Course embeds students in federal electioneering

More than a dozen King’s University College students will hit the campaign trail as they hit the books thanks to a new Political Science class that looks to offer an insider’s understanding of political campaigns.

Campaign School – a credit course dedicated to campaign and election management – includes first-hand experience volunteering with federal election candidates of their choice in advance of the Oct. 21 election. This is the second time this class has been offered; the first offering took place last year in conjunction with the municipal election.

Professor Jacquetta Newman

NEWMAN

“It’s part of the department’s commitment to expand our experiential offerings,” said Political Science professor Jacquetta Newman, who co-ordinates the experiential-learning part of the course.

Students in class learn about canvassing, communicating, working with paid staff and volunteers, fundraising, strategizing and pulling the vote. By embedding themselves in campaigns, they’ll have a chance to shape, even in a small way, Canada’s political future.

Sixteen students have been accepted into the course; they first had to submit a copy of their CV and a short essay on how the course would enhance their academic work and future aspirations.

While the first half of the course includes working with an election campaign, the second half will be applied to an academic debrief that examines, in part, the effects partisanship and populism have had on the outcome.

“I would say the majority of students enrolled are election and politics wonks,” Newman said. “That said, we’ve got a number of students coming to us from the Social Justice and Peace program, as well.”

She expects student interest in volunteering across the four largest national parties – Conservative, Green, Liberals and New Democrats – and potentially with the new People’s Party as well.

In spite of the partisanship that often divides, Newman said classroom conversations are almost always thoughtful reflections of differing opinions. “There is always a mix of political leanings in the class. That’s part of what makes the class so vibrant. It reminds them in the academic setting that discussions can be respectful, open-minded and there has to be a willingness to listen.”

Political Science professor Kate Graham, who will be the primary lecturer in the course, also taught the municipal campaigning course last year. She said it reinforced how passionately students can care about their community and about causes they believe in. At the election’s end, “some are delighted, some are gutted at the outcome. They’re exhausted. To say it was powerful wouldn’t be an overstatement.”

There’s something about being a part of the political process that transforms people, whether they become better equipped for public service or become more invested in talking with friends and family about local, provincial and federal issues, she continued.

Regardless of their ideological bent, she said, students compare notes and soon realize all parties have similar motivations and goals – to improve the community’s health, economy and social wellbeing – even though their platforms for achieving those goals may be vastly different.

Newman said there are several aims of the course. “As an academic, I hope they gain a much more intensive, hands-on appreciation of what a federal election campaign is all about.”

Students will learn know the fundamentals of electioneering, become more involved in London and build networks that could help guide their career paths. “We’re trying to give them a good all-around experience and a really good learning opportunity,” Newman said.