By Sean Leonard
Student Government (SG) and the Korean Student Association (KSA) hosted the Middle Ground event virtually, where students could anonymously voice opinions on several topics relevant in the 2020 presidential election. The event was originally supposed to air on Oct. 22, but because of the presidential debate, four 10-minute episodes were released as an IGTV series on SG’s Instagram between Oct. 23 and 27.
Students were able to participate in the episodes through a Qualtrics application released in September, and the event was co-moderated by junior biology major Alekhya Madiraju, SG’s vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and KSA Vice President and junior elementary education and English dual major Gabbi Son. In addition to the prerecorded episodes, Madiraju moderated an Instagram Live event on Oct. 26, and Son moderated the second virtual event on Oct. 28 on KSA’s Instagram page where all students could speak about the proposed topics.
The format for Middle Ground was based on a popular series on YouTube by Jubilee. After each statement was presented, students could change their virtual background in the meeting to strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree or neutral on the opinion. The moderators asked students to speak, and then presented opposing arguments if all of the participants shared the same opinion.
The first episode was on universal healthcare, and students responded to the first claim by the moderator: “Universal health care is a feasible model that the United States should adopt for all its constituents. No student disagreed, and most students said that they did not know much about the policies or economics regarding the subject.”
An anonymous student presented as Taylor agreed with universal healthcare and said it is outrageous how expensive certain medications are.
“I need to use an EpiPen and the fact that it has been marked up to hundreds of dollars, I’m lucky I have health insurance that will reduce the cost,” Taylor said.
Other students said that universal health care will not be accepted easily in America’s current culture.
“I think it’s feasible … It would take a cultural shift and just understanding the ramifications of what it would actually bring,” said an anonymous student named Brian.
Public health professor Dr. Natasha Patterson was asked to give opinions that were not displayed by the student participants. She said that universal health care was not a feasible option because of the cost of the plan, possible elimination of private insurance, a possible shortage of doctors and the possibility that it will overcrowd clinics.
Countering those claims, participants disagreed with the current priorities of the government and said that they value money over the health of the U.S.
“The bottom line for pharmaceutical companies is to make a profit. That is true, objectively. However, I don’t know if that comes over people’s health,” Brian said.
In the second episode, students reacted to the claim that “undergraduate tuition for community college and public universities should be waived for all students.” Most of the students acknowledged that colleges need to charge some tuition in order to stay open and provide quality resources.
However, some students argued that community colleges and trade schools should be free.
Son then presented opposing ideas, including Bachelor’s degree inflation and the avoidance of the current student debt issue.
The following episodes included debates about gun control; “policy versus personality,” where participants could either agree or disagree that “a government representative should be measured by the quality of their policies/initiatives as opposed to the quality of their character;” and free speech on college campuses.
For the most part, students were in agreement with each other. Madiraju said that the College’s Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) organization was contacted to participate in Middle Ground to offer more conservative opinions on the topics, but decided not to participate.
“Given the current political climate, we can’t in good faith extend this invitation to our club members. Being that we are part of the vast political minority on campus, we can’t put our members at risk of being ostracized or doxxed, even if the event has a level of anonymity,” said the YAF Executive Board in an email, according to Madiraju.
The students on Middle Ground said it was unacceptable that YAF is receiving threats and hateful messages, and agreed that it was unfortunate that more opinions were not present in the Middle Ground episodes.
“Middle Ground would have been a perfect opportunity to have that nice platform to discuss both sides of the spectrum,” a student who remained anonymous but used the pseudonym Janet said.