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Inside Politics

Candidates spark little interest at Howard

By Ruth L. Tisdale
Special to CNN

Ruth L. Tisdale is the campus editor for The Hilltop, the largest black collegiate newspaper in the country.

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Howard University
Campus Vibe
America Votes 2004
Democratic candidates

Editor's note: Campus Vibe is a weekly feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Ruth L. Tisdale, the campus editor at The Hilltop, the student newspaper of Howard University in Washington. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or Howard University.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Howard University has a long legacy of political activism, but many students say this year's presidential campaign has failed to generate much enthusiasm on the Washington campus.

Howard students do not have to go far to see a presidential candidate speak. Four of this year's Democratic hopefuls have appeared at the school.

But freshman political science major Teneshia Adams points out the events are not always well-attended.

"When Joseph Lieberman came to campus, there was only a handful of people," Adams said of the senator's visit. " When Carol Moseley Braun came, there was even less. Students seem to be disinterested in politics that will change their lives."

Junior electrical engineer major Tonya Lewis said many students don't attend because they feel that politicians do not listen to their needs.

"I remember when Joseph Lieberman spoke on campus, he spoke of needs that he felt African-Americans wanted to hear, but he didn't speak to our real needs," Lewis said. "Students grow tired of being used by politicians, and they don't even show up anymore."

Alexis Logan, a sophomore political science major, said presidential candidates know the African-American community looks to Howard, a historically black college, as a leader so they use the university as a "validation sticker."

"Politicians have to be validated by Howard students to be accepted by the black community," the Texas native said. "If politicians can make it at Howard, they can make it anywhere."

Conrad Woody, executive president for the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council, said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean appeared to be the most effective of the candidates who have appeared on campus.

"I heard all of the candidates, and Braun seemed to be the most sincere, but Howard Dean had a lot of energy and had a bigger staff so he was definitely more effective in reaching Howard students," he said.

Braun, a former U.S. senator who announced her candidacy at Howard, dropped out of the race before the Iowa caucuses and threw her support to Dean.

Republicans rare on mostly Democratic campus

While Democratic hopefuls often are prominent on Howard's campus, Republican candidates are rarely seen.

Adam Hunter, a member of the College Republicans, said GOP candidates do not come to Howard because the campus is not responsive to the party's views.

"When the board of trustees nominated President Bush as a candidate to be a commencement address speaker, the entire campus went into an uproar," said Hunter, an economics and political science major.

"Republicans understand that Howard students are staunchly Democratic and would not be open to their views so they don't try."

Jamaal Anderson, an aide to Dean and a former Howard student, said that a Republican appearing at Howard could open the doors of communication between the GOP and African-American community.

"Republicans make a conscious decision not to come," Anderson said. " By appearing on campus, Republicans would be able to discuss their issues."

Because of the lack of enthusiasm on Howard's campus, student leaders as well as some candidates are trying to regenerate interest in politics.

Kirsten Howard, director of civics affairs for the Howard University Student Association, said that the politically active on campus attempt to draw other students through various programs and activities.

"On campus, we have NAACP chapters that regularly hold events that educate the campus on pressing issues that face the African-American community," the Michigan native said.

"These organizations reach out to those on campus who may not know the issues."

Some students said the Rev. Al Sharpton is the one candidate who has shown concern for issues important to them -- such as statehood for the District of Columbia.

Walter Stevenson, a freshman from Miami, Florida, said that Sharpton's regular appearances have generated interest among students about the presidential election.

"During the D.C. primary, he [Sharpton] was regularly on campus campaigning for D.C. statehood," Stevenson said. " I know that he probably won't win the Democratic nomination, but he has done a lot to get the black vote and make Howard students more aware."

Woody said that educating students on the issues will make them become more involved.

"We have to make students understand that these candidates may have a say in our wages and health care," the Ohio native said. "Once we remove the haziness, more students will get involved."

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