Thursday, January 30, 2020
Image of international students at an Iowa Caucus information session

Visiting professor David Redlawsk speaking to UI international students about the Iowa caucus

In many ways, University of Iowa students have a front-row seat to the early days of the presidential election process. Presidential candidates flock to campus to host meet-and-greets and other gatherings where there are often opportunities for UI students to interact directly with the candidates. Election coverage is a constant on the news, social media, and other platforms. The momentum continues to build until February 3, the date of the Iowa caucus.

For many international students on campus, the concept of caucusing as part of an election process is new. To help UI international students and scholars understand the Iowa caucus, International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) hosted an event called Iowa Caucus on January 24. The event featured visiting professor David Redlawsk, political psychologist, and author of the book Why Iowa?: How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process. Redlawsk provided an overview of the caucus process and its purpose, the role of the Iowa caucus in respect to the greater process of electing the next president of the United States, and the history behind Iowa’s first in the nation status. Throughout the event, Redlawsk encouraged international students to take advantage of the very special opportunity they have to see this process up-close, as it only happens once every four years. 

Michael Bortscheller, senior associate director of ISSS, hosted the event in hopes of providing clarity to international students who may have never experienced the complex U.S. electoral system.  According to Bortscheller, “This is grassroots democracy in action. It feels good to know they [international students] can watch this unfold and come away with a little more clarity on how this process works. While international students cannot actively participate in the caucus voting process, they are able to attend caucus events to observe. Many international students aren’t aware of that.”

An array of students from different backgrounds attended the event. in hopes of alleviating lingering curiosity. First-year MFA student Yamila Transtenvot, said she was always interested in American politics since moving from her hometown in Argentina. “This was a great opportunity. I learned why Iowa is an important electing state and how I can observe. Before today I did not know that was possible,” Transtenvot said. When asked if she would be attending a caucus, Transtenvot eagerly nodded, expressing her excitement for the opportunity.