Gatepost survey finds student respondents concerned about abortion rights, climate change, and COVID-19

By Donald Halsing, Associate Editor

By Caroline Lanni, Staff Writer

By Abigail Petrucci, Staff Writer

[Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles about student responses in a Gatepost survey concerning current national issues. An article exclusively about the Black Lives Matter movement, police conduct, and systemic racism will be published next week.]

The Gatepost conducted an unscientific survey of 300 students between Oct. 5 and Oct. 15 about current political issues.

Eighty-two percent of student respondents to The Gatepost’s political survey were concerned that Roe v. Wade might be overturned by the Supreme Court, and 88% of respondents also believed the candidate who wins the Nov. 3 election should appoint Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.

Ninety-three percent of survey respondents said they believe climate change is the result of human activity. Additionally, 71% said the U.S. should rejoin the Paris Agreement.

Seventy-seven percent of Gatepost survey respondents said the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been effective. On the other hand, 62% of respondents said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration’s response has been effective.

Seventy-two percent of survey respondents said they were concerned about efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), although 48% of respondents said they did not think they would be impacted if it is overturned.

Sixty-six percent of student respondents to The Gatepost’s political survey said they were concerned about their student debt. Additionally, 65% also said they believe more of the cost of public higher education should be subsidized by the state and federal governments.

FSU President F. Javier Cevallos said the survey responses show students are familiar and engaged with the issues. 

“A university should be a place where you talk about issues that are important and you can disagree. It’s fine to have disagreements about these issues, but it is good that people are thinking about them,” he said. “I was very happy that people reacted to those issues because that shows that people are paying attention to the things that are going on.” 

Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said, “As a college community, it’s really up to us to create opportunities for education, but also opportunities for multiple voices to get heard. And now, I think that’s hard to do.

“I do think one of the central values of public education is free speech. I’m the kind of person that’s always like, ‘Free speech needs to be met with more free speech,’” she added.

Roe v. Wade

Survey respondents were asked if they were concerned the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion might be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Approximately 83% of survey respondents, 248 students, said they were concerned about Roe v. Wade being overturned, while 52 students, approximately 17%, said they were not concerned. 

Student respondents to The Gatepost’s political survey were also asked who should appoint the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.

Aproximately 88% of survey respondents, 264 students, said whoever wins the Nov. 3 election should appoint her replacement, whereas 36 students, 12%, said President Donald J. Trump should appoint her replacement.

Sociology Professor Virginia Rutter said she is in “utter disbelief” that Judge Amy Coney Barrett may be approved by the Senate. 

[Editor’s Note: Trump’s Supreme Court Justice nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Oct. 26 by a vote of 52-48.]

One Gatepost survey respondent said, “RBG successfully pleaded her first case to a higher power.” 

Another survey respondent said, “I am not worried about Roe v. Wade being overturned because I believe that Stare Decisis will be too strong of a factor for the Supreme Court judges to reasonably overturn it.” 

Stare Decisis is the legal principle to uphold something, which may be an obstacle for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Taylor Anderson, a senior English major, said she hopes Roe v. Wade is not overturned because it would be an “enormous step backward for the country.”

She added, “The next president should decide who to appoint for RBG’s replacement, not Donald Trump. It’s inconsiderate for Trump to appoint the replacement so close to the election because now the court has a conservative majority.” 

Alexandra Hebert, a sophomore psychology major, said the future of Roe v. Wade depends on who gets elected. “I hope that it [Roe v. Wade] stays in place because a woman should choose what happens with their body.”

Mariah Farris, a senior and co-president of M.I.S.S., said, “I think that a woman’s body shouldn’t be made political in any sense. A man’s body is not made political. Nobody talks about whether they should or shouldn’t be able to have sex or whether they should or shouldn’t be able to get Viagra prescribed.

“I don’t feel as though men, who usually are more prominent in the government, should be able to make laws [about women’s bodies] – or even women for other women,” said Farris. “I don’t think anybody should be able to make laws that concern women’s bodies.”

Farris said the decision to have an abortion is circumstantial, and no one situation is the same as another. “There’s cases of rape, cases of trauma to your body, there’s emergency reasons – you could possibly be in danger yourself if you conceive and you can’t keep the kid to term,” Farris added.

