By Allison Wharton
Students believe race relations, student indebtedness and climate change are the most important issues the nation must address, according to a Gatepost unscientific survey of 400 respondents.
The survey was conducted from Sept. 29 to Oct. 7.
The survey found that 298 students, or 75 percent, said the topic of race relations is an important issue facing the U.S.
These findings mirror the result of a survey conducted by the Washington Post-ABC News in July. That poll asked participants to rate the importance of electing a candidate who puts race relations on the forefront of issues the country should address.
Seventy-five percent of the 1,003 anonymous survey participants in the ABC News poll said improving race relations is a very or extremely important issue.
During his weekly address on July 16, President Barack Obama said, “The issues we’re grappling with go back decades, even centuries. But if we can open our hearts to try and see ourselves in one another, if we can worry less about which side has been wronged and worry more about joining sides to do right … then I’m confident that together, we will lead our country to a better day.”
University President F. Javier Cevallos said in an email, “Race relations have been a national issue over the last year, and the campaign has brought to it a new level of scrutiny. My hope is that we will learn from it and move forward to create a culture where we respect each other and truly value the great diversity … of our country.”
Sociology Professor Virginia Rutter said, “I think that the generalizations that get made about college-aged people and millennials are very silly. What I find with my students or when I meet other young people, I find an enormous amount of diversity. … They understand the complex policies that people are presenting.”
Junior Karli McKie said she agrees with students who responded that race relations are an important issue to address. “I think that at this point in time, we should be kind of ahead of that. … It’s crazy to think that even in 2016, people don’t have the same privileges that they deserve as humans.”
Communication Arts Professor Audrey Kali agreed with the poll findings that race relations are a challenge facing the U.S. “There are still hate crimes going on today. At Framingham, we do not have diversity. You still see the black kids only sitting with the black kids, and the white kids only sitting with the white kids, and that is not diversity. We need to find the importance of true diversity.”
Daniel Stevens, a senior, said, “Racism is not as severe as in the past, but it still happens on a minor scale. It still shouldn’t happen anyway.”
Sean Huddleston, chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement, said the fact that 75 percent of survey respondents believe racism is an important issue does not surprise him. It is “disappointing that in 2016, the divides caused by racism are in many ways still as prevalent today as they were during the height of the civil rights movement.”
Huddleston said he understands why students think racism is an important issue.
He attributes students’ concerns to the 2016 presidential election, issues between law enforcement and communities of color and racism on college campuses.
“Racism is still an unresolved issue in the United States despite the progress that has been made,” said Huddleston.
Students need to become “architects of the solution,” he added.
“Through personal commitment, vigilance, constructive activism and open dialogue, I believe our students can help shape a culture that simply does not tolerate racism or any other form of marginalization,” said Huddleston.
Freshman Drew Morrison said, “I don’t know why it’s not 400 students” in the survey who think racism is an important issue.
Sociology Professor Vincent Ferraro said, “Over the last thirty years, there’s been a sense that the best way to address racism is to pretend as if race doesn’t exist. This happens in political discussions, in media and in school classrooms throughout the country and at all levels. While we’d like to get to Dr. King’s vision of a nation in which we are judged ‘not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character,’ pretending that race doesn’t exist actually moves us further from that goal.”
Senior Jay Ebersole said, “We experience racism every day,” even if it is not overt.
Kezia Miller, a freshman, said, “It depends on the person and their background. … Racism is important now because of the police brutality becoming a daily occurrence.”
Of the students surveyed, 282 or 71 percent rated the amount of student debt as important, regarding it as a challenge facing the U.S.
Cevallos said student debt is a “national issue.” The average student debt at Framingham State is a “reasonable” $22,000, but is “still a significant amount of money.”
Sophomore Dan Burdick said the U.S. is one of the countries with the most student debt. “I hope we find something to help us out. Other countries have figured out ways.”
According to usnews.com, the average national debt for a 2016 graduate is $37,172, a 6 percent increase from last year.
Junior Caleb Mason said, “I feel like a bachelor’s degree should not cost as much as it does. You need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to even make a living wage in America. There should be more financial aid for undergraduate degrees so we can provide for our families and survive in this economy.”
Psychology professor and faculty union president Robert Donohue said Massachusetts institutions of public higher education are extremely expensive in relation to those outside of the Bay State.
“It is commonly believed that Massachusetts is very progressive or liberal, but at the same time, the state is burdening our students in public higher education institutions to an extent that far exceeds other colleges in other states,” he said.
Donohue added students are constrained by their financial status after they graduate college. “It’s bad for the economy. Think about how little discretionary income most college graduates have because so much of it goes to paying off student debt.”
College education is incredibly expensive in Massachusetts and, “it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s a political decision,” said Donohue.
Junior Thalia Jimenez said, “There shouldn’t be any [student debt]. Every student from lower-income families should have access to the same opportunities for higher education that students from higher-income families have.”
Junior Karli McKie said, “I have a fear of being in debt forever.”
Of the students surveyed, 268 or 67 percent said climate change is an important issue that poses a significant challenge to the U.S.
Cevallos said, “Climate change is a reality that will affect our lives and the lives of generations to come.”
Senior Valerie Leger said, “The science of climate change is perfectly clear, so it’s crazy to me that a presidential candidate denies that it exists. If we don’t address climate change, we won’t have a planet to live on.”
