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As Kentucky legislative session continues, college students make their voices heard

Madison County tenants and Berea College students protested against House Bill 5's anti-homeless provisions outside Berea's Union Church earlier this month.
Shepherd Snyder
Madison County tenants and Berea College students protested against House Bill 5's anti-homeless provisions outside Berea's Union Church earlier this month.

As this year’s legislative session gets into full swing, younger voters are concerned with a number of proposed bills and making their voices heard at student rallies.

College students represented a large demographic of the people attending recent political rallies, whether on campus or at the state capitol building.

One recent rally was held at Berea College to protest against the proposed anti-homeless provisions in House Bill 5, also known as the Safer Kentucky Act.

Xeo Jenkins, a student at Berea College, was among those attending. She was out campaigning out of concern for her fellow students.

“I come from a poor background, or a poorer background than say, a lot of people around the country,” Jenkins said. “So it's really important to me that people don't end up homeless just because one thing went wrong.”

She says she’d like to see state money go towards housing initiatives as an alternative.

“I've seen a lot of people panhandling or kind of sitting on the side of the road, just looking for some sort of help,” Jenkins said. “And if I can't provide the help, because I'm a student, the least that I think the government can do is provide that help for us.”

Another rally was held last week on the steps of the capitol building in Frankfort, hosted by a number of activist groups under the New Kentucky banner.

They rallied for a number of causes meant to encourage younger voters to get involved in politics and run for office.

Maddie Pierce, who also attends Berea College, spoke at the rally. She’s concerned about Senate Bill 80, which would bar the use of student IDs as valid voter identification in an effort to stop election fraud.

But Pierce says a lot of students just don’t have the time or money for a state ID.

“One of the big terms we use at Berea is ‘Berea Busy,’" Pierce said. “I don't have time to sit at the DMV, I don't have time to fill out all the paperwork. I don't have an address in Berea other than my CPO (college post office) box and my dorm address.”

Another student in attendance was Quincy Robinson, a senior and sociology major at the University of Louisville. He’s currently volunteering as a lobbyist for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s voting and education policy.

Robinson said during a phone interview that a big concern of his are the multiple bills that would restrict Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs in schools.

“If you're restricting the functions or responsibilities of places whose purpose is to be a safe space for students, then students might not feel safe on the campus anymore,” Robinson said. “I think it's as simple as that.”

He’s also in support of House Bill 566, which would restore voting rights to those convicted of certain felonies.

“If we're a nation built upon the principle of no taxation without representation, and we're taxing people for their income that they earn for working while incarcerated, they should be allowed to vote also,” Robinson said.

Other students are less directly involved in politics but still think younger voices should have a say. EKU student Anne Zoellner is in favor of term limits at both the state and national level.

“It gets agitating seeing the same people in my county or in my state over and over and over again, when there's plenty of newer, younger people who can put the younger generation’s voice out there,” Zoellner said.

Robinson repeated a common theme at these rallies - that young people should take action.

“The children and youth are not the future,” Robinson said. “They're the present, we are taking action now. And it is imperative that we use our voices, and our voices be heard to affect change, because it's not going to impact us only in the future. It impacts us in the present moment.”

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Shepherd joined WEKU in June 2023 as a staff reporter. He most recently worked for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as General Assignment Reporter. In that role, he collected interviews and captured photos in the northern region of West Virginia. Shepherd holds a master’s degree in Digital Marketing Communication and a bachelor’s in music from West Virginia University.
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