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Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Housing, academic freedom, abortion: What issues matter most to UF students this election cycle?

Students agree that voting is imperative to democracy

<p>UF houses many different perspectives and political groups on its campus, these views become more prevalent with the upcoming primaries.</p>

UF houses many different perspectives and political groups on its campus, these views become more prevalent with the upcoming primaries.

On top of new classes and new people, many UF students are paying close attention to something else: the 2022 midterm elections.

Several student groups have geared up to throw their support behind candidates who come out of the primaries victorious. Due to internal policies, most groups don’t endorse partisan state-level candidates early in an election cycle to avoid putting stock behind a candidate that might not make it through to the next stage. 

But during primary season, specific political issues that could affect students are at the forefront of their mind. 

Other political groups like UF College Democrats, a local college chapter of the Democratic Party, haven’t shied away from supporting primary candidates. Nonpartisan school board candidates such as Tina Certain, Diyonne McGraw, Sarah Rockwell and Prescott Cowles garnered endorsements from UFCD leading up to the election. 

Lily Kalandjian, a 20-year-old political science junior and UFCD member, said issues surrounding free speech and First Amendment rights in schools are key to this primary cycle. 

“Electing candidates that hold strongly to academic freedom should be important to everyone at UF right now,” she said. “There’s a lot of negative changes happening at the state level, and they’re only going to get worse.”

Kalandjian said she worries about legislation such as the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the ”Don’t Say Gay“ law, and the Stop WOKE Act. 

The Parental Rights in Education Act prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in state schools from kindergarten to third grade. The Stop WOKE Act prohibits discussion of critical race theory, a higher education concept that asserts that race is a social construct and systemic racism is prevalent in society, from kindergarten to 12th grade in state schools. Both bills were passed in March. 

UF has also experienced recent pushback with issues of academic freedom this past year. In November, three professors filed a lawsuit against UF, claiming university administration tried to bar them from testifying in a case against the state. 

On a local level, the issue of affordable and available student housing in Gainesville is also a critical issue among college voters. The Gainesville City Commission made the city the first in Florida to eliminate single-family zoning Aug. 5, an action expected to free up more housing for college students and staff closer to campus. 

Gainesville has faced the rising inflation rates felt across the nation over the past year. Housing prices have increased in the South by 8.6% since 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. 

“It’s a genuine issue that we’ve been fighting for a long time,” Kalandjian said. 

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Matthew Spata, a 22-year-old UF agricultural education and communications senior, said he’s lived in Gainesville for four years and has witnessed the affordable housing debate go on since he arrived. 

The issue of affordable housing has haunted Gainesville for almost a decade. A 2021 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study estimated that 21% of all renter households in Gainesville from 2013 to 2017 were cost burdened, which is when a household pays more than 30% of its income toward housing costs. 

About 30% were severely cost burdened, which is when a household pays more than 50% of its income toward housing costs. 

However, after an improvement in the economy, affordability slightly bettered from 2017 to 2019. The growth of average income in Gainesville outpaced the growth of rent rates. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and residents struggled to pay rent again. 

As more high rise apartments are built to accommodate the demand for student housing, residents have become concerned about what luxury living will do to their rent costs. 

“It turns into this whole thing of residents versus students,” Spata said. “A lot of the time it's the government versus the university, too. It’s hard to tell what’s right.”

Other right-leaning organizations such as the UF chapter of Turning Point USA and UF College Republicans haven’t publicly endorsed any primary candidates, but conservative students are still following the elections closely. 

Roberto Zaldaña-Argüello, a 22-year-old UF computer engineering junior, said he’s voting for Ron DeSantis this year because he said DeSantis is trustworthy. 

“I’m looking for people who actually deliver on their promises,” Zaldana-Argüello said. “DeSantis has been doing that for a long time now.” 

Zaldana-Argüello, a registered Republican who plans to join Turning Point this Fall, also said he’s tracking which candidates up for election are part of the House Freedom Caucus. Established in 2015, the conservative group is made up of 36 confirmed members of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“Those people in that caucus represent my values,” Zaldana-Argüello said. “Those are people you can trust.” 

National politics continue to have a large influence on what students care about in their own local towns. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, for instance, has many students paying close attention to candidates with promises of expanding protections for abortion rights, Kalandjian said. 

Around 1,000 protestors marched the streets of Gainesville on June 25, a day after Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

Zaldana-Argüello said he’s against abortion, but he supports exceptions for rape at all times. He also said he agrees with Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban, which is being fought in state courts. 

He doesn’t mind opposing opinions, but he doesn’t want his taxes funneled into organizations that actively support abortion, such as Planned Parenthood, he added.

“It’s like if you were a vegan and your taxes went to fund slaughterhouses,” Zaldana-Argüello said. 

Conversely, Kalandjian said she’s specifically looking at candidates who focus on improving reproductive rights in Florida. 

“Just because the federal government let the states off the hook doesn’t mean we should let women’s rights fade away,” she said. 

Despite their differences, both Kalandjian and Zaldana-Argüello believe voting in local elections matters.

“This is where the people get to choose what they want,” Zaldana-Argüello said. “It’s imperative that everyone go out to vote for that, or else the system doesn’t work.” 

Contact Siena at Follow her on Twitter @SienaDuncan.

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Siena Duncan

Siena Duncan is a sophomore journalism major and the graduate school beat reporter for the Alligator. When she's not out reporting, she's typically bothering her friends about podcasts or listening to Metric on repeat. 

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