Students reflect on State of the Union, current political climate

What students at one of America’s most politically active campuses thought about President Joe Biden’s address

Students reflect on State of the Union, current political climate

Students gather to enjoy a watch party for Biden's State of the Union address

For many students at American University, one of the country’s most politically active campuses, the State of the Union is an annually anticipated event. In the days after the speech, students reflected on the president’s words. 

Though President Joe Biden’s speech focused on his administration’s successes in the economy, many students were focused on other issues, referencing abortion access, police reform and climate change, among others.

The watch party 

Students came together for a watch party co-hosted by the School of Public Affairs Undergraduate Council, the School of Communication Undergraduate Council and AU’s chapter of the Leading Women of Tomorrow. They watched MSNBC’s coverage of the speech and played State of the Union-themed bingo.

Members of the SPA Undergraduate Council spoke about the importance of providing students with an opportunity to come together and watch the address. 

“It's really exciting to see people come together, you know, who might have experienced working on the Hill or working in the executive branch, to be able to see some of their efforts come to around the community, to be able to see what's next for our nation and what's next for us as D.C. people and as campus community,” said Jackson Dietz, a sophomore in SPA and the treasurer for the SPA Undergraduate Council. 

The value of watching the speech 

Outside of the watch party, students across campus tuned in to watch the address. Some students reflected on why they listened to the speech firsthand, rather than reading or hearing about it afterward.

“I think it's very important to watch it directly because a lot of people inform their decisions on the president from what they've heard from someone else,” said Ben Gloppen, a freshman in SPA. “I feel like, yes, you have to take what the president says with a grain of salt. However, it is very valuable to hear it coming directly from the person who's advocating for these changes.”

Other students reflected on the significance of the State of the Union as a tradition in American politics and an opportunity for bipartisanship. Emma Burton, a junior in SPA, said she believes it’s valuable for Americans to see members of Congress come together and coexist within the current political climate. 

“So while I think the bipartisanship is important, and getting everybody to sit in the same room and be civil enough to each other is important, I think there comes a time when we think about whether ceremonial displays of bipartisanship are worth more than actual bipartisanship,” Burton said. 

The issues that matter

Students also shared their thoughts about the issues Biden mentioned in his speech, including his comments on abortion access, climate change and police reform, as well as his description of America as a place for possibilities. 

Harbani Kohli, a freshman in SPA and the advocacy chair for the Asian American Student Union at AU, said she appreciated how the president acknowledged the violence against Asian Americans. She said his comments made her community feel seen, but she would like to see more action from Congress. 

“Of course, like the president's assurance, that in itself means a lot,” Kohli said. “But I think definitely from the other two ... branches of government, we want to see that push forward, but especially, I would say from the legislative branch.”

Ellie Krushinski, a sophomore in SOC and the director of communications for AU College Democrats, said that she wished Biden had addressed the issue of abortion access in more detail.

“One of the things I was paying attention to was whether or not he would actually say the word abortion,” said Krushinski. “And the fact that he did say it at least once was, I felt, like really impactful considering the timing.” 

John Paul Mejia, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, said he was disappointed in Biden’s appeal to Republicans with a comment about needing oil and gas. 

“He's visited countless places across the United States where climate disasters have ravaged communities or places where the fossil fuel industry has forced some of the most vulnerable populations in our country to choke on toxic air or drink poisonous water,” Mejia said. “That's the reality of the crisis right now. And you know, to step in and claim some victories and follow it right up with, well, ‘we are going to need oil and gas for a while.’ That is something that's incredibly disheartening …”

Michael Brown, a senior in SPA and the president of AU’s chapter of the NAACP, said he appreciated how Biden focused on recent successes in the economy, as “that’s what’s really on Americans’ minds.” 

“So for him to spend majority of the speech talking about, you know, the amount of people who are now working jobs and the amount of jobs they're going to come out of the different pieces of legislation he's passed, as of recent, I think was important just because that's what's really on Americans’ minds,” Brown said.

Brown added that he was disappointed in Biden’s comments on police reform. He said he appreciated Biden’s reference to banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, but he disagreed with Biden’s support for increasing police budgets.

“My issue, though, was that as I was watching, talking about this, I'm just thinking back in my mind that like he still wanted to increase police budgets,” Brown said. “... I feel like that's not the solution to the problem. You know, he also talked about other things that he did through executive orders like banning chokeholds, and no-knock warrants, stuff like that. I thought that was necessary. I felt that it was important.”

Jeremy Ward, a senior in SPA and the director for inclusivity, diversity, equality and accessibility for AU College Democrats, said he appreciated the president’s comments on police reform, but he was not sure if these comments would lead to anything substantial. He added that he wished Biden had mentioned the vice president’s work on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. 

“Unfortunately, it's a continual issue, particularly in the Black community having to have these conversations which Joe Biden talked about,” he said. “Which is also very important, I think, to a lot of Black families out there, because it is a conversation as we had that a lot of different groups don't have to have. If there's something going to come from it? I'm not really sure.”

When asked about Biden’s opening, Ward also said he appreciated Biden’s description of America as a place of possibility. 

“So you know, America is a land of possibilities. It also is a land that has some systemic barriers to those possibilities. And so and I think that in the political discourse, it's almost like people feel like you can't have one without the other,” Ward said. He added that he appreciated that Biden approached this differently, saying “but what I think I liked with President Biden is that he does talk about America as a land of possibilities but also recognizes there are some things in there that are blocking people from fully reaching them.”

AU College Republicans did not respond to an email request for an interview about Biden’s address. 

This article was edited by Mackenzie Konjoyan, Jordan Young and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Luna Jinks, Sarah Clayton, Stella Guzik and Leta Lattin. 

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