Hosted by the Institute of Politics and the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement, students debated the common obstacles preventing millennial engagement with politics. During moderated discussions, participants suggested that students may tend to focus only on larger events, such as presidential or gubernatorial elections, and may hesitate to join a political party that does not fully represent their interests.
“I feel strongly about some fiscally conservative issues, and some socially liberal issues,” said Mikayla Bodey, a student at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. “Across the board, millennials are not cookie-cutter voters.”
Some student attendees said they left the conference motivated to galvanize their peers and effect political change.
"There is space for improvement in political efficacy among millennials,” said Gavin S. Sullivan ’17, the IOP student chair of the National Campaign, “and although we're becoming more informed through incredible developments in social media and technology, now it is a matter of taking those devices and stretching beyond the soundbytes and infographics to change policy for the better.”
In addition to students from throughout the United States, professors and administrators also shared their views at the conference. Catherine McLaughlin, the IOP's executive director, said “this allows the administration to talk about best practices and how they can help the students, and allows for students to meet others with different experiences and yet still find common ground.”
Among other problems, conference attendees discussed long bureaucratic processes and technicalities of organizing student protest. Some participants argued that student activists were lacking a safe space to express their opinions because of the “scapegoat effect” in which people respond negatively to a political affiliation rather than engaging in deeper political discourse.
National debt, sexual assault, national security, wealth inequity, education costs, and climate change were also listed as relevant issues that should capture college students’ attention.
Participants heralded the conference as an opportunity for student leaders to gain experience engaging their peers in politics."We think the whole experience of organizing voter registration drives, recruiting people to work on registration, leading the campaign, participating on campus, and to be involved in other issues that students care about—all of those things benefit from training [students] receive" at the conference, said attendee Leonard M. Apcar, a professor at Louisiana State University.