“That situation, in my opinion, will never be black and white,” she said.

Ewnie Fedna, a senior and the other co-president of M.I.S.S., shared Farris’ sentiments about abortion and birth control laws. 

She said, “Men should not have any say about body parts and things they don’t even understand firsthand.”

Fedna added, “I’m 100% pro ‘Do whatever you want.’ It’s not my business.”

SGA President Olivia Beverlie said the Supreme Court seat should be filled by the president who is elected on Nov. 3.

Student Trustee McKenzie Ward, a sophomore, said, “I was really surprised that the vast majority believed that the next president should choose RBG’s replacement. I believe after the precedent was set in 2016, we should listen to what Mitch McConnell said then and continue that now.

“Our rights shouldn’t be a political fight like the GOP makes them to be,” Ward added.

Rep. Jack Lewis, a Democrat representing Ashland and the City of Framingham, said, “I’m very impressed to see that a great majority of Framingham State students who participated in this poll are concerned about the current trajectory of the Supreme Court with Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing, and what that might mean for the removal of hard-fought-for rights, including access to reproductive health care.”

Climate Change

Student respondents to The Gatepost’s political survey were asked if they believe climate change is the result of human activity.

Approximately 93% of survey respondents, 278 students, said they believe climate change is the result of human activity, while 22 students, approximately 7%, said they disagreed.

Gatepost survey respondents were also asked if they believe the United States should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

Approximately 71% of survey respondents, 214 students, said the U.S. should rejoin the Paris Agreement. A fifth of survey respondents, 59 students, said they were unsure, while 27 students, 9%, said the U.S. should not rejoin the agreement.

President Cevallos said, “One of the questions was about whether climate change was caused by human activity or not. Again, that is something that you can agree or disagree with. I happen to believe that it is caused by all the emissions that we have.

“At least nobody is denying the fact that the climate is changing. I don’t think you have any climate change deniers,” he added.

“It is what you would expect in a university: people paying attention to the issues, thinking about them, and responding,” Cevallos said.

History Professor Jon Huibregtse said Trump supporters, who comprise around 40% of the national population, are “not in tune” with the idea that climate change is the result of human activity. 

He said, “It seems like FSU’s population is very heavily on the yes side compared to the national data.

“People in this age group believe more heavily that climate change is happening because they can see it on a scale within their own lifetime,” Huibregtse added. “Potentially, I think it’s also a product of being taught about climate change from a very young age.”

As for rejoining the Paris Agreement, Huibregtse said undecided respondents probably do not know enough about it. 

He said, “Legitimately, it’s a complicated thing. They might not be willing to just say, ‘Yes, we should assume it’s a good thing,’ and want to do their own investigation into it.”

A Gatepost survey respondent said, “I am very environmentally oriented, and climate change is my No. 1 concern both politically and morally.”

Another survey respondent said, “I am voting for Joe Biden because I understand what is at stake. I want a president who acknowledges climate change is real, and that we need to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords.”

They added, “Our country cannot survive four more years with a man who refuses to acknowledge that climate change is real.”

Nicole Arsenault, a senior communication arts major, said, “To a certain extent, climate change is an issue, but it’s not the biggest thing we have to deal with right now.”

Haley Chase, a senior sociology major said, “I am concerned that it is caused by humans, but I think natural forces beyond human control are gradually affecting it as well. However, if we as humans can do our part to reduce the ongoing issue of climate change, then we should.”

Julia Cohen, a senior ASL major, said, “Humans definitely are responsible for climate change. There are so many alternatives that we could use to lower our carbon footprint and to better the world we live in.”

SGA President Beverlie said, “I think we should rejoin the Paris Agreement, and it was selfish of us to pull out of it. America has a big climate pull and our impact in it matters.”

Carl Hakansson, a geography and environmental studies professor, said what stood out to him was how unpopular the Trump administration is in regard to its approach to climate change. 

“I was surprised to see how much support there was for these political issues. I was surprised but encouraged,” he said.

Rep. Lewis said, “It’s great that 92.7% of Framingham State students agree with the vast majority of scientists that climate change is real, and that it is at least partially due to human activity. And that, again, a great majority of students think we should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.”

