[Sen. Richard] Lugar [(R-Ind.)] was here last week," he said. "I had never even heard of him until the day."
Active Core Groups
Despite Dartmouth's apathetic atmosphere, student political activism exists in small pockets. These groups tend to organize around a particular cause, campaign, party or academic department that deals with public policy.
Morey, who is registered in New Hampshire as an independent, is a member of the Rockefeller Student Pollers, an organization run out of the Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences and Humanities on campus.
"The Rockefeller Student Pollers is a group of about 40 students that helps conduct the WMUR-Dartmouth poll of New Hampshire voters," he says. "We call people on the phone and ask them questions about what they think of the candidates, the issues and the campaign."
Each individual campaign also has student workers who are responsible for recruiting other students on campus.
"We have a strong group of supporters here," says first-year Bradford J. Davis, the student campaign manager for multimillionaire publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr. "We're trying to get support out,"
Davis has liberally decorated his suite in Richardson Hall, the oldest dormitory in campus, with Forbes paraphernalia, including a brightly-colored poster and Forbes quote hanging from his window.
For the past several weeks, Davis and other Forbes supporters have peppered the campus with campaign signs.
Political Coverage on Campus
In addition to students involved directly in campaigns, other Dartmouth students have taken an interest in the political process as journalists who cover the campaign and its effects on the school community.
Senior Sabrina M. Serrentino, for instance, works around the clock as the producer of the Dartmouth Election Network, which she says consists of 200 student volunteers.
"We're the only student commercial radio station in the country that puts together election coverage for the New Hampshire primary," she says. "We're also the largest election night network coverage."
The excitement of the nation's first presidential primary is one of Dartmouth's major draws, according to Serrentino.
"The lure of being involved in the New Hampshire primary, making news, drew many people to Dartmouth," she says.
The school's daily newspaper, The Dartmouth, also features coverage of the primary and the issues involved, according to junior S. Siobhan Gorman, the paper's managing editor.
"We certainly cover when the candidates come here," she says. "We have a policy that we cover when they first come to New Hampshire this term, and after then, only when they come to Dartmouth."
In addition, Gorman says the paper tries to explain the relevance of the primary to the campus.
"We had a series on the campaign and how it affects Dartmouth students," she says.
One might expect somewhat more involvement from Dartmouth students in this year's Republican campaign than has actually occurred, given the Ivy League school's reputation of being a conservative campus.
New Hampshire itself is also generally considered a Republican state.
"It's a conservative state," says Davis, the Forbes supporter. "We have the lowest taxes of any state in the country."
But the characterization of Dartmouth as a conservative school is currently being debated on campus.
Some students say they feel that Dartmouth's conservative label is a part of the school's history that should be respected.
"Like the other Ivy League schools, there is a long and dignified tradition that lies behind the Dartmouth name," says sophomore David E. Mace, a registered Minnesota Republican.
The school's most vocal conservatives tend to gravitate toward the Dartmouth Review, an independently-funded newspaper which Mace calls "a bastion of not only conservative intellectual thought but also of dignity and tradition, the cloth that binds our society."
Moderate and liberal students, on the other hand, discount the Review's claim to represent the majority of Dartmouth students.
"There's been a lot of press about how Dartmouth is a more conservative institution, partially because the Dartmouth Review is a very, very conservative institution," Serrentino says. "They're a very small but vocal minority."
Serrentino, the radio producer, says Dartmouth offers "a very healthy split of opinion."
A recent visit by presidential candidate and Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) illustrates the possibility of ideological balance on campus.
"We have a reputation for being mostly conservatives," says junior Cheryl L. Chua, the news director for the Dartmouth Election Network. "Dole came up here a few weeks ago. There was support for him but there were people outside who were holding signs for Clinton."
With Democrats now making their presence on campus felt, some wonder whether Dartmouth's conservative tradition is still vibrant or whether it is as much a dinosaur as the snow stegosaurus erected on the green for the Winter Carnival.
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