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Political Comm. Students Stress Exercising

Only 60 percent of college-aged students are registered to vote and of those only 42 percent exercise that right. During the week of September 17, students in Dr. Billy Wooten’s political communications class worked to change those statistics by setting up informational booths in the Commons area of the Woods Pennimen building and by helping their peers register to vote.

Students manned booths to educate their peers about voter registration.

The booths presented information on three main campaign issues. Monday, the students focused on educating others about immigration; Wednesday, gay rights; and Friday, environmental issues. The registration drive brought more than twenty-five new registrations. Numerous students were also educated about how to vote by absentee ballot.

The voter registration drive was just one of several activities in Dr. Wooten’s groundbreaking class. “Nothing like this has ever been taught at Berea, so there is more work and pressure involved” said Phillip Snyder, a junior communication major.

The class addresses such issues as the effects of communication on a campaign and the role of communication theories in politics. There is also a service project in cooperation with the League of Women Voters about educating the public on political issues and helping them take a stance on those issues.

To better understand the motives behind his class, BCnow sat down with Dr. Wooten to gain some insight into his motivation for this course, and what he hopes to accomplish with it.

BCnow: Why has your class partnered with the League of Women Voters?

Dr. Wooten: When I first decided to offer the political communication course, I knew service learning would be a wonderful fit for the course. Service learning classes allow students to apply theory and methods to some tangible project and get their hands dirty in the field of communication. With this in mind, I looked for an organization that was active in local, state and national politics and that would offer students the chance to collaborate on projects. Of course, my gender studies background led me to find an organization that focused on diversity. So, after surveying several organizations, I met with Elizabeth Crowe of the LWV, and we decided to collaborate on a project.

BCnow: What inspired you to teach such a unique class?

Dr. Wooten: Given the increasing polarizing political atmosphere in the United States and the coinciding 2008 presidential election looming near, I thought offering a course in Political Communication was timely. The campaign process and how it is inextricably linked to mass media becomes more complicated as technology changes, and this is evidenced in the 2008 presidential race. So-called “new media,” which really are not so new to the younger voters, have changed the political process and campaign development, and I wanted to teach a class that explored message construction and deconstruction.

BCnow: What prompted you to hold a registration drive?
Dr. Wooten: I would love to see more people take advantage of the political process instead of allowing the process to take advantage of them. More young people need to vote, but, more importantly, more young people need to develop their political voice and learn that it matters. So, we ran a voter registration drive that also coincided with certain political issues that directly affect the younger generation. My goal was to energize students about the issues and register them to vote at the same time.

BCnow: How are your students responding to the class?

Dr. Wooten: Well, I have learned that political apathy is certainly strong and kicking. This is the first class I’ve taught at Berea in six years that did not overfill. Many students I’ve talked to outside those enrolled in the course have said that politics just does not interest them. Those students in the course have also expressed their disdain for “politics as a game” but are trying to learn how to change that process and find their political voice.

BCnow: Will this course continue to be offered in the Communication Department?

Dr. Wooten: No. This course is and should only be a special topics course that coincides with a major election. Timing is key to offering such a course with a service learning component.

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