Examining the 2020 Election through a Critical Lens – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Examining the 2020 Election through a Critical Lens

Visiting Professor of Political Science J. Ricky Price first started using the messaging app GroupMe to keep his students connected when classes went virtual in the spring. Being able to engage in an ongoing, real-time conversation has proved especially relevant for his “Campaigns and Elections” class this fall.

Price notes that the constant news cycle and “giant earthquakes in the political world” — including the coronavirus pandemic, mail-in voting and the Supreme Court vacancy — have informed and changed the class on a near-daily basis. “We’re living through the election while I’m teaching it,” he says.

Religious studies and political science double major Naomi Radtke Rowe ’22 appreciated the presence of the group chat during the first presidential debate, where some students participated in the HWS Votes-sponsored watch party in the Vandervort Room and others watched virtually. “It was a really intense couple of hours, and it was so cathartic to process things as they were happening with people that you know were thinking about it in the same frame of mind that you were,” she says.

Price’s 300-level course is divided into three sections. First, each student has been tasked with following three candidates — one at the local level, one at the state level and one from the presidential election — and putting together election notebooks for each. After the election, they’ll use the data they’ve gathered to write a paper analyzing what happened in each contest.

Maine native Radtke Rowe is following Sarah Iannarone in the Portland, Ore., mayoral race, Sara Gideon in the Senate race, and Joe Biden in the general election. Classmate Tanner Bissonette ’22, an environmental studies major with an eye on declaring a second major in political science, is following Biden as well, along with Chris Bubser, candidate for a House of Representatives seat in California’s 8th Congressional District, and Sarah Rae, who is running for Town Council in Bissonette’s hometown of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Civic engagement makes up the second piece of the course. Students can choose to help HWS Votes with their class visits, encouraging voter registration and participation; develop their own get-out-the-vote strategy to register 20 friends and then follow up to see if they voted; or, for the less extroverted, write reflections on current events, the candidates they’re following and the texts they’re reading for class.

The final component of the class is to write a campaign strategy document for the 2024 candidate of their dreams — living or dead, real or imagined. “They can try to run Bugs Bunny if they want,” says Price, “but I want to know all the details of how they’ll run that campaign.” Both Bissonette and Radtke Rowe are still considering who their ideal 2024 candidate will be.

In an election fraught with emotion, Radtke Rowe appreciates the perspective she’s gained in class. “There’s a tendency to be highly emotional — which is totally valid — but the class gives us a chance to filter everything through a lens of theory and analysis,” she says. “For me, that’s taken away some of the stress and shock factor of things.”

Bissonette agrees. “Professor Price creates an environment where everyone feels comfortable to share their opinions about politics without having to worry about being criticized,” he says. “Ideas are critically discussed, but people are never attacked for having certain beliefs, which I think allows everyone to feel more comfortable talking and sharing in class, and that leads to better, more intellectual discussions.”