Opinion on a Campus Discussion with Politician

Aicha Ly | Opinion Editor


This week, on Monday March 28th in the Johnson Room located in J. Eugene Smith Library, Pi Sigma Alpha hosted a political event. For those who do not know, Pi Sigma Alpha is the National Political Science Honors Society. It is an organization based in Washington, DC with chapters all over the nation including a small one here at Eastern. Trevor Mays, a student who is the president of Eastern’s Pi Sigma Alpha chapter, led planning efforts that came to fruition with the help of fellow political science students Jorge Centellas, Kyle Garneau, Ryan Stephems, Josh Hull, Joahana Vega, and myself.

Eastern’s Pi Sigma Alpha chapter was awarded a prestigious Chapter Activity Grant by the national honors society which made Monday’s event possible. This event was essentially a public forum facilitated by guests from the CT General Assembly: CT State House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora (Republican) and CT State House Majority Leader Jason Rojoas (Democrat). Jorge Centellas was the moderator, university president Elsa Nuñez made a speech praising liberal arts education and thanking both Candelora and Rojoas for their service to the state, many political science professors and students affiliated with Eastern attended in addition to members of the larger Willimantic community. The event was livestreamed on Instagram for those who could not attend in person, and there was plenty of great food thanks to catering from Chartwells.

There were many interesting takeaways from this event. For one, Candelora and Rojoas gave off the impression of having a very friendly and respectful relationship. The seemingly increasing political polarization seen in the federal government has painted a picture that Democratic and Republican politicians cannot compromise or be friends due to stark ideological differences that lead to attacks on character due to lack of compatibility. Candelora and Rojoas defied this in their discussion, making a point to call the event a discussion rather than a debate. They carried an “agree to disagree” approach when it came to differing opinions, and when they did agree it was not at the expense of their party’s stance but rather from a place of compromise of the wellbeing of the state. For example, when discussing euthanasia Candelora referred to it as “assisted suicide” whereas Rojoas referred to it as “compassionate care.”

Attendees were able to freely walk up to the available microphone to ask questions, and they asked some very important questions. For example, political science professor Nicole Krassas brought up the class that she and fellow professor Courtney Broscious are teaching this semester titled “Covid-19 and Politics of Federalism.” She asked “From your perspective, what challenges have you faced or do you face as a result of higher branches of government during the pandemic?” Candelora answered that there have been more tax relief debates as a result of inflation, in addition to political clashes over handling the pandemic and its problematic byproducts. Rojoas answered that there have been difficulties with presidential administrations since former President Donald Trump largely felt that pandemic control was the responsibility of states while CT governor Ned Lamont wanted executive involvement. Elsa Nuñez asked about DACA, explaining that some people believe that no immigration reform can happen before big term elections and that a Supreme Court decision occuring in June won’t offer relief to immigrants which could result in millions of DACA students– “who feel just as American as citizens,” being deported. Candelora and Rojoas both agreed that immigration reform is difficult, and immigrants have benefited the economy to at least some degree. I agree and believe that immigrants have been heavily politicized rather than humanized. Another important question asked was by political science professor and department chair Martin Mendoza-Botelho, which was a two part question. It was, “Are you optimistic or pessimistic about our short term economic evolution as a result of the international economic slowdown due to the pandemic and how strong is your commitment or how much are you prioritizing the pandemic storm impacting higher/public education here in CT?” Candelora recognized the difficulty of this complex situation, and touched on domestic businesses. Rojoas answered by saying “I’d describe myself as annoyingly optimistic; an idealist without illusion” before going on to explain that he thinks we can bounce back even though it will take a lot of work.

Overall, I thought this event was very well planned and executed. I appreciate how diverse attendees were in the sense that it was a combination of the Eastern community and the larger community of Willimantic, and appreciate the willingness of both Candelora and Rojoas to come to campus to discuss and kindly answer questions relating to important matters. I also believe that this event was a great way to get the word out there about Pi Sigma Alpha, and more similar events should be hosted by honors societies so people in and out of Eastern can get an idea of what Eastern’s students and departments are up to in an educational and meaningful way.