One of the most common jokes about The Daily Campus is that nobody reads The Daily Campus. As much as we tease about it, though, there’s always a sort of a tension in the laughing. Nobody wants to feel like their efforts are in vain, and I’d say we do generally good work. Of course, when a big story breaks, everyone is reading the paper for it. But why do we sometimes have trouble with reaching people?
In other news, the 2020 Joint Elections at the University of Connecticut were last week. Regardless of the way the votes went, it’s disappointing to see the low turnout this year: Significantly fewer than 3,000 votes were cast in all. All students have some opinions on the way our campus is run, so why can we not get better turnout here?
It feels so clear to me that it’s important to stay informed. We want to know things; we want to have an impact on the world around us. So why is public engagement so difficult to cultivate?
It’s important first to note this is not just a problem for us. Over the past decade, the media industry has taken a hit. According to Pew Research, newsroom employment fell by about 25% from 2008 to 2017. We are seeing yet more layoffs in publications around the country. With the Democratic primary season well underway, we are also witnessing plenty of problems related to low turnout. Young people especially are not coming to the polls, but low turnout in primary and general elections have plagued the United States for decades.
Of course, there is a big part of the issue that just comes down to time. People are busy, and many people don’t prioritize things like public engagement. This can be especially difficult at the local level. At UConn, many students are more engaged with both the larger scale — like national or world politics — or the smaller — like their individual clubs and social circles. Our community-wide matters just fall by the wayside naturally.
We will never be able to convince everyone that they should care about local public engagement. This is a pipe dream. But there’s still a big space to fill between 100% engagement and the pitiable amount we have now.
Filling this gap means solving the problem of disillusionment. Disillusionment occurs when there is a disconnect between the reported importance of a group or action and the actual effect of that group or action. Distrust of media is at such a level where we elected a president whose method of deflecting criticism involves just claiming, “Fake news!” Through voter suppression, unequal representation and other issues, people don’t feel like they have an important role in the political system, either.
At UConn in particular, we have not always done the greatest job at fighting disillusionment. Organizations like the Undergraduate Student Government and The Daily Campus haven’t always been the best at following the exact will of the students, or at least have faced derision from students for this being the perception. It’s not an easy task — the student body is so fractured and diverse that it never will be — but it is something we must be aware of and work against always.
How do we do this? We must work to make sure students feel heard and listened to. We must act transparently and justifiably. We must take a look at things like outreach and accountability. And we must make sure we are thinking about how we can best serve our diverse constituency.
To be clear, I am not saying groups are not working on this already. But as our society continues its suspicion against media and traditional power structures, so too will our student body become suspicious toward their media and governmental systems. In order to promote trust and public engagement at UConn, we must all reflect on where these thoughts are coming from, whether they are justified and what we can do to fix the important issues.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.