Why American University is the Most Politically Active Campus in the US

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American University students protesting DACA
American University students protest President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA outside the White House in September 2017. Photo: Melany Love Rochester, The Eagle

When the Princeton Review released its annual rankings of the most politically active campuses in the country earlier this month, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that the top school, American University, was located right in the nation’s capital. AU’s students weren’t too shocked, either — the school has long been a hotspot for political activism, on campus and off.

What’s been going on at American to make its student body the most politically aware in the nation?

In the past year alone, students at American have organized delegations to the March for Our Lives, rallied for a “clean DREAM act” on Capitol Hill and protested the Trump administration’s immigration policies outside the White House.

That’s not to mention the vibrant activism scene on campus, where students have held protests calling for the school’s administrators to better address the concerns of students of color and divest AU’s endowment from fossil fuel companies.

Last November, AU junior Erika Soto led a group of students to the Hart Senate Building as part of a “national walkout” organized by United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country.

Alongside over 1,000 other young people, Soto and her classmates protested for Congress to pass a “clean DREAM act” that would give legal status and a path to citizenship to undocumented people who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

“I was tired of seeing AU do nothing about undocumented youth since Trump announced he would repeal DACA,” Soto told the student newspaper, The Eagle, at the time. “I thought it was time to take action, and United We Dream provided me with that opportunity.”

When AU students “truly care about a cause, they take action,” Soto tells Youth Radio. The passion of the university’s students was something that stood out to her when she was applying to college.

“I’ve been [politically] active prior to attending AU, but it being a politically active campus helped my decision when picking universities,” Soto said.

Outside of activist causes, AU is a key source of political interns, whether students choose to work on Capitol Hill, campaigns or other political organizations in D.C.

Paige Lambermont, who is headed into her senior year at the university, represents this trend. Lambermont has interned for Americans for Tax Reform, an organization that seeks to reduce taxation in the U.S., and spent this summer interning at the American Spectator, a conservative magazine based in D.C.

Though she likes the political vibe of the campus, Lambermont understands that it’s not for everyone.

“The main drawback is for people who don’t have a political major and aren’t interested in politics,” Lambermont tells Youth Radio. “There’s pressure on them to be politically involved and knowledgeable even if that isn’t what they’re interested in.”

But, she added, “the pressure is useful for those of us who like politics, it’s an impetus to do more and be more involved.”

On campus, the options for political involvement are nearly endless. Beyond the traditional Democrat and Republican organizations, students can join policy-focused clubs like the U.S. Foreign Policy Association or issue-based groups like Students to End Abortion Stigma or Student Advocates for Native Communities.

There are also organizations like the Kennedy Political Union, a non-partisan, student-run speakers bureau that has brought prominent figures like education activist Malala Yousafzai and former president Bill Clinton to AU.

Lambermont is the outreach director for AU’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian organization which aims to promote “individual liberty” and “limited government” on campus, according to its Facebook page. While the majority of the student body identifies as liberal or leftist, Lambermont said she identifies as libertarian.

“I disagree with most people on campus, but usually that just means that I get to have interesting conversations,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I was at a social gathering where the main topic wasn’t politics.”

Soto believes that the Trump administration has also caused people to become more politically engaged not just at AU but around the world. She said that students will continue to be politically involved on campus and off.

“As long as the AU administration keeps students safe [and] creates an open dialogue and environment, there is no issue with students expressing themselves,” Soto said.

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