Can’t vote, but still involved

Mark Smith talks to international students

International students listen to Mark Smith, director of the Career Center, associate vice chancellor for students and former congressional candidate, discuss election-year politics and his firsthand experience with running a campaign. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Sophomore Gangyi Sun won’t be voting this November, yet he’s still interested in politics and involved in voter engagement.

He is one of about 2,700 international students at Washington University who can’t cast ballots because they are not U.S. citizens. Despite this, Sun and many other international students are volunteering to help with the debate and affiliated events.

As a member of the Debate Programming Team, Sun, an economics major in Arts & Sciences from Singapore, helped organize the Debate Fair, an event to be held Sunday, Oct. 9, hours before the debate. During the Debate Fair, student groups will offer information to fellow students to help them make more informed choices on Election Day.

Sun said he is participating in debate programming because it is a meaningful way to become more involved in the debate and the presidential elections.

“I wanted to contribute a little to making a memorable and valuable experience for fellow students,” he said. “I thought it would also be a good opportunity to learn more about the American election and political system and to find out more about what WashU students care about.”

Emre Gunay, a senior majoring in systems engineering from Istanbul, Turkey, may have hit the jackpot with his volunteer position — he is slated to be an usher during the debate.

He’s not certain, “but I think I will be handling the seating and logistics inside the debate hall,” he said. “I am really excited about this.”

Gunay said he wanted to get involved because he has always been interested in politics — at home and in the United States. “It took me a while to understand what primaries, national conventions and midterm elections meant. It is a much more complicated process than how elections are held back home.”

Yuchen Song is a graduate architecture student from Beijing, China. She will be volunteering as a bus attendant Sunday and also helping the Commission on Presidential Debates with security.  “It is very cool to get involved in such a nationwide, important event as an international student,” she said.

She has a basic understanding of the U.S. election process, but “this opportunity motivates me to look into more details of the current condition of the country, the parties, the different policies, the candidates, the presidents in the past, and how all of these are integrated into the process of election. The debates are interesting for sure. I don’t watch such debates in my country.”

‘An exceptional opportunity’ to learn about the U.S.

Rachel Gu, who is awaiting details about her volunteer position, is a first-year student in the master of accounting program in Olin Business School. As a student from Yunnan Province, China, she volunteered because she wanted to know more about American culture. “The presidential debate is one the most influential and watched events in the United States,” she said. “I feel that being a volunteer is an exceptional opportunity for me to better experience life in the United States. Besides, I feel so glad to study at WashU and would be happy to do whatever I can to contribute to this community.”

During election season, the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) is planning several events to help explain aspects of the U.S. political system to international students, including a pre-debate talk Friday by former congressional candidate Mark Smith, titled “Elections 101: Understanding Presidential Elections.” Smith is the director of the Career Center and associate vice chancellor for students. The OISS events culminate on Election Day, when international students can go through the voting process and cast a virtual vote on a real voting machine.

“There is a lot of energy and excitement on campus,” said Jason Marquart, international student adviser in OISS. “For those who can’t vote in November, our programs hopefully offer an opportunity to feel more connected.”

international students

International students listen to Smith discuss the U.S. election and politics at the Stix International House.
(Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)