By Jenna Hutchins
April 4, 2017
Many professors at St. Thomas Aquinas College recall that it has been years since seeing any political activism on campus. Several students and faculty of the college met Tuesday afternoon in Sullivan Theatre to partake in a political forum aimed at improving the situation and finding ways to motivate the community.
Senior Jacob McCullough and junior Jennifer Grumet organized the forum. The hope of the event was to attract students who identify with all parts of the political spectrum to come and talk about hot-button issues, like women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, environmental concerns and climate change, and the current presidential administration. Although the forum was highly advertised for, with campus-wide emails and announcements at student government meetings, there was a surprisingly low turnout for the discussion.
The hosts, McCullough and Grumet, professionally articulated facts, statistics, and current events about the state of the nation Americans find themselves in today. Without differing viewpoints in the room, seasoned activists, our very own professors at STAC, suggested ways to make these types of conversations more appealing to students.
Dr. Ellen Chayet, professor of criminal justice and who comes from a politically active generation, mentioned her advice for students. “You guys have to get out there. It’s one thing to have conversations and another thing to run for office, even at a local level. Vote in local elections. That is where you can make a huge impact. Start change incrementally and make a commitment to political action.” Dr. Chayet told the group, “You are the ones inheriting the mess. Hopefully, you will be the ones to fix it.”
“Run for school board,” Dr. Ben Wagner, professor of psychology, added. “You all are talking about education, run for school board. You only have to be 18 and live in the district.”
Professor Monica Wendel, who teaches English courses at the college, recently attended marches and rallies in New York City and gave students her invaluable insight. To student concerns that they are too busy or stressed out to attend events, Professor Wendel said, “I think that going to political events with friends and caring about these types of things can be a form of stress relief. Whatever events we do at STAC, I think it would be important to include an element of joy.” Her examples included planting trees or other hands-on environmental activities and protesting for other people’s rights, not just our own.
The most immediate takeaway from the two-hour conversation was that STAC’s professors are the students’ most valuable resources when it comes to taking political action, on or off campus. Although the discussion was not as well attended as anticipated, most students and professors left with optimism that the conversation was just the first step in finding ways to engage students at STAC in the future.