According to the homepage of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.”
Junior Lacy Waskiewicz said, “It’s affecting our environment. There is waste polluting our oceans. It is really sad.”
Geography professor Carl Hakansson said, “Environmental issues aren’t something that are going to go away … so it’s good to see that we as a campus have this issue on our minds. It’s important that we continue to acknowledge and address environmental issues going forward.”
Senior Daniel Stevens said, “We should preserve the earth for the future generations to come. We shouldn’t be careless and destroy it right now.”
Daniel Ghirardi, a senior, said, “Not enough people are formally educated about climate change. They believe what they see on social media.”
Freshman Lauren Paolini said, “I think climate change is an issue that needs to be covered more.”
Of the students surveyed, 144 or 36 percent indicated undocumented immigrants are an important challenge facing the U.S.
According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, “The number of illegal immigrants peaked around 12 million in 2007 and has gradually declined to closer to 11 million since.”
The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) reported that the number of undocumented immigrants has fallen under 11 million, which according to CMS hasn’t occurred since 2003.
Ferraro said the issue of undocumented immigrants is “framed in terms of crime and economics – that undocumented immigrants bring violence and take away jobs.
“As for economics, we’re coming out of the worst recession in nearly a century. Many Americans remain either un- or underemployed.” said Ferraro.
He added, “Many undocumented immigrants pay taxes, despite claims to the contrary. … It’s money that goes to state and federal governments that never gets recouped by the workers themselves.”
Ferraro said, “Among crime and immigration scholars, the general thinking is that undocumented immigrants would be less likely to engage in crime since the costs of migration to the U.S. for them are highest and the risk of deportation for them is greatest.”
Cevallos said, “The rhetoric around the issue during this election has been very divisive. We need to move past the slogans and think of the real lives of real people that are in this country working very hard, in many cases doing jobs that most Americans don’t want to do.”
Junior Jillian Williams said, “There’s a big debate in this election cycle about what to do. Both sides have very strong and very different opinions from each other. People have to take a stance in order for something to be done about it.”
Senior Amy Rotger said, “It should be more accessible for immigrants to become citizens if they want to. For most immigrants, it’s not affordable. They’re given a stigma that they’re bad people.”
One of the issues students thought was the least important to the U.S. was extreme partisanship.
Eighty-four participants or 21 percent surveyed said they were unsure about the issue of extreme partisanship, while 108, 27 percent, said it was important.
Partisanship is prejudice in favor of a particular cause. Extreme partisanship is unwillingness to compromise politically.
According to an article in the New York Times, “For the first time since at least 1992, the majority of Democrats and Republicans say they view the opposing party ‘very unfavorably.’… At the same time, around half of the members of either party said their opponents stirred feelings of fear and anger in them.”
Cevallos said, “I would hope that extreme partisanship will decrease after the election, so I think having it as a lesser concern is perhaps a sign that we are ready to get past it.”
History professor Joseph Adelman said, “People ask questions about whether it is more or less partisan than previous eras in American history. … I think people have a sense that it’s a particularly stark contrast. It seems to me the students have a sense that it has an impact on how our politics work, how our government works.”
History professor Jon Huibregtse said, “Partisanship hurts the country, especially in regard to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee not passing.”
Junior Lucas Bimberg said, “I think the bias is blocking discussion. No one can come together.”
Regarding the threat of terrorism, 244 students surveyed or 61 percent responded it is an important issue to address.
Ferraro said students’ concern about the threat of terrorism is “certainly with good reason, given the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and the attacks in Paris, Nice, Brussels and San Bernardino.”
He also noted many students were young when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred in 2001. These students may not have “memories of a time when the war on terror was not a major political concern.”
Junior Zachariah Pierce said, “Students have to deal with the fact that domestic terrorism is more of a threat than any religious terrorist is going to be.”
Sophomore Jennifer Smith said, “I feel like it is an issue facing the United States and we should address it better than we are now, because I feel like the way people address it right now is only making it worse.”
Two hundred thirty-one of the students surveyed or 58 percent said economic stagnation is an important issue facing the U.S.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national unemployment rate for September 2016 is 5 percent.
Furthermore, the BLS notes the unemployment rate has been decreasing since the peak of 10 percent in October 2009.
Senior Jaclyn McCann said, “You hear about budget cuts in schools, so schools are cutting teachers. There becomes a lack of teaching jobs, which also causes too many children per teacher in the classroom. It creates an unproductive downward spiral.”
Rutter noted number of survey respondents who said student debt was an important issue is higher than the number of those who said economic stagnation is significant. This “is a good way to see how the issues connect personally.”
Rutter said, “The economy overall has been improving and our jobless rate in Massachusetts is low. But how clear is reliable information about the economy during a political season as emotional as this one has been?”
She added, “I think a lot of students understand that our economic prosperity hasn’t been shared equally among everyone, and with job searches and paying college debts looming, that uncertainty connects us to one another, but it definitely is personal, too.”
Junior Caroline Rauscher said, “I’m nervous to think that in a year, I’m going to be looking for a job. I don’t know what I’m going to do and who’s going to hire me. I have no money to fall back on if I don’t find a job. I just don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet.”
Sophomore Kylie Jusseaume said, “College students should be concerned with all of these issues.”
[Editor’s Note: Cesareo Contreras, Paola Florencio, Kate Shane and
Andrew Willoughby contributed to this article.]