National, state and local elected officials visited Dixie State University to help cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the DSU Institute of Politics and Public Affairs Oct. 26.
It was standing-room only outside the Gardner Student Center as U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, President Biff Williams and student leaders of the IOP spoke about how students can be involved in politics. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch was also scheduled to make an appearance at the grand opening, but he canceled due to meetings in District of Columbia, said Rob Porter, Hatch’s chief of staff, who spoke at the event in Hatch’s stead.
“In many ways, politics is a reflection of our society and culture, which is why having an institute like the one we’re inaugurating today is so essential for the community,” Porter said. “This will be a home for students and the community to come and learn about issues and discuss different points of view.”
After a few brief speeches about the importance of the IOP at DSU, James Kener, a senior English major from Murray and student director of the DSU Institute of Politics, cut the ribbon with a pair of oversized scissors. He was joined by a few DSU administrators and politicians including St. George Mayor Jon Pike, state Sen. Don Ipson, state Rep. Bradley Last, state Sen. Lowry Snow and Stewart.
“Our goal is to just to engage with the community, in particularly with the students at [DSU] so millennials understand the importance of engaging in the election process,” said IOP director Henrie Walton.
Walton said another goal of the IOP is to increase student leadership and political internship opportunities for students at DSU.
“We’ve been lucky to place four interns in [District of Columbia] and Salt Lake City just in this past semester,” Walton said. “We’ll continue to grow that program to put DSU even more on the map.”
Stewart said the IOP’s efforts to involve students at DSU in politics is important because it will help students get out to vote and inspire future political leaders.
“We don’t know what challenges our leaders will have to deal with in the years ahead of us, but we also don’t know the good things we’re going to see in the years ahead of us,” Stewart said. “This is a great time to get involved in politics, so that’s what we’re asking you to do. [The IOP] is going to allow you to do that.”
The grand opening for the IOP was the capstone event of Freedom Week at DSU, where students are being encouraged by members of DSU Student Association and the IOP to vote and get involved in politics. Other events during Freedom Week included a Voter Registration Blitz and a Pizza and Politics event to discuss why millennials should care about elections.
Kener said the goal of Freedom Week is to get students registered to vote and to show that “politics can be cool.”
“Millennials have a lot of power in politics,” Kener said. “We want to make sure they’re informed and they feel welcome to share their point of view because they can make a difference.”
Geo Monrreal, a freshman computer science major from St. George, said he attended the grand opening of the IOP to learn more about what’s available for students to learn about politics before the election.
“Especially with this election, people don’t really know what’s going on; they just hear the negativity from both sides on social media,” Monrreal said. “Having [the IOP] on campus and teaching about how to vote with Freedom Week is something we really need here.”