Students in Vincent Vecera’s Elections and Public Opinion class portray actual political candidates during a mock debate.
Before Abby Bodnar ’18 took the Presidential Rhetoric class at Randolph this fall, she seldom paid attention to political headlines in the news. Now, you can often find her checking out articles on CNN and NBC on her phone.
“We are all potential voters here, and not all colleges offer classes like this,” Bodnar said. “It’s changed my perceptions about politics and is going to help me form my own opinions moving forward.”
The Presidential Rhetoric class, taught by communication studies professor Jennifer Gauthier, was one of several courses this fall using the presidential election as a catalyst for discussion.
“The first goal is to get them to pay closer attention to the contemporary political climate, this election, and the language and media attention around it,” Gauthier said. “The second goal is to put that into a historical context, especially since everyone is saying the rhetoric in this election is the worst and that it’s nasty and unusual. I think if we put it into a historical context, we’ll see there are some things that happened in the past that were similar.”
Karin Warren, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies, also incorporated the 2016 election into her Environmental Science Systems and Solutions class. Her students researched the candidates’ understanding of science and the proposed policies that were directly relevant to the class.
Meanwhile, students in political science professor Vincent Vecera’s Elections and Public Opinion class ran their own political campaigns and held a mock debate and press conference. For the campaign simulation, students were divided into teams and performed various roles as campaign staffers. They developed fundraising and messaging strategies, and even created their own campaign ads.
Each team chose one member to play the role of an actual politician. The students portrayed Republican Ted Cruz, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, and Libertarian Gary Johnson. The winner was chosen through debates and other performances, as well as the odds of victory in each state, based on actual polling information.
“It’s a bit of a time commitment for a 200-level course, but it’s interesting and different from writing papers,” Vecera said. “One of the lessons in this course that is very accurate is that even if you run a fantastic campaign and your opponent runs a terrible campaign, your ability to move the underlying factors of the race is pretty limited, generally.”
Brooks Sharrett ’18 embraced his role as Cruz by studying the Texas senator’s policies and watching extensive footage of his speeches. He even mimicked Cruz’s movements and idiosyncrasies in the mock debate.
“The course has absolutely changed my perception of our election system, primarily through understanding how individuals employ preconceived biases in accepting or rejecting certain political messages,” Sharrett said. “It’s also fascinating to learn that many Americans accept or deny policy outlines based off of their party affiliation, when in reality some of these policies are accepted amongst the political elite as a whole, and are exclusively marketed to the public to produce division and stir up reactionary feelings.”