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HBCU Students Head to South Carolina to Help Obama

Early on, the presidential campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were dividing Black Democrats across the country, but students on Black college campuses are unifying in support of Obama.

A CBS News poll from a year ago suggested that Black voters preferred Clinton over Obama by a two-to-one margin. But polls taken since Obama’s Iowa caucus win show Black voters gravitating toward him in large numbers. Nationally, Obama now leads Clinton among Blacks, 57 percent to 32 percent, according to a Jan. 10-13 USA Today/Gallup poll.

That overwhelming support for Obama seems to be true also among students at Black colleges, at least anecdotally.

With South Carolina’s Democratic primary this week, students at historically Black colleges and universities are preparing to meet in the Palmetto state to show their support for Sen. Obama. Students from Howard University, Spelman College, Hampton University, Alabama A&M University and Morehouse College are planning to travel to South Carolina to help with the Obama campaign.

More than 100 Howard University students will be making the trip to South Carolina, according to DeVaughn Ward, president of the Howard University College Democrats. “Black students see a lot of themselves in Obama. Howard’s motto is ‘Leadership for America and the global community’ and a lot of students feel that he embodies that. They identify with him as an ambitious and educated African-American,” Ward says.

Some HBCU students feel that Obama’s campaign has been more attentive to Black campuses than Clinton’s. Jeremy Taylor, president of the Alabama A&M Democrats, agrees. “Clinton hasn’t reached out to our campus with the same enthusiasm as the Obama campaign,” Taylor says. “I have worked on other campaigns and this is the first time that I really feel a part of the process. I really feel like I’m making a difference.”

Taylor will be in South Carolina with 20 of his classmates to support Obama. Taylor says that race and gender loyalty is not an issue for A&M students. “If loyalty was that big of an issue, why didn’t people vote for Sharpton?” Taylor asked. “Race plays a role because you feel that you can identify with him because he’s Black,” but Taylor says, in the end, students are voting for the candidate they feel will do the most for them as president.

While many HBCU students are rallying behind Obama, Clinton’s campaign has a presence on many campuses. “Howard students aren’t against Hillary. She still carries a lot of weight in the Black community based on what they did when her husband was president. Her comments as of late about Dr. King and Lyndon Johnson haven’t helped her with Black students, but she has a proven track record with Black issues. She sincerely and genuinely cares about Black issues,” Ward said.

Erick Harris, Student Government Judicial Advisor at Tuskegee University, doesn’t feel that the Obama and Clinton campaigns are dividing Black voters on campus. “In my opinion, the majority of students at Tuskegee are leaning towards Obama. Division isn’t the word to use in describing the feel on the campus, competitive is better,” Harris says.

With the competition heating up between Obama and Clinton as November 2008 approaches, the idea of electing the first Black or the first female president is exciting young voters across the nation. “I constantly hear students talking about registering to vote just to vote for [Obama]. They’re really excited about him,” Harris says. “I think that both sides are excited about the opportunity to vote for either a female or a Black male. This is history in the making and students want to participate.”

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