UMD students should be more involved in local politics
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
In Nov. 2001, University of Maryland student Eric Swalwell lobbied the College Park City Council to establish a student representative to the council. The following May, Swalwell became the first student liasion. In the 15 years since, Swalwell has gone on to become a member of Congress and the office of student liaison to the council remains. Today, I serve as your student liaison — a position I’ve held for two consecutive terms.
This week, as College Park municipal elections draw to a close, civic engagement and attention to local politics are at an all-time high. Three students at this university ran for public office this cycle, and hundreds of their peers registered to vote. Over the past two weeks, Old Town has replaced its usual litter of 12-ounce cans and pizza boxes with campaign signs and civil discourse.
On Oct. 30, 106 students turned out to hear all four mayoral candidates engage in a student-focused debate at the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center. At City Hall on election day, I watched a diverse population of students turn out in droves, despite the pouring rain, to vote in the most contested mayoral campaign our city has ever seen.
[Read more: College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn wins re-election]
This election, student issues were part of the conversation — and unprecedented participation by students provoked candidates to speak directly to the student population, which accounts for more than 60 percent of our city.
However, student attention to local politics should not be limited to election season. Rather, we must harness the energy we’ve created among our peers and the attentiveness we’ve earned from local politicians to work alongside our new council members and enact policies favorable to our community.
If you turned out to the polls this week to address access to absentee voting, student accessibility to polling places, rent abatement policies, neighborhood quality of life issues, resident/student relationships, sustainability, voting rights, development of green spaces, on-campus tailgating, transportation deficiencies or safety in our community, now is the time to get involved and take action. Local government should be viewed by students as a means of achieving the vision we have for our community, not as an enemy that needs to be defeated. As your student liaison, I am here to help you every step of the way.
Our community has so much to offer. Our diverse population is situated inside the Capital Beltway, on the tracks of a massive public transportation system and in the same zip code as a world-class research university. Every day, transformative development breaks ground in our city. A decade from now, College Park will be an economic engine, research hub, cultural center and transportation corridor that neighboring college towns will strive to emulate. Our city is far from perfect, but collective action between residents and students like you can offer the final piece of the puzzle.
Getting involved doesn’t mean you need to have a nuanced understanding of public policy or drop other activities. It means talking to your neighbors, picking up trash, keeping up with local news, being respectful and thinking critically to find innovative solutions to everyday problems. It also means reaching out to me with questions and concerns. The council and I are here for you.
As students, we must maintain the promise to one another that this election day will not be the end of student participation in local politics, but rather a reminder of the power our community holds. I invite you to join the mayor and City Council any Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, where you can become part of the solution.
The college has always been in College Park. It’s up to us to make College Park a town we’re proud to call home.
Chris Keosian is the College Park City Council’s student liasion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.