Unpacking political participation with the OEI

Kristi Weyand

FOR THE QC

The day after the closely-watched midterm elections, the Office of Equity of Inclusion (OEI) and Assistant Director Kayla Kosaki hosted a Midterm Election Debriefing event. The event covered the results of the election, and what they meant to individuals, and to vulnerable communities. There was consensus among those in attendance that dialogues, like this one, are incredibly important, yet few had ever had access to discussions similar to this before. 

The snacks and sweets provided, as well as the two large beanbags for lounging, made the event feel homey and contributed to a level of comfort where students felt they could honestly share their emotions and opinions on the election. According to first-year Diversity Ambassador at the OEI, Kea Minami, these spaces are critical because, “people just don’t realize that politics affects them and their daily lives, so having these kinds of conversations opens it up and allows people to think about politics more.”

The event started on a positive note by discussing the many firsts which happened as a result of this election. Despite occurring outside the state of California, or other home states of those in attendance, the elections of the first two Indigenous American women — Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids — and the first two Muslim women — Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — to Congress were mentioned as incredibly uplifting, and a conversation on the importance of representation and systematic barriers ensued. While it was noted that many historic boundaries were broken as a result of this election, people were also eager to talk about the voter suppression that occurred across the country and how it disproportionately impacted people of color. Instead of distancing themselves from the national silencing of voices, they expressed concern over this and hoped the increase in representation as a result of the election would lead to change.

Since there were a few first-time voters present, Kosaki was curious to see how they prepared for the election. While most of the students present said they searched for information on social media and online voter guides, a couple people stated that their families had encouraged them to vote and helped them through the process. One student shared a current events Google document with her friends as a way to collectively stay up-to-date. Given the current political climate, it was stressed how crucial it is to remain updated while still taking breaks for one’s mental health if needed.

The midterm elections highlighted how important local elections can be to those in attendance. This sparked a “what now” conversation; students were curious to see how they could make their voices heard after the election. Engaging within one’s community was emphasized, and everyone agreed that they wanted to start volunteering with local organizations, whether or not they were locals themselves. Other options that were suggested were holding elected officials accountable by calling, texting, or even writing letters, preparing for the 2020 election by remaining educated, and simply paying attention to current events and how they impact the political environment.

Kosaki had one final question before the discussion was wrapped up: “How did the election leave you feeling?” Excited, interested, and hopeful were the most common answers, but there was a sense of agreement that they would have to wait until they saw action from the newly elected candidates to be able to pinpoint how they felt about the outcome.

After the Midterm Election Debriefing concluded, first-year Catherine Tang shared that she “ . . .  felt kind of emotionally drained, but it’s because I’m a sensitive person and talking about politics always takes a lot out of me.” She added, “I liked being able to discuss it in a supportive environment.” Often times, understanding the results of an election and what they entail is just as difficult as figuring out who and what to vote for beforehand. As a campus with a large number of first-time voters, it was important to hold a discussion that helped the student body understand the results and talk about how they felt regarding certain outcomes.