Benedictine students during the Iowa caucuses.
Lisle, Illinois ~ Imagine having the chance to hobnob with the who’s who of national media, political insiders and powerful lobbyists. Such engagements are usually relegated to the likes of celebrities or the rich – statuses that are often intertwined.
A few weeks ago, five Benedictine students entered this elite world during an educational exploration of the 2012 Republican Party Iowa caucuses – leaving with not only an insider’s viewpoint of a unique and somewhat convoluted form of voting but also with an indelible memory of the behind-the-scenes power plays involved in presidential politics.
Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have become more influential due to political reforms. Traditionally, winners of these caucuses go on to become their party’s nominee for candidate for president of the United States.
“It was important for students to see the nature of the caucus’s function versus a primary,” said Phil Hardy, Ph.D., assistant professor of Political Science at Benedictine University. “It was interesting for students to see the artificial and manufactured nature of news media and the way they conduct interviews and the way a company tries to use media.”
Hardy, who led the expedition, said the hands-on experience students received from the political event provided invaluable insight for students, allowing them to examine concepts studied in class while learning about the unspoken politics that play out during such events.
“I attended the Iowa caucuses because I’m a bit of a political junkie, and I felt that it would be a rare opportunity to be a part of history. Also, as a Political Science major, I thought it would be a great chance for me to observe the political process and gain insight on any possible careers in the political field,” said Benedictine junior Chris Follert.
Benedictine students hobnobbed with major media journalists including NBC’s “Meet the Press’s” David Gregory and CBS’s “Face the Nation’s” Bob Schieffer. Students also attended Republican candidates Ron Paul’s press conference and Mitt Romney’s “victory” party – which is a term applied loosely after Iowa caucus officials re-tallied votes and announced weeks later that fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum won by a narrow margin over Mitt Romney.
Some students felt the Iowa caucuses were like a blowout during the Super Bowl – where the media hype around the event does not live up to its billing.
“In my opinion the process was messy. People seemed confused, since they were approached by candidates and representatives that were campaigning at the caucus location,” said Thais Molina, a senior Political Science and International Business major at Benedictine.
Students agreed that learning hands-on about the differences between primary elections and caucuses was valuable. However, also learning that many decisions are made before votes are even casts was very frustrating for some.
“I learned that the political establishment runs a little too much,” said Plainfield resident Abdon Madrigal, a recent Benedictine Political Science graduate who attended the January caucus. “I am a Ron Paul supporter and I had to grit my teeth more than a few times. For example, we were at a Politico event hosted by a number of political anchors, reporters and the governor of Iowa. It was so frustrating to hear things like `Even if Ron Paul won first place, it would be a victory for Romney.’
It was so hard for me to hold back my tongue to yell `this is not democracy!’…Before any votes were cast, every member of the establishment is writing my guy off, calling all of his supporters libertarians and displeased Obama supporters. Talk about stereotyping. It was clear that powerful people wanted Romney to win,” Madrigal added.
Students were surprised that they were actually able to meet candidates directly, and although learning about the differences between primary elections and caucuses was the focus of the students’ trip to Iowa, the social aspect of the trip was the big winner for the students, particularly with “ meeting (CNN anchor) Anderson Cooper, since I am a big fan,” said Molina. “He was very nice and posed for a photo with us.”
Benedictine consistently strives to provide students with hands-on world experience that will better prepare them for the job market. Recently, University educators conducted a research study (http://bit.ly/sNeowK) with students on the Chicago Occupy movement.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.