Student Opinion Ahead of Election Day 2023
By: Griffin Crouch, Mason Votes Contributor
“Potholes” replied Nicholas Lim, when asked what he cared about most. “I commute so I have a thirty minute drive to campus” and “it’s kinda dangerous around here since…. the roads aren’t very well maintained.”
In a series of 12 interviews, we asked Mason students what they care about the most and want to see more attention towards, and have published what political and global issues they highlighted.
One of Mason students’ top concerns was the environment, with half of students interviewed choosing it as their number one issue. Karissa Hylton, a senior global affairs major, prioritized “addressing climate change through ways that create jobs and have inclusivity.” Madeline Doerner, a junior global affairs major, said we should “take the right steps” to “be more eco-friendly, have more electric vehicles.” Doerner added we should be mindful of how “sourcing of [electric vehicle batteries] can be problematic,” and we shouldn’t “destroy someone else’s backyard, so of course there’s ethical choices we have to make.” Hope Stanton, an English major, argued “pesticides, fertilizers are killing the earth” and “there’s natural solutions to all of this stuff,” encouraging students and the university to “support local farmers” through buying local.
Virginia and the country have had many intense, recent debates over the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, especially in education, and many students cited their desire to see progress on queer rights. Abby Matthews, a freshman and art and visual technology major, prioritized “everyone being treated fairly and without any ignorance or bigotry” as a core value, and listed “LGBTQ+ protections, transgender rights, [and] access to healthcare” as key policy priorities. Freshman cybersecurity major Mark Perkins voiced his view that politicians “have been hammering the hell out of the LGBTQ community,” referencing a number of recent measures by state and national politicians. Elanor Magness, a junior and history major, critiqued state-level rules that lead to situations where “if someone overhears you talking about these issues and they immediately tell your parents, it’s horrible” and emphasizing policy should “protect transgender people especially at this time.”
Racial injustice and police brutality were also highlighted. Hylton observed that there were “so many umbrellas under race but specifically having a police task force that can address and deal with people and are part of the community” was an important goal, as well as “not resorting to violence first but [providing] aid” and “having police that reflect the people of the community.” Magness supported “addressing the power imbalance that police have” and that the “police system needs their power checked.” Matthews called for improvements to “marginalized group’s rights and visibility” and Rahel Tewodros, a freshman and bio major, asserted we should “obliterate racism.”
Many students also argued that our political leaders are too old and we need younger leaders. Aidan McKiernan, a junior and finance major, declared they “don’t know what’s going on in the younger generations “and “can’t effectively make laws,” adding for example that “the people who are making laws that affect our lives directly can’t even send a text.” Perkins said of President Biden that “there’s no need for a man that old to be [President]” and that “there should be an age maximum, once you’re 70 or 80 in office.” Eleanor encouraged “[putting] an age limit on government.” Overall, most students insisted on a need to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders.
Many students were also concerned about political polarization and extremism. Johanna Rothe, senior and global affairs major, who’d previously lived in Germany, was worried about the “rising right-wing” and she “can see that all around Europe,” and said it was “pretty concerning” to see in the U.S. as well. Magness cited social media as a cause of polarization, saying it “creates these echo chambers on both sides… people will go into spaces and just only get the same ideas back out.”
But, not all issues were the kind of national, headline items that we’ve seen politicians fight about. Some were very local. Nicholas Lim, a freshman and cybersecurity major, highlighted irritation towards nearby road conditions that he drove on everyday, saying “roads are always under construction or should be under construction.”
Multiple students were worried about recent from-off-campus protesters that they said could make students feel unsafe and unwelcome, with Adithya Divakar, also a freshman and cybersecurity major, explaining “my family is primarily Hindu and I’m a first generation American, so when these groups come in I kinda feel ‘violated’… because these people are pushing their own personal beliefs when we’ve all kinda learned… to love each other.” Magness added that “you have a right to protest but this is a place of learning as well, so people who aren’t students or don’t even know students coming on campus to harass students and disrupt student life.” Many students expressed a desire for Mason to balance freedom of speech with ensuring campus is a safe and welcoming place for everyone.
Mason’s student body is diverse, and this limited set of interviews is not a complete portrait of the issues students might care about, but it captures many of the worries felt on campus. From fear over looming climate change to anger at the perceived political gerontocracy, Mason students expressed in-depth criticisms of some of our country’s most pressing issues. But, not everything was doom-and-gloom, and many students expressed hope for the future.
Some students who were interviewed together expressed conflicting stances. For example, Divakar and Lim clashed on the issue of gun control. Divakar said he had “issues with the Second Amendment” and “[doesn’t] want to grow up in a country that’s been plagued by gun violence.” Lim responded that “I’m kinda a supporter of guns.” But, after talking through their views in more detail, they both found agreement when Divakar proposed “restricting calibers to specific licenses” and Lim supported “better background checks.” When asked how they found common ground so quickly, Divakar said, “we’re engineers, it’s what we do.”
Author’s Note: All students were aware of their interviews being recorded and what they said being published, and permission was obtained to include their names and information.
Griffin Crouch is a freshman government major and currently serves as a Student Government Senator.
Slider photo by: Bryan Childers