Democrat, Republican candidates get help from members of UTD community in 2016 race
As televised debates continue to air and primaries begin to open across the nation, presidential candidates have intensified campaign activities in an attempt to attract voters. Students have volunteered their time on campaigns to help elect their preferred candidates and to encourage political participation.
“I feel that it’s our civic duty as citizens of the United States to take interest in the decisions that will shape the government,” said Vihan Sarafa finance and economics freshman who volunteers with the Bernie Sanders campaign. “That’s the main reason I became involved in politics.”
A friend’s roommate introduced Saraf to the Sanders campaign when he invited him to a rally on Jan. 24 in Dallas. Saraf followed the candidate in the news for some time but had never attended a political rally before. He said he was surprised when he arrived at the event.
“I grew up in Austin, which is a liberal pocket in conservative Texas, and thought Dallas (would be) very, very conservative,” he said. “Walking into a room full of Bernie Sanders supporters who gave up their time and energy to come together and support him made me feel happy — it made me feel like I was part of something bigger.”
In light of the upcoming Texas primary on Mar. 1, Saraf said the local Sanders campaign plans to focus on canvassing and phone banking to increase candidate name recognition. After the primary, the campaign intends to start distributing flyers and implementing other modes of raising awareness.
Sanders’ campaign has gained popularity among millennials, particularly among college students, with the senator from Vermont leading Hillary Clinton by 41 percentage points among college students in a recent poll by Chegg. Sesha Dasari, a finance and computer science freshman, said she was compelled to join Sanders’ campaign because of his push to make college education free.
“So many of us didn’t get the opportunity to go to other schools that we got into because we couldn’t pay the tuition,” she said.
Dasari first heard about the Sanders campaign through a Facebook event for a rally. After her roommate convinced her to attend, Dasari called the local campaign team to ask about volunteering opportunities. Since then, she has worked on promoting Sanders through social media.
“I support him on Facebook — I share quotes and pictures and I like his posts,” Dasari said. “Social media is a really important part of any campaign.”
In addition to social media, academic experiences also play a role in promoting student involvement in election campaigns. History and political science senior Robby Dube joined Greg Abbott’s 2014 campaign for Texas governor for a class assignment. He has since volunteered for Pete Sessions’ congressional campaign and Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.
Dube learned about an opening for a UTD student leader position at Bush’s campaign while spending last spring in Washington, DC as an Archer Fellow.
“People aren’t aware of the fact that joining a campaign is exceptionally easy — you can just email someone and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to volunteer on the campaign,’” Dube said. “They’re open because they need people desperately.”
Dasari encouraged student involvement in the presidential election, saying politics and policies will play a critical role in the future — especially for millennials.
“Stay involved by being aware of what’s happening,” Dasari said. “Join clubs, go on Facebook pages, listen to speeches and get to know more about each candidate before making a decision. This opportunity doesn’t come around (very) often.”
Saraf agreed with these sentiments. He said it’s easy for college students in today’s world to be overwhelmed with information. Making the effort to join a campaign, he said, allowed him to break free of that constraint and formulate his own opinions.
“As students, it feels like we’re being pushed one way and then pushed the other way. Just having the opportunity to be a part of something you choose for yourself and being surrounded by similar, like-minded people is a very liberating experience,” Saraf said. “It’s something you can look back on in 15 or 20 years and say, ‘I was part of history.’”