We asked students from all across the country: Which presidential candidates and issues are students buzzing about on your campus? In this fourth installment of CNBC's politics on campus series, Claire Smith, editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin, talks about the importance of student involvement in our political environment.
When you attend a university with a 50,000-plus student population like the University of Texas at Austin, campus is always buzzing about something.
In the last six months, some of the hottest national issues have played out on the UT campus. This summer, the university grappled with and ultimately removed some — but not all — Confederate iconography on campus following the tragic shooting in Charleston.
UT has also begun the vast undertaking of a comprehensive four-year study on sexual assault, coupled with grassroots, student-led movements like Not on My Campus and Take Back the Night, to address one of the most serious, student-specific epidemics of our generation.
In addition, UT has been embroiled in debate over campus carrying, a law allowing the concealed carry of firearms on public university campuses. And of course, mental health remains an important, if often overlooked, issue for students, with legislation mandating greater mental health resources on college campuses following a UT student's suicide in 2014.
It is fitting that these issues are being played out on the Forty Acres, a campus with a vibrant history of student activism and an alumni base rich in change agents.
But student feelings about these issues will never matter if students are not voting — and they aren't. The Flawn Academic Center (FAC) is a popular student meeting place located next to the Tower, right in the center of campus. The FAC was also the seventh least used polling location in Travis County. This is appalling in a place that is supposed to be so thoroughly engaged.
The failure to vote will have severe consequences for life in Texas. Seven proposed changes to the Texas Constitution passed with meager input from the population. Granted, while some provisions, like the one protecting the right to hunt and fish on the basis of heritage, will not impact most Texans, others will.
For example, the provision expanding the homestead exemption could impact public school funding and exacerbate inequalities between districts. Another, allows at-large officials to reside in their home counties instead of Travis County, the seat of our state government, will alter proceedings in trials prosecuting officials.
Additionally, the failure of the HERO Ordinance in the most recent election makes Houston the only major city in the nation that lacks a provision protecting citizens from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Students are not indifferent to these issues. Rather, student voter apathy is a product of the utter brokenness of the American political system today.
Ben Carson's Bible-inspired tax plan, Ted Cruz's "Green Eggs and Ham" filibuster, and Donald Trump's "Trumpness" make the Republican field look more like a carnival sideshow than a serious field of presidential contenders.
And the Democratic field is not better: The average student cannot name any candidate other than Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and even Clinton, endeavoring to run on the purported strength of her record, has flip-flopped on almost every major issue of the 20th century and several decisions she executed on Obama's behalf as Secretary of State.
Students are not engaged because we aren't inspired by the people who want to lead our country. And why should we be? We are young, but we aren't stupid.
Nevertheless, student apathy is not a foregone conclusion. In 2014, UT's student government registered 10,000 students prior to the midterm elections, and deputized resident assistants over the summer in anticipation of the off-year elections this year. Organizations like Hook the Vote exist for the sole purpose of engaging student voters and facilitating student participation in this vital civic process.
Students are not blind to the issues around them, but we lack confidence in the power of voting, to all of our detriment.
We, as students, have the power to help chart our nation's course by spending a few minutes in the ballot box. It is a sad truth that today's political structure has failed our country to the degree that our students have lost faith in it, and it is an utter tragedy that students doubt the importance and potential of their own voices and votes.
Commentary by Claire Smith, a history and humanities senior at the University of Texas in Austin. She is also the editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan. Follow her on Twitter @claireseysmith.