Students, faculty and guest speakers gathered to discuss immigration and college affordability at Doheny Memorial Library on Thursday evening. The event, titled “Issues Facing Millennials: Listen, Talk, #JustVote,” was sponsored by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics in partnership with ProCon, Participant Media, USC College Democrats and USC College Republicans.
The panel consisted of campaign for Free College Tuition President Morley Winograd, California Community Foundation Program Officer Rosie Arroyo, The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities President Kristen Soares, California College Republicans Chief of Staff Robert Petrosian, USC College Democrats member Jeremy Salley and USC College Republicans President Tiffany Hoss.
Unlike prior Unruh Institute events, this panel’s design was based on a survey asking USC students about the issues that matter most to them in the upcoming presidential election. The two most popular issues were pathways to citizenship and student debt.
The event began with a discussion about the importance of the millennial vote. Moderator Dan Schnur, the director of the Unruh Institute, said that he is often asked whether one vote is going to make a difference. In response, he compared the concept of voting to recycling, in that one person may not singlehandedly save the planet by separating paper from plastic, but that together a large number of people can make change.
“It’s the same concept with voting,” Schnur said. “It’s important to know that your vote really does matter, particularly on those issues that are important to you.”
The conversation then shifted from voting to college tuition, specifically regarding free tuition at public universities.
“Hypothetically speaking, if every student in California were allowed to go to a public university like UCLA for free, it would most likely disenfranchise minority students,” Salley said. “That’s because of admissions. Instead of 100,000 students competing for spots, you’d have 300,000 students competing.”
Hoss agreed that student loans are an issue, but said that there are alternatives to free tuition at public universities. Hoss said that universities are spending money on things that are not associated with academic progress, like drivers and athletic programs, which leads to higher tuition prices.
“It’s important to get major transparency on where the money is going to so we can lower student debt,” Hoss said. “We could create work-study programs for students. If they commit to working for the government for two years, then the government should subsidize their tuition.”
The final topics covered were immigration and a pathway to citizenship. Arroyo said that although undocumented immigrants face challenges in the current U.S. climate, she is hopeful that the situation will improve in the future.
“Our country is at an inflection point,” Arroyo said. “I think reform is going to happen but it’s just a matter of time, as there’s a lot of stake in the upcoming election. But California has made progress by embracing a pro-immigrant agenda and giving undocumented immigrants a driver’s license.”
Petronian, however, explained his hesitation to guarantee a national pathway to citizenship, and instead proposed that the changes start state by state.
“Immigration reform hits some parts of the country a lot harder than others,” Petrosian said. “In California, there is far greater catering towards the interests of undocumented individuals, whereas in some other parts of the country, a lot of people might not have seen an immigrant in their life. Because of that disparity, there’s not enough unity in Congress for there to be a solution that will satisfy everybody.”
The USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics holds events every week as part of its Road to the White House series. Next Tuesday, the Institute will register voters by Tommy Trojan from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.