November 4, 2008

The Freshman Vote

It’s their first time choosing a president, and the first-year students at Tilton Hall take the responsibility seriously

By Peter Bendix

One college rite of passage comes around only once every four years: when students get to vote in their first presidential election. For some freshmen living in Tilton Hall, this is their year, and it’s an exciting moment.

“I’ve always wanted to vote. When I turned 18, I was so excited that I got to register and vote,” says Danielle Pike of Houston, Texas.

Click the play button to hear Tilton Hall freshmen talking about their big election year.

Dana Burton, who’s from Brooklyn, N.Y., has been looking forward to voting since she was a little girl. “I always went with my parents whenever they voted, so it’s always been one of those gateways to adulthood, to vote and to do your part and see changes made,” she says.

It’s not just a right, the students say, it’s a duty. “Realizing that I actually have the power, the right to vote, I feel like I should use it,” says Chris Davis of Framingham, Mass. “I have a responsibility, and it’s good to be able to make a statement,” he says.

Activist students at Tufts are part of a larger trend, says Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), an organization that gathers and analyzes data about political and civic engagement among young people and is based at Tisch College. According to Levine, twice as many young people turned out in the 2008 primaries as in past elections, and turnout is expected to increase in the general election as well.

“Young people are doing more organizing and are more enthusiastic” about this election than in the past, Levine says.

Tim Lesinski, a freshman from Dedham, Mass., certainly fits that profile. He’s been an Obama supporter since 2005, and says he hoped Obama would get the nomination “even before he was in the running for president.” Lesinski has been to New Hampshire to canvass “five or six times,” and had signed up to visit the Granite State the weekend before the election.

He also believes that young voters are playing a vital role in this election. “Young people have been what’s driven Obama’s momentum,” Lesinski says.

Part of the excitement leading up to Election Day stems from the historic nature of the election. Obama, of course, is the first black man to top a major party ticket, and Sarah Palin is the first Republican woman vice presidential candidate. And Hillary Clinton nearly edged out Obama for the Democratic nomination and would have become the first woman atop a major party ticket.

Jordana Woodley of Montclair, N.J., says she and her parents recognize the historical significance of this election, especially because of the special link she has with Obama: her father is black and her mother is white. “They were really stressing that I vote,” Davis says.

Ezra Salzman-Gubbay believes that this election is groundbreaking. “We are entertaining the idea of electing a black president, and I think that’s very important,” says Salzman-Gubbay, who’s from Brooklyn, N.Y. “I think that’s taking a big leap for this country in the direction we need to go in.”

According to Pike, the election is “a conversation-starter, because everyone will know about it, and somebody might have something to say.”

Not everyone at Tilton has been thrilled with the nonstop politics, though. “I try to avoid the election, especially here at Tufts, because I find that often it will just lead to unnecessary arguments and sort of preachy conversations between people—especially here, because it’s certainly a one-sided campus regarding politics,” says Michael Siegel, an engineering student from Silver Spring, Md. “I am a liberal, so I’m fine with that, but to a certain point, everyone’s just regurgitating each other’s own ideas, and it gets really, really annoying.”

And while Obama was the candidate of choice for most of the Tilton freshmen, the vote clearly wasn’t unanimous. On one dorm room door were a variety of stickers such as “Obamination” and “Nobama.”

When their parents first voted for a president, they followed the campaigns in print and on television, but the freshmen in Tilton learned about the candidates almost exclusively online. They reported going to CNN and the New York Times online, and news aggregators like Yahoo! and YouTube.

That said, William Huang of New York City says he takes what he reads with a grain of salt. “I try to go to websites that have the data that refute some of the claims made by both candidates,” he says.

No matter which candidate the Tufts first-time voters supported, many of them were excited simply because they were finally able to cast a vote. “It’s a big deal to me, I think, because voting seems to be a big deal in this country,” says Pike. “You’ve been given that right, so you should exercise the right to vote, because you get to choose your leader. It’s your choice, which is kind of cool.”

Peter Bendix, A08, is an editorial assistant in the Office of Publications. He can be reached at

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