Less than 23 percent of millennials voted in the 2014 midterm elections two years ago. Encouraging students and their peers to turn out in November is one goal behind inviting Interim Democratic National Committee Chairperson Donna Brazile to the Undergraduate Academic Affairs speaker series, said Vice Chancellor Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui, who organized the event.
Brazile served the DNC as an interim chairperson in 2011 after then-chair Tim Kaine (D-Va.) resigned the position to run for the Senate. She will discuss civic responsibility in the College Avenue Gymnasium on Monday night at 7 p.m.
“She was a commentator for CNN, ABC News and other news agencies,” he said. “Last summer we had the incident at the DNC where the chairperson stepped down and she was named interim chairwoman.”
Despite her new duties, Brazile’s office confirmed that she would still be available to speak about civic responsibility at Rutgers, with the ultimate goal of getting students to become more politically involved, he said.
“The interesting thing about elections is it’s your opportunity to pick someone to represent you,” he said. “You’re surrendering your authority to let somebody else speak for you … whether on a very local level or on a world stage.”
He hopes students understand that when they vote, they should be comfortable with their chosen candidate speaking for them.
Giving up an individual vote by not showing up on election day is “a horrible thing,” he said. Even if students do not feel represented by their candidates, they should take part in the process to force a change.
“There’s an engagement, that’s what civic responsibility is. You’re continuously challenging the persons in authority, and they’re responding to the needs you have as a community,” he said.
Students may be disappointed if the candidate they voted for in the primaries is not on the ballot in November, which may encourage them to stay home.
“But we cannot let disappointment or apathy define who you are,” he said. “It’s very important that we let the younger generation become part of this process.”
The speaker series will feature several political activists over the upcoming months, including Marc Lamont Hill, a distinguished professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College, Jose Antonio Vargas, who discovered he was an undocumented immigrant when he applied for a driver’s license and Beverly Daniel Tatum, a clinical psychologist and educator who focuses on race in education.
Though none of these speakers will visit Rutgers until next February, Sifuentes-Jáuregui hopes they will still force students to think about their roles in politics and public service.
“We bring a lot of academics to Rutgers but I’m really interested in public intellectuals, people who have opinions about matters and engage in public debate,” Sifuentes-Jáuregui said.
Sifuentes-Jáuregui, who is part of the Department of American Studies, said he looks at citizenship and how nations’ citizens shape it.
He wants students to come to the event, and any who are not satisfied with what they hear should respond, because responding is part of democracy.
Brazile’s speech will be followed by a question-and-answer session where guests can respond to the chairwoman and ask any questions they have, he said.
“Whatever your (political affiliation) is, this is a speaker series that has a Q and A, and it is at that moment that new perspectives are brought in,” Sifuentes-Jáuregui said. “All students are welcome, there will be faculty … this is a community event. I’m very excited we’re bringing public intellectuals here.”
Nikhilesh De is the news editor of The Daily Targum. He is a School of Engineering senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.