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Listening session: College students share concerns this election cycle

Participants at a listening session April 29 at Millersville University were, left row front to back, Tevon Kerr-Hornbaker, Alexis Stengel, Evelyn Morales; middle, WITF reporter Ben Wasserstein; right row back to front, Brayden Button, Zachary Pernia, Joshua Gearhart.
Randy Parker - WITF

Participants at a listening session April 29 at Millersville University were, left row front to back, Tevon Kerr-Hornbaker, Alexis Stengel, Evelyn Morales; middle, WITF reporter Ben Wasserstein; right row back to front, Brayden Button, Zachary Pernia, Joshua Gearhart.

This listening session is part of WITF’s participation in America Amplified, a national public media collaboration dedicated to community engagement and listening. Disclosure: Through an America Amplified grant, participants in the conversation received a $50 stipend to attend.

The 2024 election season is in high gear, and young voters are expected to be one of the biggest voting blocs.

WITF’s Ben Wasserstein met with six students from Millersville University on April 29 to discuss their hopes and concerns.

Participants were Joshua Gearhart, 21, Alexis Stengel, 23, Tevon Kerr-Hornbaker, 20, Evelyn Morales, 34, Brayden Button, 20, and Zachary Pernia, 22.

We asked questions ranging from issues personally affecting them to problems with voting.

Here is what they said:


Gearhart: “A lot of times, I think people are forced to take jobs that offer them better healthcare and turn down a job that might be best suited for them because that doesn’t have the good healthcare insurance. So I’d really like to see the healthcare world kind of be changed and kind of revolutionizing that aspect to benefit all Americans.”

Reproductive rights

Stengel: “The door opened when Roe v. Wade was overturned. So I’m a little scared about where that’ll go.”

Student loans

Gearhart: “I know there’s a lot of talk currently about trying to alleviate those student loans for students. So for students who are in crippling student debt, I’d love to see that go somewhere and potentially help those out who are in need of that.”


Gearhart: “I don’t think Narcan is a solution. It’s a Band-Aid, right? Because if you take opioids, you’re almost provided this blanket of reassurance, right? That, oh, if I overdose, I will be able to be saved by Narcan, right? So I don’t think Narcan is necessarily an answer to solve the problem. It keeps people alive, but who’s to say they’re going to keep going back and reusing? So I think to address that issue as well is a huge issue for presidents this upcoming election.”

Stengel said her father died after overdosing on heroin: “My father back, it was 2003-ish, he tore his meniscus and ended up having to, well, not having to be prescribed, he was prescribed pain, opioid painkillers. And there was no thought to any sort of familial history of addiction, which his family did have. So, from that point on, he was addicted to painkillers and then it turned into heroin. And when I was 16, he actually overdosed alone in a motel room. But the fact that there was no consideration for what could happen if he had been prescribed those painkillers, and then that’s the road that he went, had gone down. And I don’t think he got the help that he deserved.”


Kerr-Hornbaker: “I’m concerned about voting integrity and integrity of elections, and I think our voting laws need to be improved because there’s a lot of laws that, while they may not seem discriminatory on their face, in effect, they are discriminatory against minority groups.”

Morales: “I feel like we’re trying to pick it apart to throw out as many votes as possible and that’s just my feeling on it. But if we’re nitpicking on ‘did somebody put the date at the wrong spot?’ That sort of thing. I think we’re trying to take away voices.”


Button: “Right now, in the Supreme Court, there’s a decision on discussing whether or not presidents should have immunity from committing crimes. I think that’s kind of an absurd idea, and if that gets passed, who’s to limit the presidency at that point?”

Pernia: “We saw with Donald Trump running on a campaign that he was going to appoint justices or federal judges that were pro-this or anti-that. That was one of the first times where a president actually released a list of judges that they would appoint … during the election cycle. And those are very important because Joe Biden has appointed almost 200 federal district court judges already, and one Supreme Court justice, and we saw Trump had appointed three Supreme Court justices, which drastically altered the composition of the court. And these are decisions that affect the entire country.”

Gearhart: “I would say we haven’t been this polarized since the Civil War. I know that’s a bold statement, but we have almost brother against brother, sister against sister, and it’s really a difficult time in our nation where the president is going to be seen to be this higher figure, where they’re going to be tasked to bridge the gap between these two sides.”

Stengel: “The last presidential election, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, we’re the most polarized we’ve ever been,’ and now here we are again. So that does make me afraid for the future. We’re just getting further and further polarized.”


Gearhart: “I mean, honestly, as much as government officials probably would not like to use TikTok and Instagram, that’s where we are. That’s how you’re gonna reach us. I’ll be honest with you, Instagram has features where you can put … advertisements on reels that are successful in getting people to buy a product, do a service, or so forth. So if you want to connect with our age and our demographic, I think your best bet is social media.”