College students want a voice in the debate

Washington University delegate recounts experience, issues raised at College Debate 2016

collegedebatelogo2-copyIf college students ran the presidential debates, what issues would they want addressed?

College affordability, certainly. And jobs, of course. But the student delegates who gathered this month at College Debate, a voter education initiative of the Commission on Presidential Debates, also expressed concern about Syria, K-12 education and the environment.

“Millennials are informed and passionate about many issues, not just the ones that impact them directly,” said Cassie Kosterman, who represented Washington University in St. Louis this month at College Debate 16 at Dominican University of California. Klosterman is the voter engagement fellow at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement and a 2016 graduate in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.

Here, Klosterman shares what issues emerged as priorities to the delegates and how College Debate may impact the presidential debates, including the debate to be held here on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Cassie Klosterman

What was the purpose of College Debate 16?

College Debate gathered student leaders from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to discuss what issues matter to millennials, and to make sure those issues are represented at the debates. Because these debates are held on college campuses, they should address the issues college students care about. So College Debate used data collected from Facebook and MTV to figure out what the nine most important issues were.

After a lot of dialogue and debate, we voted on the top five — foreign policy, education, immigration, the economy and social justice — and came up with questions about those issues that we have proposed to the moderators.

Delegates from across the country gathered at Dominican University of California to discuss issues that matter to college students.

Why are these issues so important to young people?

A lot of people say that millennials don’t care about foreign policy but it is, in fact, a very important topic. Students were concerned about Syria and our relationship among other countries. They also wanted to know when candidates would put boots on the ground. That is a millennial issue because the people going out and fighting for our country are often millennials. Immigration, the economy, social justice and education also were extremely important. I expected a lot of conversation about making college more affordable, but there was a real focus on K-12 education. People believe that college access is directly related to the quality of K-12 education in this country.

Social justice questions also were important. Students were concerned that environmental problems disproportionately affect low-income communities — as in Flint, Mich., for instance. And they also were interested in reforming the penal system and finding alternatives to mass incarceration.

How will that experience impact what sort of programming you will do here?

We want to host a foreign policy event because that issue got people so excited at College Debate 16. But we also want to make sure students have a voice in deciding what programming they want, and build events and experiences around a range of issues.

What exactly is your job as voter engagement fellow?

My job is to make sure that not only are students registering to vote, but that they feel informed enough to actually go out and vote on Nov. 8. In the last presidential election, 72 percent of Washington University students registered to vote, and 58 percent of those students voted. We want those numbers to grow. We would like 80 percent of our students to be registered and for 65 percent of those students to vote.

Just as important, we want to build a foundation of political engagement on campus that doesn’t end on Nov. 8. There are many ongoing statewide and local issues too, so it’s important that students stay engaged in the political process in every election.

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