VACAS Conference 2019-Political Communication

Panelists view a clip from the Daily Show on the Governor Northam scandal

VACAS Panel Discusses Political Scandals in Virginia and the Role of Youth in Today’s Politics

By Cory Higgs

“Redrawing Boundaries” was the theme for this year’s Virginia Association of Communication Arts and Sciences conference, better known as VACAS, which the School of Communication at Radford University proudly hosted for the first time. 

Helping redefine those lines was a panel dubbed: “Political Communication in Virginia: Making Sense of Scandals and Shifting Winds”. The panel was chaired by political communication expert and School of Communication associate professor, Dr. Scott Dunn. The panelists included Kristina Contreras, Dr. Carter Turner and Stephanie McFadden, all from Radford University.

The conversation started with the most recent scandal in Virginia, the Ralph Northam blackface yearbook photo. Panelists discussed how Northam’s team handled the situation and offered various ways in which he could have dealt with it better.

At one point, a woman in the audience said: “I voted for Northam. I would not vote for him again in a Democratic primary.” The woman continued, “I would, however, if he somehow made it through as the Democratic candidate, because of my desire to see the top levels of government in Virginia be a democratic governor, attorney general because to me that is so important.” 

It was at this juncture that the “redefining” of boundaries started to appear in the panel. A young woman in the audience shared her views and said she found that young people were less forgiving, especially in terms of Northam’s actions. 

The young woman went on to say, “If you look at college students like myself, I feel as though we are a little less forgiving than like people in my parents’ generation because when I talk to my parents, they say they can be both sides, while I’m like why would you believe that?”

Panelists agreed that young voters are redefining the way politics work. While an older generation still runs Washington, Dunn hints at a possible trend where politicians that target young people and focus on them have greater successes in areas like Radford than those that don’t.

A common idea that the panelists mentioned was that if a politician gives a voice to the young people, they will support that candidate. An example used to illustrate this was that of the Hurst campaign that successfully flipped the district with significant help from Radford and Virginia Tech campuses.

Moving forward, perhaps the younger generation will focus less on partisanship and more on the candidate as a person. Regardless, young people are redefining and disturbing the boundaries of politics. Campuses like Radford University have the potential to not only rock the boat but completely flip it over.

Apr 15, 2019
School of Communication