The Political Engagement and Leadership Alliance, or PELA, is a club based on creating an unbiased space for students of all political ideologies to gain political knowledge and talk about major issues. Sydney Howell, vice president, says the club focuses on staying bipartisan.
“I feel like when students see political clubs or organizations, they are a little put off because they fear it might be a little extreme, which is the exact opposite of what we are,” Howell said. “While we might hold opinions over a political party or the voting, we try to avoid expressing our opinions in a negative way, which is unfortunately how society views politics, a battle of ideological polarization.”
Founder of PELA and political science professor, Andrea Vieux, first created the club with the name College Independents, but soon the club changed the name due to worries that the name sounded politically affiliated.
“It seemed to give the perception that one must be a political independent to join, which isn’t the case, and so the name was changed to PELA,” Vieux said. “This name change helped us streamline and renew our mission towards civic engagement and civil discourse.”
For Kate Boyer, Secretary of PELA, political engagement is important because of the civic duty Americans have to vote.
“I believe every adult in America has the duty and responsibility to educate themselves on current politics and to make informed votes based on that information,” Boyer said.
In PELA, students get to make the decision on how involved they would like to be. Whether a student is interested in one meeting or in being an officer, Michael Stonebarger, president, says everyone is welcome.
“It sounds intimidating, it’s a really long name and anytime you throw the word politics in there it kind of scares people, but you don’t have to have any experience whatsoever,” Stonebarger said. “You get to be as involved as you want to be so you can come to just half of one meeting just to see what we do and what we’re about or you can become a little bit more involved and we have different types of positions for whatever type of person you are.”
Though this club is relatively new, founded in the spring of 2018, their members efforts and engagement with students and community have shown increase in voter registration and voter turnout by students in the past.
“In the midterm elections, members of PELA volunteered with the Engage the Election campaign on campus which resulted in JCCC achieving a higher registration and voting rate,” said Tara Karaim, PELA sponsor.
The club is looking to bring in local political leaders and talk more about major issues in this election as the election year begins to unravel. PELA is also hoping to significantly increase voter registration of students.
“We are hoping to organize events involving local political leaders as well as work with other groups, such as Student Involvement, to create informative and fun political events,” Boyer said.
The club is teaming up with the initiative “Crush the Vote” this semester to increase voter registration for students.
“We’re really interested in if we can get 71 percent of voter registration on this campus which for a college campus is crazy high,” Stonebarger said. “It’s a really hefty goal, but I think we can do it. In the last midterm elections, we were higher than almost every other campus around.”
Howell believes that the election year affects the club by bringing in more students are likely to want to be involved in politics.
“The election year has affected PELA in rather a positive way. We hold tables for people to register to vote and it draws in a lot of students and gives us the chance to talk about the club and boost it up,” Howell said.
The club’s focus this semester is also the election season and getting students involved and educated.
“This semester we are focusing on the election season and really educating people about,” Stonebarger said. “For example, a lot of people don’t know that in Kansas, the democratic primary is rank choice which is a specific type of election.”