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Inside Politics

Politics and lack thereof at NYU

By Kate Meyer
Special to CNN

Student correspondent Kate Meyer stands near an NYU symbol -- Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village.

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Campus Vibe
New York University
America Votes 2004
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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 Kate Meyer, the news editor at Washington Square News, the student newspaper at New York University. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or New York University.

NEW YORK (CNN) When New York University freshman Nick Rizzo got on the bus heading for New Hampshire to campaign for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean last week, he had big plans for what he hoped would be a historic weekend.

"I want to be able to tell my kids, 'I was there when Dean won New Hampshire,'" Rizzo said. Dean ultimately came in second in New Hampshire.

But he also admitted, "Were I to characterize the one student group on campus that is strongest it would be John Kerry's."

Rizzo was just one of hundreds of New Yorkers who trudged up to New Hampshire to stump for their favorite candidates before Tuesday's primary.

Bearing below-freezing temperatures and knocking on doors, Rizzo said he felt his efforts were necessary as Dean's place in the polls continued to slip following the Iowa caucuses.

"I think Howard Dean is the right guy," he said. "And I think he has been true to the grassroots and true to the people of America. I think it's time that his supporters came back and did something for him now that he's in the lurch."

Shawna Meechan, a sophomore in NYU's College of Arts and Science and the student coordinator for New York state's campaign for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, made the trip up to New Hampshire last weekend for her fourth time.

"It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever done," Meechan said. "It was so cold, but I think it was really successful. I think we got a lot of work done."

Sophomore Elspeth Benoit, who hails from New Hampshire and sent her absentee ballot in for Dean, is no stranger to the kind of campaigning Meechan and others were doing last weekend. But she associates that kind of political interest and activism with New Hampshire, not NYU.

"At home obviously, we get phone calls every day," Benoit said. "You're bombarded on a daily basis. But [at NYU] I haven't really seen anything unless I turn on the news and find out what's going on."

In the midst of a bustling metropolis and without a conventional campus to call its own, NYU lends itself to all kinds of apathy, political apathy being no exception.

"[NYU is] a lot more apathetic in terms of politics," Benoit said. "I mean, I feel like when certain issues come up everyone seems to want to rally behind a cause, but in terms of being committed to a candidate, you don't really see it so much."

One of these "certain issues," the war in Iraq, yielded large-scale protests in New York City last year, many spearheaded by NYU students, including a walk-out in November 2002 in which more than 2,000 NYU students skipped class to voice their dissent.

"The students who marched against the war, or who march for other things, are by and large not the students who get internships or volunteer for presidential candidates," said Michael Phillips, president of NYU College Democrats.

"The issue activists march. The electoral activists are talking to other students, they are working at campaign headquarters, and they are making trips to New Hampshire and Iowa and beyond."

Apathetic majority

But whether they are the 2,000 students who skipped class or the more than 50 NYU students who campaigned in New Hampshire last weekend, those who are politically active apparently comprise only a tiny fraction of the school's 50,000-plus enrollment. The rest of the campus is less enthusiastic.

"I'm not so interested in politics," said Il-Young Ryu, a second-year graduate student in NYU's School of Education. "Maybe because I'm not interested in it, I feel like [NYU] is not really active."

Many students said they had not seen active campaign groups on campus -- Rizzo acknowledged that he himself was focusing on campaigning outside the university for now.

But Phillips said that come March, when the New York primary is held, NYU student groups will pounce on the opportunity to lobby on campus for their candidates.

"On campus, the students for the various candidates go where the action is, and trust me, they will come home to fight for NYU when New York is a primary battleground," Phillips said.

Despite a seemingly apathetic majority, most students agree that NYU has a liberal campus, due in part to its location.

"I think it's college, so kids are definitely liberal, so there's definitely more of a presence of liberal points of view," said senior William Morgan. "It's New York and it's more of a liberal place. One of my buddies went to Princeton [University] and the campus was hard-core conservative."

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