Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: College students: put political anxiety to use going into midterms

Voting isn’t as easy as it’s often made out to be. A volunteer registering voters on a college campus might make coloring in a few bubbles on a ballot sound simpler than it really is when students receive their ballot in the mail and open it up to pages and pages of propositions, with no idea where to start.

The deadline for midterm elections is looming for students who may have forgotten, since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, what it means to swing the direction of the nation for better or for worse. And it’s looming for the Democratic party, which needs students to take on a responsibility they’ve shirked in the past.

A team of psychology researchers has found evidence of significant clinical distress among college students following President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2016, with one in four students showing “clinically-significant event related distress” linked to future diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Trump Anxiety Disorder,” as therapists have coined it, is a phrase that invites laughter from Republicans who will take any excuse to criticize the sensitivity of liberals. This study seems to add to the thought that liberal millennials are “snowflakes,” but political anxiety is a lived experience that shakes the well-being of minorities. Trauma can come from existing in a stressful environment over time, and people who lack citizenship and other protections from the federal government wake up every day and feel insecure about their belonging.

It’s not surprising that there’s a collective anxiety among college students now, going into midterm elections. Students have a lot at stake when it comes to the future of the presidency.  

Just this week, the Trump administration proposed a maximum period of stay for international students. Under the proposal, students will no longer maintain their visas for as long as they stay in school, requiring students to receive extensions or be forced to leave the country.

Boston University is home to almost 7,500 international students. Threatening the visa status of these students — who contribute to BU’s culture and deserve to attend this school as much as anyone else — is one of many steps the administration has taken to send the message to foreign-born citizens that they aren’t welcome in the United States.

And for transgender students wondering if their existence will be respected in government-funded school programs after the Trump administration has moved to define gender as a strict binary under Title IX, this election season has become especially personal. There’s no anxiety like wondering whether your government — and university — may no longer recognize your existence. There’s no anxiety like wondering whether you’ll soon be forced to use a bathroom or live in a dormitory that contradicts your gender identity.

But with these threats, we can’t spend our time complaining. We can’t become cynical. If we’re anxious about our futures, we need to put that stress to use.

In the 2016 elections, voter turnout on college campuses was 48.3 percent, according to Inside Higher Ed. The study reported that “get-out-the-vote” efforts on college campuses were successful after voting increased over 3 percent from 2012.

A voter turnout rate of less than 50 percent is hardly something to be proud of. If college students are a demographic impacted by the law that people in power put into effect, why do so few of us care about who’s in power? If a rise in political anxiety is making it difficult for college students to sleep at night, why aren’t we doing anything about it?

If the nation sees another 3 percent increase this year, that’s not enough. In a few weeks, the future of Trump’s presidency is up in the air. It’s easy to feel like the future of politics is out of control for voters, especially in midterm elections. But if Democrats can regain control of the House this November, the future of Trump’s presidency will be permanently altered.

Democratic gains in the midterms depend on student voters. Young voter turnout, though, usually drops for midterm elections. No college student who doesn’t vote has the right to feel anxious in the aftermath of the election.

Becoming defeatists over something that can still be changed is the worst move young voters could make. Trump’s election may be the biggest political shock some voters have felt, but going into this election, there’s a push to get young Democratic hopefuls into Congress — a straw of hope that we could start inching in the direction of change.

It’s hard to say there’s ever been such a concerted effort to get young people to vote. Snapchat just registered over 400,000 users for voting. Consciousness is heightened in a way that it hasn’t been before, which is a good thing not just for the Democratic party, but for the country.

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