RICHMOND, Va. – Most college students don’t yet have to worry about social security, tax hikes, or the cost of prescription drugs, but issues ranging from student loan interest rates to Iraq have their attention, and that translates for many into high expectations for the newly-elected Democrat controlled Congress.
"I think the war in Iraq is one of the topics that most obviously affects a majority of college students, since most soldiers being deployed are our age,” said Allison Libbey, a senior at the University of Richmond.
While many serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are of college age, all are part of the nation's all-volunteer military, unlike the Vietnam War, which was fought primarily by young men drafted in service.
Nonetheless, many students say the two operations ongoing halfway around the world hit close to home. Libbey, for instance, said two of her friends’ siblings have been deployed to Iraq.
“My roommate's brother just got sent a couple of weeks ago, and now whenever I read about soldiers dying in Iraq I always check to see if something has happened in the zone to which he has been sent,” she said. “It makes the war a lot more personal to us, and I think that's why so many young people are upset with the way the war has been handled."
That concern has helped fuel increasing election participation by young voters, making them an important voting block not to be ignored by possible 2008 presidential candidates.
In addition to Iraq, issues relating to homeland security, education, and women’s reproductive rights top student concerns.
Kelly Barkley, a Connecticut College senior, said that changes in women’s reproductive rights could benefit all women.
“I would like to see women's reproductive rights put in the hands of women and not the federal government, meaning I would like for women to be able to decide what is proper for their bodies,” she said.
With the expected election of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to be the nation's first woman speaker of the House, and an increase in the number of female representatives, issues relating to reproductive rights as well as women's health issues are sure to be on the congressional agenda.
The debate over which party has a better solution to improve homeland security also is high on students' political agenda.
“My hope is that after the Democrats take over we’ll see how their idea for national defense would be better than that of the Republicans,” said Paul Negrin, a University of Richmond sophomore. Negrin said he hopes Republicans, now in the minority in both houses of Congress, will nonetheless keep pressuring Democrats to improve national security.
“If there is a terrorist attack sometime between ’06 and ’08 then that could show that the Democrats really don’t do that well,” Negrin said.
Students also are thinking about how the election will affect their parents.
“I think my parents also have a lot to face with a change in control of power,” Barkley said. “Tax cuts or hikes affect them directly, as do any laws that deal with the baby boomer generation. We can't cut them out of the political equation just yet.”
Mark Hickman, a senior at the University of Richmond, said he worries about the rising cost of higher education because his parents are paying the bills and rely, as do most parents, on federal assistance programs.
“The federal government under the Republicans actually increased the interest rate on student loans, and that is completely going in the wrong direction,” Hickman said. “We should be making higher education more affordable for everyone because education is the key to everything. It’s the key to the future of this country and this world. It is such an integral part of human advancement, and hopefully the Democrats will work on that.”
Domestic problems also rate high on student political concerns, with many expressing a desire for Congress to refocus the national political agenda.
“I think we should focus more on our own problems at home — poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc.,” said Julia Knox, a senior at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. “This isn't to say that we should ignore the world's problems, but at the same time, we need to remember that we aren't the world's policemen, and it isn't up to us to fix every situation.”
Whether one party can — or should — have the answer for all the nation's ills and issues is a matter for campus debate.
“We are in a state where all the branches of government are controlled by one party, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Democrats or the Republicans; when you have all three branches controlled by one party it’s usually not a good thing,” Hickman said.