Debate between College Democrats and College Republicans

College Democrats and College Republicans debate about free speech on Civic Engagement Day.

Students Vote, Engage in Civic Debate

Lehigh gives students a day off from classes on Election Day to encourage participation in the electoral process.

Photography by

Christa Neu

A cluster of Lehigh students gathered in Neville Hall at 9 a.m. on Election Day (Nov. 8), wearing stickers that boasted “Lehigh Votes” and grabbing breakfast provided by the Office of Student Auxiliary Services.

Declan Coster ’23 stood nearby, organizing the students into groups, each with a student leader who would escort them to one of four local polling sites so that they could cast their votes in the 2022 midterm elections.

Declan Coster '23 moderates a debate

Declan Coster '23 moderates a debate between College Democrats and College Republicans.

Coster, a member of the Student Senate and the founder and vice president of The Douglas Dialogues, said his ultimate goal for the day was simple: to get as many Lehigh students as possible to vote Tuesday.

Lehigh students had the day off from classes to both vote and engage in student programming as part of the university’s Civic Engagement Day.

Coster worked in tandem with other members of the Student Senate, College Democrats, College Republicans, Douglas Dialogues and Student Political Action Coalition (SPAC), consolidating into a group called Lehigh Votes to organize Civic Engagement Day: 2022 Midterms.

Coster said he believes Election Day in the United States should be a national holiday, and that the effort of smaller communities, like Lehigh’s, shows the country that Civic Engagement Day can be successful, productive and helpful.

Planning started weeks earlier, with campus groups educating students on voting and getting them registered, while also planning student engagements.

For students who “don’t know enough about politics,” Coster said, getting them engaged starts with having them think about what they care about. Once articulated, they can find candidates who align with their views.

Three important races were at stake in the state: a U.S. Senate seat, a U.S. House of Representatives seat and Pennsylvania Governor. With Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District a swing district, he said, students voting was all the more crucial. He said these elections could come down to a few thousand votes–a Lehigh-sized difference.

“Independent of what your political background is, this election and this area is important,” Coster said prior to Election Day. “The impact of every election for most Lehigh students has been really consequential, and this one is probably going to be the most important midterm in our lifetime. Any issue that you care about in the political space is going to be impacted by who gains power in this year's election. Students are going to be able to have an impact on how those issues will affect their Lehigh experience.”

Students had the opportunity to attend a talk titled “Elections Have Consequences” by political science professor Brian Fife, as well as attend a debate between College Democrats and College Republicans on the topic of free speech. Coster and Raihan Alam ‘23 mediated the debate between panelists Sam Denison ’24 president of College Democrats, and Miranda Asral ’23 vice president of College Democrats, and Stephen Kelly ’24 president of College Republicans, and Marietta Sisca, ‘23 president of College Republicans.

Professor Brian Fife speaks

Students listen to a talk by Professor Brian Fife titled "Elections Have Consequences."

Throughout the hour-long debate, the moderators fielded questions and comments from the audience.

Bonor Ayambem ‘23 was among the students who attended. She said she believes it is important to stay informed and politically active.

She said she finds many people don’t engage in political conversations because they can be uncomfortable. She said having events like these organized at the university are important and make having these conversations easier.

“I really loved the idea,” Ayambem said. “It's very difficult to get political conversations right, so I think any attempt is a good attempt. Politics are everything. You cannot escape it. If you think you are not involved in politics, you very much are because politics is involved in you.”

Lehigh Votes rounded off its student engagements with a talk titled, “Reclaim Your Future: How to be Civically Engaged 365” and lunch, where students were provided with pizza and escorted to their polling sites.

Coster said the events left him feeling energized, and he was happy to have participation from students who are genuinely interested and care about being civically engaged.

“I'm really excited about the amount of students who voted,” Coster said. “I feel that seeing the impact the Lehigh community can have in this U.S. election will convince other people to be involved in the future. To be able to vote requires 15 minutes maximum to complete all the forms and then it takes a good bit of soul searching to figure out who you're going to vote for, but all the time we're going to put into that is going to be worth it."

Students vote in the 2022 midterm elections

Lehigh students wait in line at the Banana Factory to cast their votes for the 2022 midterm elections.

Evy Rahmey ‘23 voted at St. John’s Windish Lutheran Church at 8:45 a.m. to avoid voter lines. A New York native, Rahmey chose to vote in Pennsylvania because she felt it would have a greater impact.

She said she encourages students to formulate their own ideas, and voting is a great way to do that. She hopes students felt excited to vote, instead of viewing it as a chore.

“Being civically engaged is important because it enables you to have a direct impact on your community and really emphasizes how, when individuals do something and change their behavior, we can really make a difference,” she said.

2022 marks the first in-person Civic Engagement Day during a midterm election, and it comes after a couple years of work by Lehigh students.

During his sophomore year, Coster served as the Student Senate representative for the calendar committee, composed of faculty, staff and a student representative who address questions surrounding the academic calendar and pose solutions to the provost. During his time in this role, he worked on having the day off for Election Day.

Coster worked closely with David Owolabi ‘20, the main lobbyist for Civic Engagement Day. Owolabi started a petition that garnered over 1,600 signatures. In 2020, the Senate voted in favor of canceling classes in observance of the holiday. Lehigh later approved this decision, making 2021 the first Civil Engagement Day.

Although students still had classes on Election Day in 2020, several organizations conducted events to be held over Zoom. Coster and Owolabi planned a day that looked similar to the roster of events from this year, including a debate between the College Democrats and College Republicans and a lecture by Fife.

Coster was also involved in planning last year’s Civic Engagement Day, which he said was largely organized by a graduate student from the Community Service Office. This year was a community effort, with the several involved groups organizing under Lehigh Votes.

Coster reminds students that if they have questions or want to get engaged, there are several organizations they can go to–not just on Election Day.

–Story by Christina Perrier ‘23

Photography by

Christa Neu

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