Staff Editorial

Participation Is What Democracy Looks Like

Dominique Ochoa | Loyola University ChicagoLoyola student, Christina Rodriguez, poses a question to panelists at the Women in Politics seminar in the Information Commons March 27, 2017.

Protests were a running theme of 2017. Citizens nationwide marched for undocumented immigrant rights, marched against President Donald Trump, marched for women, protested the repeal of net neutrality rules, protested Trump’s travel ban — the list goes on.

With college students making up a huge chunk of the crowd at many of these protests, it’s evident they want their voices heard. Loyola has also witnessed numerous student-led protests on its own campus for undocumented students and workers’ rights and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

But when different avenues for Loyola students to voice their concerns arise, enthusiasm seems to dissipate.

Loyola released the results of its online gender-based climate survey in December and revealed a miserably low completion rate — 9 percent of the student body. The university also extended the deadline of its online Diversity and Inclusion Campus Climate Survey from Nov. 17 to Nov. 30 because of low participation. Only 17 percent of students completed the survey, according to the university.

The purposes of these surveys, as President Jo Ann Rooney detailed in her community messages announcing each, were for the school to take direct student feedback on issues such as diversity, sexual misconduct issues and inclusivity and improve campus life accordingly. But, if students aren’t willing to take the time to respond, then how can they complain?

Those aren’t isolated examples. Course evaluations, which become available at the end of each semester and allow students to give anonymous feedback on their professors’ performances and quality of courses, can also suffer from this same lack of response because they’re voluntary.

Sports games at Loyola also have traditionally low attendance. In the past, men’s basketball — arguably Loyola’s most popular sport — averaged 306 students per game at Gentile Arena. Only now, as the Ramblers are having their best season in 50 years, has attendance spiked.

Attendance is low in other areas. Campus Safety typically hosts semesterly safety forums for students to pose questions and broach concerns about crime. The most recent one in November drew one student, aside from a Phoenix editor and some student government members.

The Phoenix stresses the importance of student voices. Pick up any Phoenix issue, and it’s likely you’ll see a Loyola student quoted. One of the best ways we enhance the topics we write about is by seeing what students think about it.

Our Opinion section is a great way for students to express views on issues they’re most passionate about. Interested students need only to send an email to our Opinion editor at phoenixopinion@luc.edu to have their views considered for print.

In theory, 20-somethings want to make a tangible impact on the world. In practice, it can work.

A few years ago, students showed up for a university Senate hearing to speak out against what they argued was a too restrictive demonstration policy. The school listened — the policy changed.

But how else would the university have improved itself without students showing up to vent? Self-reflection has limitations.

Millennials have recently become the largest portion of the voting-age population, according to U.S. Census data compiled by the Pew Research Center, yet the youth vote remains abysmally low.

In 2016, a presidential election year, the youth vote jumped slightly. More than 49 percent of millennials turned out to vote. Unfortunately, a midterm election year like 2018 often sees a dip in turnout, even though Congressional and municipal races are just as important — if not more immediately consequential — than presidential races.

Protests are essential for raising awareness. It’s astounding to see how the rise of social media has helped organizers reach more participants when planning demonstrations. In the age of Trump, it seems like people are getting more involved and becoming more informed on social issues. The Women’s March had diverse faces from all ages, for instance.

Too often it stops there. While vocal protests bring the issue to light, the private act of voting is the follow-through that instills real change.

A running cadence at many marches, where swarms of fired-up, opinionated people flood streets is “This is what democracy looks like.” While that’s true, we’d like to argue that’s not only what democracy is. Participation in elections, in surveys seeking feedback on issues and at forums held by the university are better ways to bring those chants directly to the people who make the decisions.

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