COVID-19 Response 

Student respondents to The Gatepost’s political survey were asked if they believe the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been effective. 

Over three-quarters of respondents, 231 students, said the Trump administration has not responded effectively to the pandemic. Thirty-five students, approximately 12%, said they were unsure, and 34 students, approximately 11%, said the Trump administration has responded effectively.

Gatepost survey respondents were also asked if they believe Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been effective. 

Approximately 62% of survey respondents, 187 students, said the Baker administration has responded effectively to the pandemic. Almost a quarter of survey respondents, 71 students, said they were unsure, and 42 students, 14%, said the Baker administration did not respond effectively.

Communication Arts Professor Audrey Kali said she was very surprised that the survey found approximately 22% of students either were unsure about the effectiveness of Trump’s response or thought it was effective. 

“I do not think the Trump Administration’s response was effective, due to them giving us a lot of misinformation,” said Kali. 

“I think Baker was more on board and organized with his plan toward COVID than Trump was,” she added.

Professor Rutter said the most important aspect of responding to COVID-19 is paying attention to the facts about the safest practices. 

“You can’t have points of view that are just, ‘Well it’s this way, or it’s that way.’ And right now, overwhelmingly, the issues that are facing us are issues that we need to look at real-world data,” she said. 

A student interviewed by The Gatepost, who asked to remain anonymous because they support President Trump, said they support the president’s COVID-19 plan.

“He was effective but not perfect,” they said. “He tried to do as best as he could have done, and a lot has to do with how the states are run as well.”

Kevin Durant, a junior accounting major, said, “Well, I think Baker did as well as he could for as long as he could.” 

Durant added, “Trump – I feel like he could have done better for the country overall and should have just shut it down for a couple weeks before to make sure everyone was safe.” 

Student Trustee Ward said, “I was shocked that 14% of those who responded don’t believe Charlie Baker’s response to COVID-19 was enough. I think he was one of the governors who responded the best, and he acted quickly.”

Health Care

Respondents to The Gatepost’s survey were asked if they were concerned about efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

Approximately 72% of survey respondents, 217 students, said they were concerned about the future of the ACA. Forty-two students, 14%, said they were unconcerned, and another 41 students said they were unsure/undecided.

Student respondents to The Gatepost’s political survey were also asked if they were concerned about losing their health care coverage in the event the ACA is overturned.

Approximately 48% of survey respondents, 145 students, said they did not think they would be impacted. Sixty-seven students, approximately 22%, said they were concerned about losing their coverage if the ACA is overturned, and 43 students,  approximately 15%, said they were unsure. Forty-five students, 15%, said they were not concerned about losing their coverage.

Robert Donohue, faculty union president and psychology professor, said, “We’ve got an awful lot of college students here who are going to have pre-existing conditions, and without the Affordable Care Act, that’s really going to impact them in terms of being able to get affordable and good health care.”

Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, said she was surprised by how many students did not think they would be impacted if the ACA is overturned. “We have the prime age of people who in one way are benefiting from this. So I was like, ‘Wow, 40% don’t think they’ll be impacted.’”

Professor Rutter said, “The fact that half of the people said, ‘I don’t think I will be affected’ – that was kind of interesting to me, and I think that it may have to do with the fact that in Massachusetts, we already have our own Massachusetts health care.

“Younger people might not realize that the ACA is what makes it possible for people to be covered by the parents’ health insurance for a longer period of time,” she added. “I worry about that for all people, but I worry about it for my students because I think that having access to good health care is essential for living a good life.”

Professor Kali said, “People don’t understand health care, and as a University, we need to do more … to educate the students and faculty on this issue – mainly about state and federal subsidies.”

Carly Eiten, a junior fashion design and retailing major, said, “Everyone deserves health care, so taking it away from people who depend on it is not fair to them.” 

Noelle Bouvier, a senior marketing major, said, “Abolishing the ACA may affect a lot of people with pre-existing medical conditions.” 

Corrin Deleon, a senior history major, said, “The Affordable Care Act is something that helps people who normally might be unable to afford health insurance. If it is overturned, then there could be a rise in the number of people who are unable to have health insurance.”

