A heated discussion on minority voters and their representation in government Thursday night proved that some college students are anything but apathetic about the presidential election.
The Black Student Movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cross First and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity Inc. hosted the forum, "Tokenism in the 2000 Elections: Empowering the African-American Voter."
The forum gave students an opportunity to interact with representatives of the Al Gore, George W. Bush and Ralph Nader campaigns and to hear how these candidates propose to meet the needs of blacks.
"We felt that, historically, candidates have neglected to campaign to college students, especially minorities," said Tyra Moore, coordinator of the event. "We wanted to give students a chance to be informed and to vote intelligently."
Students were receptive to the idea behind the forum.
"Voters don't always know how candidates feel about issues relevant to them," said Courtney Jones, a freshman from Apex. "This gave information on each candidates' stance."
During the first half of the forum, party representatives each had five minutes to answer the question, "How does your candidate plan to represent black voters?"
Emotions ran high as each representative argued that his candidate could best meet the needs of the minority constituency. "Ralph Nader is the only candidate that can give African-American voters a chance for change," said senior Harry Halpin, representative of the Green Party. "We have a racist society, and we have to take action."
Keith Bryant, a registered Democrat supporting Bush in the presidential election, countered with Republican views on affirmative action and education vouchers as ways to promote blacks. "Bush plans to use affirmative access as a means of improving education and the work force for blacks," he said. "Affirmative access is about making sure that individuals are not discriminated against on the basis of race."
But Rodney Shelton, a member of the Gore campaign, said affirmative action should be maintained for the time being. "Until we can walk in one accord, the playing field has to be leveled."
As the forum moved to open discussion and students reacted to party representatives' assertions, tempers flared. "How can a candidate like Bush, considering his positions on issues like the death penalty and gun control, help the African-American population?" came the rhetorical question from Student Body Secretary Michael Woods, a sophomore from Chicago.
Erica Smiley, a junior political science major, also expressed a desire to see the candidates meet the needs of black voters more effectively.
"We all realize that Gore or Bush is going to win the election, and we need to choose our target well," she said. "If we want to do something to make a change for ourselves, we have to influence our targets."
As the event closed, audience members and representatives continued their verbal tug-of-war over each candidate's potential to best improve conditions for blacks.
But despite the strong words exchanged, representatives acknowledged the importance of each individual's opinion and vote.
"The most important thing you can do as a young voter is to not be influenced by any one person," Shelton said. "In considering your vote, do the research and make up your own mind."
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