Student elections shouldn’t dig into candidates’ childhood views

In sixth grade, I was very vocal about my thoughts that the hijab was a sign of oppression. I studied in the very small town of McAllen, Texas, where only 1 percent of the population identifies as Muslim. Before high school, I had attended only Christian schools, where my teachers told me that the hijab was not a choice for Muslim women. It was a required part of their attire.

But as middle school progressed, I learned by reading newspapers and personal stories online that I was misinformed. My teachers had taught me their skewed interpretation rather than the history behind the hijab. Since then, I have supported a woman’s right to wear the hijab. But I have to constantly remind myself that I believed in the exact opposite before I was properly educated, and at the time, I had said and thought things about the culture that I regret. From this experience, and from watching the consequences for others, I now see the importance of giving others a chance to learn and grow as they distance themselves from their childhood ideas. As this topic has become especially relevant on campus in the last week, students should be more empathetic toward their peers who have changed their views from when they were children.

As students in our generation who grew up with social media, there are plenty of mistakes online that can and should be forgiven.

Just before voting began in the SA election last week, both an executive vice presidential candidate and a presidential candidate had past instances brought up to impair their candidacy. These two situations were vastly different. Brady Forrest, the former executive vice presidential candidate and current graduate student senator, made anti-Semitic comments on Facebook in 2014. At this point, Forrest was well into college and he was already serving as an SA senator, and therefore should be held accountable for his actions and comments. Imani Ross, former presidential candidate and current Senator U-at-large, made comments about other minority groups in 2010 and 2012 – when she was only in eighth grade – that she called “unacceptable.” Ross posted a heartfelt apology on Facebook for the remarks about minorities she made when she was 13 years old, with commentary on how she had grown as a person. On the other side, Forrest argued – rather than apologized – that the comments he made were not anti-Semitic but rather anti-Israel in his Facebook post responding to the old comments. Forrest was already in a position of power as an SA senator when he made those comments and should have been aware of the push-back that came with his actions. If anything, it reflects negatively on the SA that they are only now looking to remove Forrest, rather than removing him when the incident initially occurred. Forrest should have been removed when he initially made those comments. But for Ross, it was different.

As students in our generation who grew up with social media, there are plenty of mistakes online that can and should be forgiven. Like most other people, I have grown and shifted my ideology constantly since middle school. I have friends at GW who once believed that affirmative action was an unfair advantage for people of color, but after learning more about it in college they started to support it. Even famous politicians have grown from their days in college. Former Secretary of State and Democrat Hillary Clinton is the former president of the Republican chapter at Wellesley College, and President Donald Trump has been registered as a Republican, a Democrat and an Independent. Students frequently return home after their first year of college with different political ideas from when they first arrived. It is unnecessary to bring up past and changed views of students and young politicians from before high school to undermine their politics and general current beliefs.

We must try our best to better our community, through student government or student organizations, rather than organizing against one another.

This SA election showed that some people can change and grow from what they said when they were in their teens. Bringing up information from the past to try and undermine the credibility of a person’s politics does not reflect on the candidate, but rather on the person who has taken the time to dig up old news.

During SA elections, there is an expectation for drama to happen, but that shouldn’t continue. This annual expectation shouldn’t come at the expense of candidates who have done nothing wrong. Although it is important to highlight the errors and holes in candidate platforms, bringing up instances from childhood to tear down candidates shows the highly negative culture of pressure for perfection and competition at GW. In future election seasons, students shouldn’t be constantly searching for faults from candidates and voters. When looking at what candidates have said in the past, they should take into account their own changing minds when they were younger. Students shouldn’t search for the faults of others to feel better about themselves. Instead, we must try our best to better our community, through student government or student organizations, rather than organizing against one another.

Alejandra Velazquez, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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