This past Monday, University of Chicago students were ready to “Feel the Bern.” Crowds of students and community members gathered inside Rockefeller Chapel, the building in which Senator Bernie Sanders wore his cap and gown as a University of Chicago graduate fifty-one years ago, eagerly awaiting the presidential candidate’s speech to his alma mater. David Axelrod, Director of the Institute of Politics, began to warm the crowd by introducing Bernie Sanders with one very important fact: “In the long and storied history of our country, we have never had a president named Bernie.”
Senator Sanders drew upon his experience as an outsider when he reflected on a “painful and difficult memory” from his time at the University of Chicago. He recounted, “[I came] here as a young man, from a family that did not have a lot of money, a family whose mom and dad did not go to college, suddenly interacting with a whole lot of young people whose families did have money.” I found it refreshing that Senator Sanders addressed an issue that many low-income first-generation students face on this campus: It is one thing to attend the University of Chicago academically yet quite another to attend the university socially. Some students who identify as low-income and/or first-generation do not feel fully included in campus life due to financial restraints that make affording textbooks, eating Saturday night meals, and leaving campus difficult. The University of Chicago Center for Diversity and Inclusion, QuestBridge, Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance, among other organizations, are working to do as Bernie Sanders stated: enact change from the bottom up, not the top down.
Change was a recurring theme in the Senator’s speech, particularly when he discussed the many racial divides our country faces. During the Q&A Session, for instance, I asked Senator Sanders what specific policies he would put in place, if elected President, to ensure that African-American women receive equal pay for equal work. I knew the answer to this question; I spent months researching his positions on the race wage gap. I deliberately asked Senator Sanders this question, not for my own benefit, but so that African-American Students and residents of the South Side of Chicago could hear why he’s the best candidate for African-Americans, specifically women. It is women, specifically African-American women, who still suffer from staggering pay inequality. Senator Sanders has already begun to tackle this issue by supporting the “Non-Discrimination Employment Act” and other policies intended to close the race wage gap. During his remarks, he also addressed the need for prison reform in the face of African-Americans’ high incarceration rates, and low college enrollment rates. These factors greatly contribute to the steepness of the race wage gap.
When I asked Senator Sanders about this topic, however, his response was broadened to a statement that “all Americans” deserve equal pay for equal work; while this is true, it is not the entire American population that suffers from the wage gap. Despite inconsistencies like these, I appreciate Sanders’s campaign efforts to ensure that African-Americans are included in his policy proposals as the election cycle continues, as evidenced by his meeting with the African-American civil rights activist, Deray McKesson. This meeting occurred in mid-August, days after Sanders was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters, who were pressuring Sanders to address specifically his plan to combat institutional disparities within the black community. Sanders is diligently working to restructure his message by employing the help of Symone Sanders, his new National Press Secretary. She is working towards effectively marketing his progressive message to the American people as she referenced in her interview with BuzzFeed. She is eager to “Educate America, the community, letting people know who Bernie Sanders is and what he’s about.”
Toward the end of Sanders’s speech, he called upon students to “stand up and become leaders in this country” and to ensure that every citizen is treated equally. Truthfully, equality can only happen if people work together to achieve it. Therefore, Bernie Sanders can’t do it alone; it is up to students, employers, workers, politicians, and especially voters to lead him in the right direction.
The image featured in this article was taken by Michael Vadon. The original image can be found here.