Updated: March 5, 2018 at 8:30 p.m.
Last week, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, stopped by District House for a slice of pizza before his event with GW College Republicans. I quickly pulled out my phone to look up a picture and verify his identity, then I opened my camera app and hit record. Chaffetz spent a decade in Congress championing conservative beliefs. I spent the next minute berating a man I didn’t know, telling him he hurt students at GW and that we were happy he was retiring. I asked if he still thought poor people should have to choose between health care and iPhones, which he was quoted as saying last March. And he told me he’d like for them to have both, but as he knows, his time in public service doesn’t reflect that.
Chaffetz – like many conservative students at GW – holds political beliefs that indicate a deeper selfishness and lack of compassion for marginalized groups. Many conservative core tenets, such as the privatization of markets and the slashing of social welfare programs, are empirically shown to harm impoverished people and people of color. These beliefs also keep and solidify rigid class structures that work to benefit elites. This is why I am proud that I confronted Chaffetz and why I plan on continuing to ask the hard questions.
As students living in an urban area, we see some of the effects of conservative policies firsthand.
Ignorance is not a valid excuse for what Chaffetz and some students believe either. Students here have access to endless resources that challenge conservative ideals, including classes, student organizations, a massive library consortium and free WiFi. Going to school in the nation’s capital requires students to have basic political literacy, and many are actively involved in politics. Because of this, conservative students should use their privilege, time and resources at GW to re-evaluate their political beliefs to become more passionate towards everyone and help those less fortunate.
Spending your college years aiding the select few who hoard wealth by supporting extreme conservative beliefs, while millions of Americans starve, should be pretty obviously wrong. Lowering taxes, especially on those at the top of tax brackets, harms many Americans, as well as furthers the transfer of wealth upwards. Most conservative beliefs do not match up with compassion and empathy for the less fortunate and are near-impossible to defend without selfish reasons. But it hits close to our community – many of these issues impact students directly.
As students living in an urban area, we see some of the effects of conservative policies firsthand. D.C. homelessness rates continue to rise and were at double the national average early last year, and we saw the removal of a homeless encampment on E Street. This might seem like a local government issue, but it falls on the national level since it is on track to worsen because of President Donald Trump. When Trump signed the tax-reform bill into law in December, he weakened the low-income tax credit – the tool used for promoting affordable housing. His administration has also proposed expanding requirements for food stamps, which shows that reducing homelessness across the country is not a priority. Additionally, the reduction and, in some cases, elimination of social welfare programs are in complete disregard for average people and go against the government’s obligation to help people. Supporting policies that directly hurt the people in and around our community makes zero sense. Instead, we should be using this time and privilege to do the opposite and support policies that will help our community.
The effects of some of these policies reach students like myself, who rely on the federal government for Perkins loans to help pay GW’s hefty price tag and are concerned over budget cuts leading to the elimination of this program. The conservative desire to cut funding for this popular government program in favor of private alternatives is terribly damaging, as private loans are notoriously predatory. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget even eliminates a program that provides tuition aid to students who grew up the District, who do not have affordable in-state college options like many students around the country. Students can see their peers directly hurt by these conservative policies.
Additionally, most students are under their parents’ insurance plans until they’re 26 years old. This is a huge burden off their shoulders because private insurance will always milk patients for every penny possible. That’s the job of any private industry. There’s one right way to provide all Americans with health care, and that’s through government-run, single-payer health care, which impacts many college students after they graduate. This is the opposite of typical conservative policy. Anyone with a conscience should agree that people shouldn’t die because they couldn’t afford their insulin shots or breast cancer treatments. Not having to worry about affording health care is something most of us haven’t had to think about – and something I know I’ve taken for granted.
I know I can’t convince some conservatives to care about people who are hurting needlessly, but I will call them out on it.
Political opinions are things we decide on as individuals in a conscious way, especially once we leave our parents’ houses. So, before this is classified as yet another example of conservative marginalization on college campuses, consider this: race, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status are what students cannot change. As students, we deserve to be judged not on things we can’t control, but on our actions. If the GW College Republicans invites fascist speakers to campus, or campaigns for conservative candidates, or supports the policies that I’ve discussed, they deserve all the backlash we can give them.
Using the resources available to college students, like student organizations, conservatives should attend a general body meeting of a more leftist-leaning student group to learn more.
I know I can’t convince some conservatives to care about people who are hurting needlessly, but I will call them out on it. GW doesn’t need more dialogue on campus between the right and the left. We need for conservatives to be called on to re-evaluate their political views and actions. The most vulnerable people in our society are negatively and disproportionately impacted by these values, and we don’t have time to coddle conservative students. It’s time to recognize that the D.C. community and so many others are being hurt by certain policies and need our help. I’m not claiming that me or anyone on the left is perfect, but at the core of my beliefs is empathy for others. For many of my conservative classmates, the same can’t be said.
Naseem Othman, a freshmen majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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This post was updated to reflect the following clarification:
Context was added to clarify why the writer connected increased homelessness rates in the District to conservative policies.