From climate change to gun control, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand responded to a range of student questions during a town hall in the Chapel.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) stopped by College Hill on Nov. 18 for a Town Hall Q&A session in the Hamilton Chapel. After a brief introduction by President David Wippman, Gillibrand remarked that she is always excited to visit college campuses as students often lead the debate on the key issues of the era. 

The one-time presidential candidate said she’s proud to see young people across the country marching and fighting for issues such as gun control and a better climate. She also expressed her hope that students would continue the fight against hate in its various forms, like racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

Eric Stenzel '23
Eric Stenzel ’23 poses a question to Gillibrand. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

The session opened with questions related to the climate crisis, a hot-button issue on many campuses across the country. Eric Stenzel ’23, who leads an environmental group, asked the senator if she supported the recently introduced Green New Deal for Public Housing Act. “The senator demonstrated that she is paying attention to the climate crisis,” Stenzel said. “Though she did not explicitly support [the bill] as I asked, she expressed general support for the concept pending her reading the bill.”

Another student asked for her thoughts on fossil fuel divestment, to which Gillibrand responded in favor of the idea. “I was happy to hear that she supports divesting NY State’s pension fund from fossil fuels, something she is leading on ahead of even Hamilton College,” Stenzel added.  

Other students asked for the senator’s opinions on gun control, disinformation campaigns, and the future of the Democratic Party. In her answers, Gillibrand often brought up policy ideas, like her push for publicly funded elections. Students also asked for her advice on topics such as going to work in DC in the current political environment, and how to mobilize students to vote. 

Perhaps most refreshing was Gillibrand’s readiness to admit that she did not always have a clear answer. One student asked for her thoughts on abolishing the filibuster, and she discussed her thought process on the issue, acknowledging that she did not yet have a firm stance given the pros and cons. 

Kirsten Gillibrand, Joyce Lee '20, and Mary Kate McNeil '20
Gillibrand poses with Joyce Lee '20 and Mary Kate McNeil '20 after the Q&A session. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Gillibrand also was candid on a number of issues. She openly voiced frustration over Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow certain bills to come to a vote. In her view, members of congress are too prone to play partisan politics, which is dangerous when it supersedes concern for people’s lives. Issues of moral conscience demand leaders who push for votes and common sense legislation, she said.

Nadav Konforty ’20 noted that he was pleasantly surprised that the senator took the time to visit Hamilton and rural Central New York. “In retrospect, I wish someone had asked what are her policy goals and concerns as it relates to issues that face rural New York communities like Clinton,” Konforty said.

Those who attended the town hall generally agreed that the format of asking unscripted questions allowed them to address the issues and ideas that students at Hamilton are thinking about today. The event ended, as political events so often do these days, with a line-up of students eagerly awaiting a selfie with the senator.

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