Civil Discourse and Civic Engagement

Civil Discourse and Civic Engagement

One of the great things about spending a semester in D.C. is, well, spending a semester in Washington D.C. This city is THE place for not just exciting internships that deal with social or economic issues, but also great discussions and debates over policy and politics as well. It's a city of ideas. It seems like everyone has his or her own analysis of the big news stories of the day, which is a great environment to be in. Where else can you talk about the Democratic primary with your Uber driver? Or just chat about the state of American politics in general with a New Zealander car salesman (this actually happened to me shortly after arriving in D.C....)? It's not just the folks you randomly talk to, however. Here at The Washington Center, there is a real effort to bring these conversations to the students. That is done primarily through the Simpson-Mineta Leaders Series and each student's required Public Policy Dialogue.

 

Simpson-Mineta

The SMLS is a great way to engage with national issues without leaving home (at least for me, since I live in the main residential/academic facility). Once a month a panel of speakers comes and discusses a relevant issue. So far we've covered gun control and how the Washington press pool covers the Obama Administration. The conversations are always interesting.

 

The gun control debate was between two gentlemen representing both sides of the argument. One was from Everytown For Gun Safety, an organization that seeks to enact reforms to America's gun laws. The other was from the Gun Owners of America, which advocates for preserving the Second Amendment rights of the American people. The debate between the two on things such as mandatory background checks and laws creating "gun free zones" was very lively, and sometimes intense. But the conversation never strayed from a civil debate. That was very nice to see, as often times in Washington these sorts of discussions become overruled by too much emotional intensity.

 

The next Simpson-Mineta Leaders Series panel that we have had is over how the Washington press core keeps President Obama accountable through their questioning during the White House's daily press conferences. It was fascinating to see respected journalists such as Jim Acosta and April Ryan discuss their careers and the day-to-day work they do. I had never given much thought to the folks who ask the questions during these press conferences before, but after this panel I am much more aware of the important role they play and the role a free press plays in our democracy in general. The point of SMLS is to be thought provoking, and in this case all expectations were exceeded.

 

Jim Acosta on CNN shortly after the end of SMLS! Very cool to see him on TV so soon.

 

Public Policy Dialogue

Another really great thing The Washington Center arranges for its students is a meeting with one's member of Congress. As an Arkansan, I was able to go visit with Senator John Boozman in his office with a group of my fellow Hendrix students (as well as a student who's from Arkansas but goes to school in Texas). It was a fantastic opportunity to sit down with someone who has served Arkansas for quite some time and ask him a question about national policy. Each of us discussed a topic we were interested with Senator Boozman, and it was great getting to hear his perspective on important issues such as food insecurity in Arkansas and how good of a job the Department of Veterans Affairs has done treating mental health issues among American service members. He was very kind, allowing us to converse with him for almost an hour (which is fantastic given how busy his schedule is). It was a great way to promote civic engagement among myself and my peers as it allowed us to see our elected representatives as people we can approach with our questions and concerns as opposed to people far removed from our reach.

 

Myself and other Arkansas students with Senator Boozman!

 

This was definitely the highlight of my week! I can't wait to see what next week has in store.

 

Until next time,

 

Barrett

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