What happens when students from across the country are put together in a room to talk about the hot-button issues of our day?
The National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement at Harvard’s Institute of Politics recently surveyed undergraduate students from 29 different colleges and universities across the country in a town hall-style event. Red Alert Politics was on hand to observe the outcome.
The purpose of the exercise, according to John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, was “to understand opinions and attitudes in life in America today.” And this is precisely what Della Volpe told students as he casually yet constructively engaged with them for a total of 90 minutes.
“One word, or phrase, about how you think about America today!”
“Do you have more fear about the future of America, or more hope?”
“What are the topics, what are the conversations, what are the issues that you personally — your friends and family, your campus — are most focused on today?”
These are just a few of the questions Della Volpe asked students to think about and express to their peers.
Virtually no one in the room voted for President Trump, and the vast majority voted for Hillary Clinton. A handful wrote in candidates like Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, and Bernie Sanders. Despite the fact that their preferred candidate was not elected in 2016, students told Della Volpe that they are overwhelmingly hopeful for the future of America, despite defining the country as “isolated,” “deteriorating,” and “uninformed, intentionally ignorant.”
Students also defined America as “patriotic,” “diverse,” and a grand “experiment.” They hope the grand experiment will allow them to add to the political conversation on issues they care most about, such as educational accessibility, environmental justice, immigration, criminal justice reform, job security, sexual assault, free speech, mental illness, and welfare policy.
When Della Volpe asked students in the room if they would be interested in meeting with President Trump to discuss these ideas, hands shot up across the room. Students also wrote hypothetical index card notes to President Trump. Della Volpe tweeted a sampling:
“I love this country and believe diversity is our greatest strength. Please listen to and respect marginalized groups such as people of color, women and LGBTQ+ community. We are stronger together.” - Simpson College— John Della Volpe (@dellavolpe) February 8, 2018
With more youth in the electorate than any other generation, students profess a hope that their generation can uproot a failing and divisive two-party system and enact change on issues ignored by older generations.