Nate Rogers, a junior communication arts major, said, “The Affordable Care Act was made to make sure that kids with disabilities and adults don’t go completely bankrupt for the care that they need to live. We are all human. We can’t get through this world without each other.” 

Student Debt

Student respondents to The Gatepost’s political survey were asked if they were concerned about their level of student loan indebtedness.

Two-thirds of survey respondents, 199 students, said they were concerned about their level of debt. Seventy-five students, 25%, said they were not concerned about their level of indebtedness, and 26 students, 9%, said they were unsure.

Gatepost survey respondents were also asked if they believed more of the cost of public higher education should be subsidized by the state and federal governments. 

Approximately 65% of survey respondents, 194 students, said they believe the state and federal governments should subsidize more public higher education costs. Approximately a quarter of survey respondents, 79 students, said they were unsure or undecided, and 27 students, 9% said they do not believe the state and federal governments should do more to subsidize public higher education costs.

Professor Donohue said, “That’s actually kind of interesting that there isn’t a greater percentage of our students who think that there should be more of a subsidy by the state and federal governments. I mean, if you look at other industrialized nations, the rate at which they subsidize higher education tends to be much greater than the United States.

“I’m also a little bit surprised that only 66% of the students were concerned about loan indebtedness,” he added. “I wonder if that’s because it seems like something off in the distant future to some of the students, or perhaps, we have a certain percentage of our students who are in a financial position to not leave with a big debt.”

Vice President Holloway said she had anticipated there would be a higher percentage of survey respondents concerned about their student loan indebtedness. 

“I mean, obviously, it’s 66% who said they were concerned, but I would have thought there would be 80%,” she said. 

Professor Huibregtse said the overall increase in student debt is the result of trends in American policy over the past 50 years, starting with cuts to student aid programs by the Reagan administration.

“Student loan programs have been gutted over the last 30 years,” Huibregtse said. “Loans and grants have been gutted. Over the last 40 years, taxes have been cut. A lot of those taxes would go in various ways to support education at all levels – not just at the university level. Colleges have been asked to create more services for students than they had years ago.

“Cutting availability of student aid, the cutting of taxes, and cutting funding to those additional services – coupled with the decline of the middle class – have all led to this crisis,” he said.

“And I believe it is a crisis,” Huibregtse added.

One Gatepost survey respondent said, “I am not worried about my own student loans, but I empathize with those who are worried.”   

Sarah Assimakopoulos, a sophomore communication arts major, said, “I am concerned about student debt. This is because I am paying off my student debt by myself.” 

Haley Chase, a sociology major, said, “I am highly concerned about student debt for multiple reasons. First off, I am stressed with the limit in which they expect us to start paying off student debt. The time we have to find a job and then make enough money to support ourselves and pay off student loans is limited and sets graduates up for failure.

“I am also concerned about paying more money into student loans than the original loan amount because of interest,” Chase added. “Additionally, I am afraid of student loans holding me back from getting ahead in life because it has the potential to affect my credit score, which in return can affect the process of buying a house.”

Maddy Pimental, a senior communication arts major, said, “I am concerned about student debt. I think most people my age are struggling with making money and saving money. As young adults, we have a lot of responsibility with money as we try and get on our own two feet after we graduate.” 

Julia Cohen, an ASL major, said, “Personally, I’m not concerned about student debt. I’ve worked hard throughout my four years to get scholarships, which all in all lowers the amount I’ll have to pay back.” 

M.I.S.S. Co-president Mariah Farris said, “I’m an undergrad, and I already owe almost $50,000 in loans, and I haven’t even gone to grad school. So, yes, this is a problem. Right now, I feel like our undergrad degree is going to be the equivalent of a high school diploma in two years.”

Ewnie Fedna, also a M.I.S.S. co-president, said, “I feel like they [the state and federal governments] have money for a lot of other things. So much money went towards unemployment for the pandemic. That money has to come from somewhere, and that money’s been there all along.”

[Editor’s note: Ashley Wall, Cara McCarthy, Branden LaCroix, and Leighah Beausoleil contributed to this article. McKenzie Ward is opinions editor of The Gatepost.]