HWS Junior, Delegate at College Debate 2016

By Holly Zahn | September 07, 2016

Res24741Rotimi Adeoye received a crash course in democratic engagement this summer as a student delegate at College Debate 2016. Adeoye was selected to participate in this initiative based on his exemplar accomplishments as a rising junior in political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, an Imagining America member institution.

Led by Dominican University of California, College Debate 2016 is a national, non-partisan initiative to empower young voters to identify issues and engage peers in the Fall presidential election. Student delegates representing colleges and universities from all 50 states converged on the Dominican campus in June to plan strategies for using social media to expand conversations with young voters nationwide.

Adeoye, a liberal Hillary Clinton supporter, arrived at the Dominican campus and was immediately thrust into a cohort of students from around the country with a variety of backgrounds and political persuasions.

After screening her documentary film Bring it to the Table, filmmaker Julie Winokur talked with the delegates about bridging political divides, examining assumptions, and engaging in civil discourse. In small groups, they learned how to ask open questions, listen well to others, and reflect upon their own attitudes and behaviors.

Adeoyo found the dialogue to be revelatory. “This experience strengthened my understanding by listening to what other people believe in. I am a big democrat, and I went into this experience thinking it was going to be hard; but I am slowly starting to see that others have a reason for what they believe,” he says.

Adeoye adopted a commitment to democratic participation from his parents, who immigrated to the United States from Nigeria before he was born. They emphasized the importance of voting throughout Adeoye’s life.

“Education and immigration policy are important to me,” says Adeoye. “My parents immigrated to America to seek purpose, freedom, and vast opportunities to create a better life for themselves. Thus fair immigration laws that speak to the innate values of our nation is vital.”

Since the convention, Adeoye returned to college with a new perspective. In collaboration with other delegates, he is working on a social media campaign, #IVoteBecause, which invites young people everywhere to share videos and photos about why they are voting and what issues they care about.

Delegates return to the Dominican campus September 6-7 for the 2016 College Convention to share the work they’ve accomplished since the June convening.

“People are sometimes afraid of talking about big issues, but when you ask, why do you believe what you believe, you go beyond personality politics to a deeper level of understanding,” says Adeoye. “This initiative is important because the reality is that young people are the future.”