WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama ran on the promise of hope in 2008, and after spending an hour with the nation's chief executive Thursday afternoon (October 14) at the BET studios in the nation's capital, a group of college students said they were feeling that positive vibe again.
"When I woke up this morning ... I couldn't sleep actually last night. I woke up five times," said Alexandra Lyn Von Paris, 20, a Finance Information Systems major at the University of Maryland, College Park, who said she got some serious jitters before asking the president about an issue close to her heart: the problem of cyberbullying.
"He seemed like he answered it to the best of his ability," she said of Obama's pledge to do more to make sure digital harassment does not take place on campuses. "I really appreciated that he said that that's one of his really big issues for this upcoming election and his legislation. ... It's really good to speak to young people, because we have separate issues. ... Whatever is passed through legislation or whatever Obama says, we're feeling that. It's good that he's speaking to us too, because we have power to change the vote in the election."
One of the audience members who pulled no punches in her question was Richmond, Virginia's Bridget Todd, 25, a graduate student at the University of Maryland who also teaches English at Howard University. She asked the president about his "alleged commitment" to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"I think he responded well. I kind of wish he would have been a bit more specific," said Todd, who comes from a Southern military family and has a number of friends who are gay in the military. "He mentioned that he really wanted to end 'don't ask, don't tell,' which is good, but he didn't address why he was being so slow about it." Todd wondered why Obama had not made an executive order to end the policy, which bars gay and lesbian military members from serving openly in the armed forces.
Like the other students MTV News talked to right after the one-hour live interactive forum, Von Paris said the atmosphere in the studio was electric, with the widely diverse group of 230 attendees swapping stories, sharing their political thoughts and personal feelings about the direction the country is headed in. "Everyone has a smile on their face and everyone is going to come out of this bragging about it to their friends and remember this for the rest of their lives," she said.
Todd said she not only heard a wide variety of voices and opinions while waiting for the president to enter the room, but she thought the forum, which touched on issues ranging from the lack of bipartisanship in Congress to immigration and racism, really proved something about her peers. "People think that young people are apathetic," she said. "Clearly that's not true, because here we all are talking about our issues and why they're important."
She also noted that the questions were not softballs, but sometimes pointed and blunt, including one about race relations from 27-year-old Kishor Nagula, who is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
"I thought the forum was spectacular," he said. "It's not every day that a group of 230 students get a chance to hear the president speak so candidly as well as have the opportunity to get to ask the questions that we feel are so pressing to our current state of the country."
Nagula said he asked about the apparent breakdown in race relations following the euphoria and hope he felt after Obama's inauguration because he's felt recent incidents — such as the furor over the Park51 Islamic Center near Ground Zero in New York — have betrayed a hardening of racial lines in a seemingly more divided country.
"I feel like it's been a bit of a step back from a lot of the idealism that President Obama had spoken so candidly about," he said. One of the things Nagula, a Virginia-born son of parents from India, said was so inspiring to him was the sheer diversity of voices and faces in the audience.
"It feels like kind of a Benetton ad in here," he said. "All race, creed [and] gender were all represented here, which I think is part of the spirit of Obama and what he represents. This forum is a big manifestation of what his presidency is all about."
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