Students share perspectives at Debate Fair, raise awareness in community

Izabella Pastrana | Contributing Reporter

From international issues like the Iran nuclear deal to local issues like University City’s upcoming city council election, students engaged with diverse political policy issues presented at the Debate Fair in Edison Courtyard from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Sponsored by Student Union and the Graduate Professional Council, members from various student and local groups organized booths to raise awareness for their respective matters in the Washington University community prior to last night’s presidential debate.

The Debate Fair provided students an outlet to engage politically with other students’ experiences and views surrounding issues relevant to the election and the debate.

“I think the fair was really great, [with] all the different things being discussed. All these student groups are getting to voice their opinions on issues they feel are important,” sophomore ZeCora Smith said.

The Association of Black Students (ABS) was one student group at the fair and said they were attempting to demystify white privilege and black oppression.

“While there are lots of other minority groups here that are sharing their experiences and their beliefs, there are lots of other things specific to [the black community] that we have to speak out on because no one else can do that the way we can, and that’s why we’re here today,” ABS Political Affairs Chair and sophomore Morgan Holloman said.

The Iranian Cultural Society offered perspectives at the fair on topics that they felt were often overlooked, such as the effects of previous sanctions on the Iranian people.

“We, as Iranian-Americans, have a lot of family members still left over in Iran, and the sanctions have shown to be quite detrimental to the economy and, most importantly, to access to health care in Iran,” senior Layla Foroughi said. “We want to bring to light what really spurred people to push this deal forward and why Iran was so desperate to get this deal underway.”

Muslim students had a booth titled “Meet a Muslim.” Aimed at promoting intercultural understanding, students like senior Sahl Ali spoke about Islamophobia and sought to show that Muslims are just people, too.

“We are here to stand in solidarity with Muslims,” Ali said. “A story that really inspired us was how in Denmark, during World War II, every single citizen in Denmark wore the Jewish star in order to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people; no one could tell who was actually Jewish and who was not. [Denmark’s] discriminatory policies were basically useless. We wanted to give everyone a button today and ask them to wear it in solidarity with us, to say no to discrimination, no to this database and [to say] that we need equality for everybody.”

Despite the wide range of perspectives at the fair, some students still felt there was room for more.

“I thought there would be more student groups there, but there weren’t, so that was kind of disappointing. I was surprised that there were groups that weren’t necessarily Wash. U.-affiliated there though,” sophomore Sabrina Sedovic said.

Such unaffiliated groups included AARP as well as the local campaign for Luke Babich for University City Council.

Sue Urban of the AARP said that they were there to represent the Take A Stand campaign to raise awareness about Social Security problems that students might face down the road.

“Unless you come onto a campus, it’s just hard to get in touch with [college students]. We want to make sure that Social Security is there for the students of today. We’re neutral—we’re not advocating for one candidate over another, but we want to advocate for Social Security,” Urban said.

City council candidate Babich instead was advocating for Washington University’s increased involvement in University City affairs.

“There’s a chance to really bring new voices into the conversation and break the dynamic that’s been paralyzing University City,” Babich said. “It’s about bringing Wash. U. in for a more active role, to be more engaged in the community to help bring new growth.”

Both the College Democrats and College Republicans cautioned against letting political activity wane post-debate.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement around Hillary Clinton…but also, there are a lot of other [Democratic] candidates [running for more local offices],” senior and College Democrat Mike Holtz said. “There are a lot of really important elections in Missouri this year, and we want to get students out to vote and get them engaged.”

Freshman and College Republican Lilly Wurm also noted the importance of student engagement in all parts of today’s political landscape.

“We, as College Republicans, do not support Trump or whatever he believes in. He is not an establishment Republican, and he is not what our country needs,” Wurm said. “But everyone needs to go out and vote. Even if it’s not for the presidential office, everyone needs to go out and vote.”

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