Common Good, Moral Reasoning & the Vote: Election 2016 at Santa Clara University

By Deborah Lohse, Office of Marketing & Communications, Santa Clara University

If there are any Bronco students who don’t get out to vote on November 8th, it won’t be for lack of trying.

This year, Santa Clara University (SCU) students won’t have to step foot off campus for opportunities to attend more than a half-dozen lectures on key issues, find gathering spots to discuss the parties, candidates and platforms, watch and discuss debates, and even cast their vote on Election Day.

“Everyone agrees this is a pretty strange, exciting and interesting campaign year,” says Sophia Neuhaus, SCU’s social sciences & government information librarian who is helping to coordinate some of the many election activities on campus. “We want to make the most of that interest to provide opportunities for students to engage on issues, learn about candidates and vote.”

Many college-aged students are eligible to vote for the first time this year, and are thus making an admirable effort to become educated beyond the soundbite frenzy of Campaign 2016. Neil Datar, Senate Chair of SCU’s Associated Student Government (ASG) says, "The polarizing, often harsh statements or sometimes bending of the truth is surprising to students, who don’t like it. We are educated to take the facts and evaluate them on their own merit, but campaigns on both sides of the aisle are sometimes just creating strong positions without the requisite facts and logic to back it up.”

Santa Clara has a packed program to help students overcome the messaging mayhem and become educated voters. This fall, a series of events will help students take a deep dive into the issues at stake in this election year.


Bannan Institute: A four-part lecture series offered for four weeks in October by the Bannan Institute of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education will examine how “the common good” is being affected in this election, in terms of race, environment, economics and gender.

“The notion of the common good is an important concept in Catholic social teaching,” says William Sundstrom, a Santa Clara professor of economics, who will be giving one of the the Bannan Institute lectures this month. From Sundstrom's perspective, students should be asking, “To what extent are we all in it together? Who is ‘all of us?’”

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics: On October 18th, Santa Clara's Markkula Center will host former Congressman Tom Campbell to discuss gridlock, political polarization and the influence of money on campaigns. The following week, on October 27th, the Center will host a panel discussion on the topic of "moral reasoning" in this fractured election. Speakers will include Markkula Center government ethics director Hana Callaghan; SCU management professor Robert Finocchio; and SCU philosophy professors Scott LaBarge and Erick Ramirez.

According to David DeCosse, director of campus ethics programs at the Markkula Center, decades of scholarly and civic study on how society should judge right and wrong – moral reasoning – seem to be getting tossed out in favor of what gets the most “likes” on Facebook, or narratives that consumers find entertaining – truthful or not.  

“'Clicks' and 'likes' shouldn’t determine what is morally important, what questions we expect our candidates to answer, or what level of truth we accept from them,” says DeCosse. “Basic fundamental standards and traditions and ways of thinking should be integral to the inquiry and accountability to which we hold our candidates."


Together with ASG, Santa Clara's political science department will host watch parties for each of the four presidential debates, featuring facilitated discussions led by panels of faculty and student leaders. ASG, as part of its participation in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, also plans to host a debate on October 17th featuring the candidates for Santa Clara City Council. 


This year, for the first time in nearly two decades, Santa Clara will have its own University-based polling place – exclusively for SCU students. And for the first time ever, there will be an on-campus absentee ballot drop-off location.

“We are really excited that students will be able to say, ‘Let’s go have dinner or lunch, and oh, by the way, let’s go vote first,’” says Matt Cameron, Santa Clara's assistant vice provost for student life who, in close partnership with ASG, worked with Santa Clara County to bring both amenities to campus.

Exhibits and More

Throughout the fall semester, the Santa Clara University Library and Benson Memorial Student Center will feature election-oriented gathering spots to remind students of their civic duty to vote. The University also has two dedicated websites for students to learn more about the issues at stake in this election: Election 2016 and Voter Registration.

“Hopefully the combination of all these events won’t be just a short-term increase in student involvement,” says Datar. “Hopefully this gets ingrained as something repeatable: A long-term increase in the amount of awareness and discussion we see on campus.”