A Student’s Perspective on the BFA Bernie Sanders Forum

Student Town Hall with Bernie Sanders
Photo credit:  https://gggbfa.blogspot.com/2022/11/

Student Town Hall with Bernie Sanders Photo credit: https://gggbfa.blogspot.com/2022/11/

Cooper O'Connell, Editor

On 18 Nov., Bellows Free Academy hosted a student town hall forum featuring Senator Bernie Sanders as the guest speaker. Sanders reached out to BFA administrators about visiting after meeting students at the Veterans’ Day event held at Taylor Park earlier in the month. The forum took place in the BFA gymnasium, and the purpose of this event was for Sanders to hear student voices. Sanders spoke on issues such as universal healthcare, economic inequality, equity and climate change. Although these all sound like positive talking points, I would not advise the administration to welcome Sanders back to BFA again.

One of the topics Sanders spoke on was income inequality. “In America today, we have more income and wealth inequality than at any time in the history of the United States of America,” Sanders said.

Sanders has a net worth of $3,000,000 along with an annual salary of $174,000. Sanders’s annual salary is close to three times Vermont’s median household income. When speaking about income inequality, Sanders didn’t mention millionaires as the problem, but billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and others. It seemed as if Sanders was shining a spotlight on billionaires in order to keep millionaires like himself out of the conversation. After finding out this information, it made the case he was making for wealth control even less appealing. This discrepancy seemed to contradict his whole argument.

Some might say that having a state senator come and speak to a group of students is inspirational, but not when the person that is viewed as a role model in the community is ill-mannered towards possible supporters. While speaking at the event, Sanders was rather short with students, replying with a snappy “nope,” or when a student didn’t give the response he was looking for, he would say, “let’s move it along.” Sanders was not only rude to students, but he also cut them off mid-sentence a number of times. All of these critiques may seem like minor issues, but not when many students admire and consider him to be a role model in their eyes. Sanders’ quick rebukes and discourteous language toward students made it seem as if he didn’t want to be there, and this was something that did not go unnoticed. 

The final reason I don’t think Sanders should be invited back to BFA is that the event as a whole seemed like a photo op. The discussion was advertised as a political forum, but it turned into Sanders spewing his partisan beliefs into the crowd. It wasn’t until the end that Sanders took a few questions, and he didn’t end up spending much time on them anyways. Besides that, the only other part of this that could be considered a forum would be the periodic direct questions he asked the audience. After each one of Sanders’ speaking points, he would ask the audience to raise their hands if they agreed with his statement and then raise their hands if they disagreed. Either the BFA staff were not given an accurate description of the event, or Sanders got carried away with his own opinions as he did not allow a lot of actual feedback from the student body.

I was conflicted on whether or not to write this article as Sanders is looked upon positively within the Vermont community. Many factors were in play when making this decision, including the possible negative reaction the administration, teachers and student body might have with what I felt needed to be said. After talking with other students and discussing their similar conclusions of the event, I am confident when I say I would advise the administration to think long and hard before they were to welcome Bernie Sanders back to the school again.