Playing Politics for Regional Campuses

Zach Sparks stands at The Ohio State University at Newark smiling in front of McConnell HallZach Sparks, junior psychology major (attended Regional Campus Day at the Ohio Statehouse on February 12 with fellow student Jesse McAndrew and Ohio State Newark Dean/Director William L. MacDonald, PhD.)

Regional Campus Day at the Ohio Statehouse was the most stereotypical political experience you could imagine. Not the TV-soundbite, petty back-and-forth politics dominating the news cycle right now, mind you, but the real, honest-to-God political legwork that is constantly happening behind the scenes of every political decision being made.

We started the day going to a conference room with all the other students and deans to meet with Chancellor Randy Gardner. When we arrived, some of the other students were sharing their stories and explaining why regional campuses were important to them. We got to hear about the challenges of being a nontraditional student from a mom with three kids, a tale of being an involved and active student from a student government president, and the experience of being an immigrant from Europe coming to learn in the U.S. with hopes to become a citizen. These stories, along with the others we heard, each highlighted a different element to the regional campus experience, and it was amazing to be able to hear from so many other students from across Ohio. Afterward, the chancellor discussed why he cared about regional campuses and how much he appreciated us coming, and he wished us luck as we began our day of politicking.

After this meeting with all the day’s attendees, we all dispersed to begin meeting with our respective state senators and representatives. We were booked for four meetings throughout the day — two senators and two representatives — and each of these meetings followed the same pattern: We would show up at our registered time; the congressperson would actually be very busy and a staff person would meet with us instead; Jesse, Dr. MacDonald and I would all explain why we care about regional campuses; we would all thank each other, and we would leave. Simple as that.

I understand that this description of events could come off as simplistic or even a bit dismissive, but I want to strongly empathize that it isn’t meant to in any way: That’s just politics. Jesse, Dr. MacDonald and I each got to play the role of being a lobbyist for the interest of regional campuses that day, and we played the part well. Even if we were not there to take a stance on any specific legislation (something we were asked about in each office), each of those congressperson’s offices got to see three people that took the time out of their day to show up, tell their story and say “Hey, don’t forget about us.”

To me, even though I’m still pretty new to the political game, this is the most basic yet essential part of politics. We weren’t there to push any specific agenda or tell the congresspersons to vote this way or that; we were there to give a face to a very important demographic in this state. We showed up to remind the congresspeople that each of their decisions has a real impact on real people, whether that’s students who are supporting a family back home, immigrants just trying to start a life in this country or college drop-outs, like me, who need regional campuses to have a second chance.

Even though a lot of that day was spent sitting in an office waiting room or walking around lost in a 30-floor skyscraper, I’m very glad I got to be a part of it. My experience on this campus has dramatically changed my life and opened new opportunities for me, and I know many other students think the same way. Keeping regional campuses in the minds of our state legislators is so important for the success of those campuses, and I would gladly spend another day playing politics to make that happen.

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