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For A Young Couple With Student Debt, Education Is A Top Issue This Election

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Catlyn Brooke, left, and Sara Middleton say their desires to pursue further education have played a part in how they're voting this election.


Sara Middleton and Catlyn Brooke both teach cross fit at the Allegheny YMCA on the North Side.


They renovated the upstairs studio themselves. Middleton built the barbell racks, as well as a huge structure for pull up rings and high bars.


This story is part of Essential Pittsburgh, an ongoing series exploring how Pittsburgh lives, and how it's evolving.

  “I fell in love with it and I got certified to teach,” Brooke said.


Middleton is the Program Director of Healthy Living at the YMCA and leads a team of personal trainers. Brooke is the full-time aquatics director for the Y downtown. The two are in their mid-twenties, met a few years ago and got engaged this summer.

Both grew up in pretty small towns - one outside of Pittsburgh, the other outside of Philadelphia.

Middleton said she’s always been a registered Democrat, while Brooke held onto her family’s conservative political leanings a little longer. She said she didn’t vote for Obama in 2012, but that her values shifted amid college, Americorps and more community involvement.

“All my friends make fun of me because I only recently switched my voter registration so I could vote in the primary,” Brooke said.

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Sara Middleton stretches in the crossfit gym at the North Side YMCA before lifting a barbell.



A big issue determining that vote was student debt, so in this year’s primary, she said, “I voted for Bernie. Heck yeah."


A few months ago, Brooke decided to go back to the University of Pittsburgh to pursue her master’s degree. Middleton would like to open up her career opportunities too and do something with health education, changing people’s perspective of fitness.


“So educating people on what fitness can be for them instead of this negative part of their life would be incredible,” Middleton said.


But going back to school is not an easy decision for either of them.


“Oh my gosh do you want to talk about student debt? Because we can go on probably for probably three hours,” Brooke said.


Both Brooke and Middleton each said they have more than $100,000 in student loan debt. They use income-based repayment plans for their federal loans, which make them very manageable. But both said their private loans are a big problem.

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Sara Middleton and Catlyn Brooke are both instructors at the North Side YMCA, but say they'd like to go back to school.

Brooke said for a while, she just wasn’t paying them.

“I finally got them under control, and luckily since going back to grad school, they are now in deferment again,” she said. “We do have a little more wiggle room in our bank account because now I’m not paying out $750 a month.”

Both women strive to stay informed and vote in most elections, but they try to keep an arm’s length from politics.

“I’m as engaged as I can be without feeling doomed,” Middleton said.

While Middleton also voted for Sanders in the primary, she’s totally satisfied with Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Especially after the first presidential debate, she said she was inspired by Clinton’s composure as she faced her opponent.


“Because that’s our everyday life," she said. "That’s every single situation that we’re walking into. We’re being interrupted, our ideas aren’t being heard, we’re ignored or objectified, and all of those things happened to her on Monday night, and she took it with so much grace, and I respect her so much for that.”

Middleton’s priority social issue may be LGBT rights, but she said progress is happening at a local level, plus, Clinton’s campaign outlines a plan to expand LGBT rights.

UPDATE: 90.5 WESA's Virginia Alvino Young caught up Hillary Clinton supporters Catlyn Brooke and Sara Middleton after the third presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. As a sexual assault survivor, Brooke says this election cycle has been triggering. Listen below.

They also like Clinton's take on other issues, such as women’s rights and equal pay. But there's one issue they can't get behind.


“I’m absolutely not going to stand for Donald Trump building a wall,” Middleton said. “If you’re going to consider that national security, that’s just not acceptable.”


Young people typically lean left on social and economic issues. But these young women said even their traditional republican parents have issues with their party’s nominee.

“I think the violence and the disrespect for people who are not rich white men is terrifying to me, because the majority of people in this country are not rich white man. It’s terrifying and disheartening that a man with so little respect could be running our country, to go so far.”


This is the third in a five-part series exploring how Pittsburgh-area families experience the debates and dramas of the 2016 election.


Virginia reports on identity and justice for 90.5 WESA. That means looking at how people see themselves in the community, and how the community makes them feel. Her reporting examines things like race, policing, and housing to tell the stories of folks we often don't hear from.
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