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From mask mandates to college loan forgiveness: how BU students view Biden’s first year

A person holding a Biden flag stands on a traffic light Nov. 7, 2020 near the Boston Public Garden. Boston University students shared mixed opinions regarding the Biden administration’s first year in office. MEGHAN SCOTT/ DFP FILE

A year ago, their eyes were glued to electoral maps on laptop screens and televisions across a socially-distanced campus, anxiously waiting to see what direction the country would take. Now, BU students share mixed opinions regarding the first year of the Biden administration, noting improvements in COVID-19 policy and overall rhetoric, but poor handling of Afghanistan withdrawal and lack of substantial change in the status quo.

Students from various political campus organizations say there is room for growth at this point in the president’s term, but some see the current administration, compared to the previous, as a notable improvement.

Carter Plantinga, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he was excited by the COVID-19 relief bill passed early in Biden’s term and by the prospect of the infrastructure bill that contains much of Biden’s domestic agenda making its way through Congress now.

“I felt like this current administration was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the last one,” Plantinga said. “Liberal reforms seemed such a far cry from occurring in the previous administration that this time around seem like they might make some meaningful changes.”

CAS junior Quentin Blaizot, a member of Young Americans for Liberty at BU, said nothing has significantly changed since Election Day 2020.

“I feel like we saw just the continuation of the United States,” Blaizot said. “Inflation and supply shortages, all that jazz, were inevitable, whether it be under Biden or Trump, especially with both of their policies not differing too much on that.”

Arsheya Maghsoud, president of BU College Republicans and sophomore in CAS, said he believes Biden has been doing his job poorly.

“There’s definitely a public outcry and demand for this administration to do better because they’ve been underperforming and not following their promises,” he said.

Maghsoud said Biden’s “Build Back Better” social infrastructure bill, whose proposed funding has fluctuated over the past several months in order to appeal to a larger part of Congress, is evidence of the administration’s underperformance.

 “They came from [3.5] trillion dollars in funding, all the way back down to [1.85] trillion,” he said. “There’s still tons of cracks and holes.”

CAS sophomore Allie Barwind, vice-president of BUCR, said Biden’s been “a really large detriment” to the United States so far, adding the positive change he’s brought about does not, in her opinion, outweigh the mistakes.

“I think that he’s done a lot more damage than he has done any good during his presidency,” she said. “That’s something that kind of disappointed me to see, because I was just hoping for a zero-sum game with him.”

Regarding the president’s COVID-19 plan, particularly the mask mandates on federal property, most students expressed approval of the policy and change in the surrounding rhetoric.

“Having a president that doesn’t make fun of people for wearing masks has meant … people are much, much more comfortable.” Plantinga said. “It’s been very meaningful, the mask mandates at a local and state level.

Some students said they were glad to see actions being made for the nation to combat racism and to effectively communicate with people on both sides of the aisle.

CAS senior Haneul Shin said she appreciated the change in the rhetoric used by the White House, adding that the narrative Biden wants to present of the United States is one of the administration’s biggest improvements.

“The narratives that he gives about international people, about diversity, about climate change, is very important in the way people think of it and the way people behave,” Shin said. “He has definitely made an impact in reducing the amount of anti-Asian xenophobia or the use of ‘Chinese Virus’ as the ‘COVID virus’… I feel less threatened or at least less targeted or blamed for the pandemic that is happening.”

Amanda Slutzky, president of the BU College Democrats and a junior in CAS, said Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the World Health Organization was a promising first set of steps, but she hopes to see more improvements to climate policy.

“I think it was the bare minimum for climate change,” she said. “I’d definitely like to see more, but also remembering that it’s not super easy for them right now to get legislation passed.”

However, many students interviewed showed their disappointment toward the manner in which U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan.

“I think that’s something that was extremely dangerous,” Barwind said. “He was following a plan that Trump had, but I think it’s really challenging taking over something from one administration when it’s in the middle of it … and I think that really did not turn out well for the Biden administration.”

Shin said she saw the decision as a “betrayal and as a sign of the weakness of U.S. promises.”

“When this happened, I was in Morocco,” she said. “I had lots of discussions with my friends, and they just saw it as further proof of why Western countries are less reliable, and more weakening of its ties.”

With three years left in Biden’s term, students said they expect more improvements to be implemented, especially given the promises made on his campaign trail.

“Joe Biden … promised forgiveness for a certain amount of college debt, which could be a big deal for me, obviously,” Plantinga said, adding that he hopes there is also a shot at increasing the minimum wage, even if it has to wait until after the midterms.

Angela Song, a senior in the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, said she thinks Biden’s administration needs more time to show progress.

“There’s always room for development and room for growth in whatever situation that you give,” Song said. “It has just been a year, so I’m pretty sure that the Biden administration [is] trying to pull out different policies.”

Kaija Schilde, a political scientist and an associate professor in Pardee, said students need to understand pronounced, substantial change on a national scale takes time.

“It’s very important for students to understand just how slow-moving the U.S. political system is. It’s designed that way,” she said. “It is annoying and broken, but it was designed to be slow and inefficient to prevent bad ideas from moving too quickly.”

Schilde said she encourages students against “thinking about politics like they’re consumers,” adding that some institutions of power are resilient and to change them requires a deeper understanding of how they work.

“I know that students want to be involved, and the question is ‘How?’” Schilde said. “I like it when there’s social movements and a lot of action, but people also need to be very realistic about what reaches power and what doesn’t.”

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