The Walter H. Capps Center at UC Santa Barbara held a discussion Monday night about the upcoming election.
The panelists weren’t politicians or representatives from large organizations. They were students selected to represent their peers’ opinions.
Dr. Maeve Devoy, associate director of the Capps Center, moderated the panel alongside Aaron Jones, director of the educational opportunity program at UCSB.
All four students expressed concern for the presidential election, each with a personal perspective.
“I think particularly about the climate crisis is one that really resonates with me, in terms of helping us think about how we are orienting ourselves to what’s broader than us, in terms of how we’re taking care of one other as a country but also our planet,” Shakir Stephen, a Ph.D, student in religious studies, said. “And there’s a lot really at stake in thinking about how we approach those kinds of issues.”
Laith Alsayed, an undergraduate student majoring in political science and applied statistics and data science, said he worries about who the president will appoint as cabinet members. He has been disappointed in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s policies.
As a Muslim-American child of immigrants, he is also concerned about immigration. President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13769 temporarily barred travel to the Unites States from seven predominantly Muslim countries and was widely referred to as a “Muslim Ban.”
“Right when the president took office, first thing he did was put a Muslim ban on certain countries . . . That really made me concerned made me scared. And it made me worried about my family back in the Middle East as well,” he said.
Melissa Barthelemy, a doctoral candidate in public history with an emphasis in feminist studies, is also a child of an immigrant. Her mom was born in Nazi-occupied Poland and was orphaned because of the war.
“And that kind of traumatic environment makes it feel very real when we expressed concerns about this kind of rise in authoritarianism,” she said, noting her discomfort with comments President Trump has made regarding dictators and hate groups.
Panelists also discussed democracy and the role of voting during periods of civil unrest.
“I’m very happy that this is the first general election that I get to participate in and hopefully have my voice heard,” Elissa Padilla, a political science and religious studies double major, said. “There’s a lot of power within the public when the people rise up and say what they want to say to make systematic change within our government.”
Ms. Barthelemy recalled when UCSB student Michael Sanders organized a solidarity march on campus after the death of George Floyd.
“So it really illustrates the importance of individuals stepping up finding community getting engaged,” she said.
Mr. Alsayed felt encouraged by the country-wide protests this summer.
“We’ve done so much to draw attention to what should be, what people should be focusing on,” he said. “The power of ordinary people, I think it carries more power than what the government has.”
Ms. Barthelemy said she feels like a “second-class citizen” as a lesbian, as the government does not protect her and her wife from discrimination. In her activist pursuits, her main focus is the LGBTQ community.
“I do see some of the topics near and dear to my own heart being brought up in ways that they wouldn’t have been in the past,” she said.
The conversation primarily revolved around the presidential election, but local politics also affected the students.
“I think participating as much as I possibly can, whether that be registering people to vote, or parties, or helping local candidates get elected, makes me feel more of an active member within my democracy and makes me feel more represented,” Ms. Padilla said. “So even if I don’t see my voice being heard on the presidential scale, I definitely feel that it can be heard on the city and state scale.”
When Mr. Alsayed was a community college student in Orange County, he participated in student government. He spent so much time in that role that he had to quit a job, so he and other students petitioned to receive pay and eventually got the change they desired.
One of the audience questions asked why no Republican voices were included in the panel.
Dr. DeVoy said that she tried to include more nonpartisan panelists than those on the right or left. No one on the panel said their political affiliation, and two said that they didn’t identify with a party at all.
They all expressed frustration with the current president’s policies, but the tone rarely drifted to be accusatory.
The students expressed their personal take on the election and their role as citizens.