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In the past year, five pro-candidate groups have established themselves on Penn's campus in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election. | Courtesy of Denise Cross/Creative Commons

College senior Louis Capozzi recalls Penn’s political scene looking very different during his freshman year than it does now.

Despite it being the 2012 election season, there was no Penn for Obama or Penn for Romney groups. The only active political organization on campus was Penn Democrats, which focused mainly on hosting speaker events.

“In 2012, my friends and I wanted there to be a debate on campus, but there was no organization creating a space for it,” Capozzi said. “So we decided to start the Government and Politics Association, a debate-focused group, and one that had more political diversity. Penn is a very liberal campus, and back then, those who weren’t liberal didn’t have anywhere to go. We wanted a group where libertarians, conservatives, liberals, anyone could come together and exchange ideas.”

To Capozzi’s and fellow politically-minded students’ delight, a lot has changed since 2012.

Penn’s political scene is more abuzz than before. Political clubs are boasting higher membership numbers. And already, five pro-candidate groups have established ground on campus — Penn Students for Bernie, Penn for Hillary, Penn for Kasich, Penn Students for Rand and Students for Rubio — months before even the state primaries.

“I’m happy there are so many Penn for [blank] groups,” said College junior Joe Kiernan, co-founder of Penn for Kasich. “We’re a major university with a lot people who are going to end up being in government or positions of power, and it’s important for people to get involved now and learn where they stand before they go out into the world.”

Kiernan says he was politically active since his high school years and envisioned himself being involved in Penn right-wing politics since the start of his college career. The story of how College junior and co-founder of Penn for Bernie Matre Grant got involved in college politics is different. She was not politically active before coming to Penn or even during her freshman year, but joined a caucus of the Penn Political Union her sophomore year to support a friend. It was there she met Capozzi and joined GPA, and later co-founded Penn for Bernie this summer.

“We haven’t had our first GBM, but our listserv has over 300 people,” Grant said. “If there's one thing I want Penn for Bernie to be, it's supportive of other groups. Of course, we want Bernie to win, but I personally want to spread the love of politics and a socially liberal platform across this campus.”

All of the founding members of these pro-candidate groups are members of GPA. College junior Sarah Simon, the president of GPA, says this is no coincidence.

“GPA exposes people to different types of viewpoints because people from all over the political spectrum are getting together and debating about issues,” Simon said. “And as people become more knowledgeable, they are able to sort out their own beliefs and stand by them. It strengthens their political views. And this has stimulated pro-partisan campaign politics, which is a great thing.”

Capozzi also accredits the increased political activity on campus to the growth of Penn’s political science department in recent years.

“The department has a much better reputation now, and this draws more politically active freshmen to Penn,” Capozzi said. “And thanks to GPA, campus political life has the infrastructure to meet the needs and demands of these politically active students.”

While Penn’s politically active students differ on which candidates, policies and parties they support, they can all stand behind the belief that political engagement is necessary.

“I encourage anyone to learn more about the political process, find a candidate they would like to support in 2016 and join a group," Grant said. "If there isn't one, make one." 

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