By MEAGHAN MCINTYRE
Virginia gubernatorial candidate, Tom Perriello, visited the University of Mary Washington last Wednesday while on his college campus tour. He talked to students and faculty members in the Hurley Convergence Center about his policies on mental health issues, his proposal for free education at two-year community colleges, promoting an environmentally friendly Virginia and combatting sexual assault. The Young Democrats were in charge of setting up the event.
Sarah Hansen, senior English major and president of The Young Dems, received notice from the campaign about a week in advance that Perriello would be available to stop at Mary Washington. She jumped on the opportunity, and organized for Perriello to speak at UMW.
“As one of the first major elections since 2016’s presidential election, all eyes are going to be on Virginia to see if we embrace or reject the party of Trump,” said senior English major, Sarah Hansen, president of the Young Dems. “It is difficult to overstate just how significant this election is.”
Unifying citizens, as opposed to allowing polarization between the parties, is something that Perriello touched on during his visit.
“We are showing up everywhere,” said Perriello. “A lot of people have been confused about why, I, as a democrat have taken multiple trips out to South-Western Virginia and spent a lot of time in ex-urban counties that went for Trump. This is because I believe that our message of inclusive economic growth leaves no region or race behind and it is something that is uniting people.”
After hearing what Perriello had to say, students expressed what they would hope to see from Perriello in terms of his policies.
“I care deeply about women’s reproductive rights,” said Hansen. “Over the next four years the General Assembly will likely continue their assault on women’s health and we need a governor who will unapologetically veto any bill that limits a woman’s right to affordable healthcare.”
Other students hope to see Perriello prioritize making sure kids with learning disabilities are given equal opportunities in public schools.
“I really want more effort put into caring for special needs kids and kids with learning disabilities in public schools and ensuring that they have equal access to everything public school has to offer,” said sophomore undeclared major Juliet Landeck. “[She hopes] that they are given the same chances to succeed as everyone else.”
When asked about how he plans to solve the mental health crisis, Perriello said the solution was to make sure the field is incentivized for students to go into.
“I think the mental health crisis we have here has several components to it,” said Perriello. “One is access, another is affordability, another is cultural… Related to access is whether we have enough people moving into the professions to take care of this.”
Perriello said, in order to make treatment more accessible it is important to see that employees in the mental health field earn a living. On top of making the field a workable profession, Perriello said that he strives to clarify the truth behind mental disorders.
“One of the other things I continue to hear a lot from mental health professionals is the need to destigmatize treatment,” said Perriello. “In addition to those who actually have the courage to seek care, we have a lot of people who still don’t and if we can continue to do more to make clear that [the] first act of asking for help is an act of courage, not an act of cowardice, then we can save lives.”
Another topic of discussion at Perriello’s visit was student debt and the increasing amount of job opportunities that he sees popping up in Virginia. He is proposing two years of debt-free community college and a refinancing program that could lower monthly payments for student loans.
“In addition to looking for loan forgiveness programs for students moving into urgently needed professions such as mental health and addiction services,” said Perriello. “We also believe that there must be a focus on the jobs of the future including clean energy jobs, which is something we’ve made central to the campaign.”
Hansen, The Young Dem’s president was happy with the outcome of the event.
“I was really excited to attend,” said Hansen. “It is always wonderful to get candidates to visit UMW and we are fortunate that this is Perriello’s second visit to campus so far this semester… Virginia’s gubernatorial election is going to be a defining moment in the politics of our commonwealth and our country.”
Overall students were pleased with the time Perriello took to answer their questions and felt that attending his talk was worthwhile.
“I think it did go well,” said sophomore international affairs major, Ronan Goforth. “He really made an effort to answer everyone’s questions and not just campaign.”