Chronicle Fall Winter 2020 Cover

From the Peddie Chronicle.

Explore the stories
Active Citizenry

Political discourse can often be divisive and unproductive, but at Peddie, a community of politically engaged students and supportive teachers are taking part in informed and collaborative conversations.

In this politically divisive year, the social arena is filled with calls for activism, and the Peddie community is no exception. In particular, this summer’s virtual event “12 Hours of Action” ignited enthusiasm among the student body. Spearheaded by Peddie’s chapter of Amnesty International, the Black Student Union and students at peer schools across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the event attracted hundreds of people worldwide to watch student lectures on police brutality and participate in other forms of activism.

“Particularly with the killing of George Floyd over the summer, Peddie students were emboldened and passionate about responding and making a difference within our own community,” said Amartya Sharma ’21, leader of the Peddie Democrats. 

“It was inspiring to see, and I think that set off a snowball effect leading into this fall, at the foothills of an election.”

Avenues for political and civic activism

In person and on social media, among friends and within clubs, students have been organizing, collaborating and making their voices heard.

“Our kids are incredibly politically active,” pointed out AP Government teacher Benjamin Bickford. “As teachers, our role is to facilitate the energy and excitement that they already have.”

In their classrooms, Bickford and History Department Chair Alison Hogarth work to do just that by providing their students with lively discussion and independent projects. “It’s fun to have kids get out there and do something interactive with their communities. We have about 45 AP Government students this year, and each one of them is engaged in some kind of project that isn’t just researching and writing a paper. We’re emphasizing active citizenry,” said Hogarth.

Students gave policy presentations on issues such as Middle Eastern foreign policy and voting rights to educate and inform their peers. They designed mock elections. They helped their classmates who were of voting age get registered. Some worked with the ACLU and NAACP, while others made calls and texted on behalf of candidates like Joe Biden and Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton, N.J.).

Our kids are incredibly politically active.”

“There are lots of avenues that our students are pursuing to be politically and civically active,” said Bickford. “Through modeling the behavior, through being involved, through collaborating with them, we are looking to help them pursue those avenues and encourage them on their way.”

Two of Bickford’s students, Neha Sathishkumar ’21 and Bhanu Cheepurupalli ’21, lead Peddie’s chapter of Amnesty International, and were key in planning “12 Hours of Action.” The success of that event earned them an opportunity to present at Amnesty International USA’s 2020 Virtual Activism Conference in November. “We got the chance to make ourselves known and help other people learn,” said Cheepurupalli.

The group was particularly active this fall, organizing regular virtual meetings to discuss global human rights issues. In the run-up to the election, Sathishkumar and Cheepurupalli also organized town hall meetings and virtual watch parties for presidential debates.

To ensure productive and meaningful conversation, Sathishkumar and Cheepurupalli collaborated with the Young Republicans and the Peddie Democrats to act as moderators. “The moderators encouraged policy-based discourse and provided credible sources to give background information about what candidates were talking about,” said moderator Dennis Liu ’21 of the Young Republicans.

“The chat was surprisingly productive,” said Cheepurupalli. “It was more of a debate than the actual [presidential] debate was.”

“I think we had more decorum and a better discussion,” Sathishkumar agreed.

Collaborating across the aisle

Months of collaboration between Peddie’s Young Republicans and Peddie Democrats led to the publication of a student-produced political magazine: The Pocket Constitution.

“One of the main goals of The Pocket Constitution is to help spread facts and to facilitate discussion through that,” said Matt Singer ’22, a member of the Young Republicans. “Our goal isn’t to persuade the Peddie community one way or the other; it’s more to get the information out there and let people decide on their own.”

“It’s multi-partisan, it’s non-partisan, it’s totally flexible and open to any member of the Peddie community to submit in any form that they would like, and we think that’s the beauty of it,” said Sharma. “At its core, it’s a way to prompt, as we have it in our mission statement, political, social and economic discussions.”

Political discourse can often be divisive and unproductive, but at Peddie, a community of politically engaged students and supportive teachers are taking part in informed and collaborative conversations.

“We see Peddie growing, and we appreciate it,” said Sathishkumar.

“When you look at all the statistics, young people are much less likely to have political knowledge than older people and are much less likely to be actively and politically engaged,” said Bickford. “We’ve seen, in recent years, both with Stoneman Douglas and the Black Lives Matter movement, a surge of young people being more involved. I think that brings hope to all of us. Our kids have met that challenge.”