American University Student Government Vice President Javon Darrien and Comptroller Paul Relyea discuss the new poll AUSG sent out to AU students to gain a better sense of the political beliefs on campus.
The AU Student Government recently sent out a survey to 1,200 randomly selected AU students, in order to better gauge campus political leanings. This survey was conducted in relation to the guest speakers chosen and invited each year by AU’s Kennedy Political Union (KPU), which has seen speakers of varying political affiliation over the years. KPU has faced criticism for allowing the political leanings of its director at any given time to affect what speakers they invite, rather than prioritizing the wishes of the student body. The organization’s varying political affiliations are frequently reflected by the chosen guest speakers each year creating a tumultuous atmosphere that does not always accurately reflect the desires or views of the student body.
AUSG Vice President Javon Darrien and Comptroller Paul Relyea hope to gain a deeper understanding of the political views of the student body through the results of this survey.s. Darrien and Relyea hope to use the survey results to bring political figures to speak on campus who most accurately reflect the student body’s own political identities and beliefs, in order to help AU students get the most out of their education and experience. When asked why they are conducting this survey, Comptroller Relyea said, “the main point is delivering a consistency with KPU, because, as we’ve seen in our first two years, there can be a drastic difference depending on who is the director… that’s a natural thing, but at the end of the day this is student money, so taking an objective look as best we can at where students are at, and what they’d like to see, and who resonates with them at the national stage is really important.”
Out of roughly 8,000 undergraduate students at AU, the survey was sent to approximately 1,200 students, or about 15% of the undergraduate population. Relyea stated that their goal response rate was about two-thirds, or 800 respondents. Darrien and Relyea feel not only that this randomized selection will accurately reflect the leanings of the greater student population, but it will also allow those with more niche viewpoints to shine through. Darrien repeatedly stressed the importance of giving a voice and a platform to students who may not always be the most outspoken on their views, emphasizing that he hopes to provide everyone an opportunity to see their own political preferences reflected by future guest speakers.He said that, “People know what the loudest voices on campus are, so we really wanted people who- don’t really ever get the time to voice their opinion...if you receive the survey, this is your time to explain your views, give your thoughts, speak, let yourself be heard.”
The survey itself is fairly in-depth, and a bit more complicated than simply left or right; “There’s a lot of buckets,” Relyea said, “anything from ‘communist’ to ‘authoritarian’, ‘national conservative’, ‘trumpian’; we put as many as we could”. In addition to specific titles, Darrien and Relyea also wanted to get a good handle on where AU students fall on the political spectrum, with their predictions for results mostly centering around the “moderately left” range, though Relyea expressed interest in the gaining insight on right-of-center category, estimating that group to be anywhere from 10% to 20-25% of respondents.
Darrien and Relyea also took steps to ensure this survey was as unbiased as possible, given the often sensitive nature of the topic. In order to do this, Darrien said, “We did our due diligence and we met with both the AU Dems and AU [Campus Republicans], both faculty advisors and their e-boards, presented them with our survey, and they went through it and looked at it,.”
Outside of benefits for KPU, Darrien and Relyea are both excited to make the results available to other clubs and organizations on campus, to increase both understanding and engagement in other spheres, as Darrien stated, “I’m excited to see where it can be implemented in [student government] and the campus, [the] greater body as a whole because I think there’s a lot of opportunity with not just speakers but student programming...the survey will give a lot of opportunities for overall campus engagement.”
Relyea stated that AUSG is always looking for new ways to engage with the community, and this survey has provided not only an opportunity to do so, but also a method for deeper understanding of how to give students the best experience possible. “We’re looking forward to it, we’re excited, it’s gonna be great,” Darrien said of the project. The survey was sent out on Monday, July 26th, so the results are anticipated to be released in the next couple weeks. Aside from the main goal of guest speakers in relation to KPU, this project will prove to be useful to many organizations on campus in the coming years, and may even set precedent for similar political affiliation surveys in the future to maintain an outlet for students to voice their opinions and influence the programming they’d like to see.
Meagan Keefe is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Public Relations and Strategic Communications. She is the Deputy Editor of Campus Affairs at the American Agora.