RIC students are learning the ins and outs of politics, from rhetorical strategy to stagecraft and image making. RIC senior Mistura Ottun (pictured right) shares her thoughts during a class discussion.
Many media observers dubbed this year’s midterm elections as a consequential one. During the hotly contested election season, a group of Rhode Island College students studied all sides of political discourse in statewide campaign races.
“We peeled away each layer of this campaign, decoded the images the campaign projected, analyzed the political and message strategy and looked at each candidate's roadmap to an electoral victory,” says RIC Associate Professor of Communication Valerie Endress, referring to her COMM 352: Political Communication course.
Students enrolled in the course automatically become members of the American Democracy Project (ADP), a network of nearly 300 state colleges and universities focused on preparing the next generation to be informed and engaged in an equitable civil society. RIC’s ADP chapter began in 1992, presenting several debates and forums to inform voters, support the election process and encourage citizens to learn about issues that shape the political agenda.
Before the midterm election season ended on Nov. 8, ADP and NBC Channel 10 teamed up to host the final debates for Rhode Island’s gubernatorial and congressional elections, held in RIC’s Sapinsley Hall. Focus group sessions took place after the debates to analyze the aftermath and determine whether any minds were changed.
Preparation prior to the debate was intense, says Matt Thureson, a RIC senior in Endress’ course who served as one of the moderators at a post-debate focus session.
“We had to think deeply about what the average person would be looking for during the debate,” says Thureson, who presides as 2022-23 president of RIC’s Student Community Government. “We knew there would be people from all over Rhode Island there, from Democratic and Republican parties, and we were hoping for independents.”
It was up to Thureson and his classmates to compose the 15 questions for focus group participants and a few for debate moderator Channel 10 anchor Gene Valicenti.
Endress says the students immersed themselves in rhetorical strategy, polls, issues and media. They also dissected the role of citizenship, rhetoric, stagecraft and image making.
“Our look at the campaign was broad and deep,” Endress says. “We approached it with the perspective of a historian, the scrutiny of an adversarial journalist and the insight of a backroom political strategist. By the conclusion of this project, students were equipped with the skills needed to conduct focus groups as a method of research and to do so competently in other courses or in their future places of employment.”
A political novice before taking the course, RIC senior Mistura Ottun says she gained invaluable insight.
“Now I’m more aware and passionate about learning what political candidates stand for,” Ottun says. “I feel empowered to use my voice, implore others to do the same, and to do the research before going out to vote.”
Edward Rivera, another RIC senior, says the course helped him dispel preconceived notions.
“I used to think politics was just a bunch of people playing games,” he says, noting that he may consider running for city council one day.
Visit the Department of Communication to learn more about our program.