Young Profs Making a Difference in the Public Sphere

Just a quick addendum to my last post on participation in the political sphere. This weekend two of our young professors in the social sciences weighed in on important national/international issues in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. In an OpEd for The Los Angeles Times, Laura Stark, who teaches sociology and is part of the Science in Society Program and the College of the Environment , explained how the current research review system in the United States remains inadequate. On the heels of a US apology for dangerous and cruel medical research in Guatemala, the US now has on opportunity to overhaul ethics rules. Stark makes specific recommendations as to how we can avoid both the steamrolling of subjects and an echo chamber of assent on ethics review panels.

As I drank my morning coffee and read the New York Times on Sunday, I saw Erika Franklin Fowler’s research with the Wesleyan Media Project cited once again. In this instance, she was discussing how China has become the scapegoat for many desperate candidates in this election cycle. Fear of China’s recent economic progress seems to have re-ignited traditional anti-Chinese racism, and many political advertisements are tapping into this cauldron of hate and anxiety.

Political scientist Elvin Lim continues to offer trenchant analysis and thoughtful opinions on his blog, Out on A Lim. Today he wondered if President Obama has been too quick to back down when challenged by a forceful opposition. He concluded his reflections on transformations in White House staffing by saying: “There can only be as much change as that which the president himself ultimately believes in.”

How much change do you believe in? Whatever you hope to see happen in the public sphere, I hope you will be inspired by our young social science faculty and get engaged!


Participation in Fall Politics

Wesleyan students are known as a political group, and often this means that we have been the scene of plenty of campus activism. I’d like to think that as an educational institution we develop capacities for citizenship in our students (and not just the capacity for protest), and that we have a culture in which people take seriously ideas from various points in the political spectrum. Sometimes schools like ours are criticized for being too homogeneous politically, and we should recognize that we have often been a place that has marginalized conservative voices. In recent years I have sensed a change in that regard, as groups of students who identify as conservatives have organized and gained more of a presence on campus.

Now we are little more than a month away from national elections, and we are being bombarded with advertisements. Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that deemed money to have the protections of speech, the pace of “investing” in the political arena through large donations has accelerated. The Wesleyan Media Project, under the guidance of Prof. Erika Fowler, is tracking these expenditures and getting a lot of attention in the press. Who is trying to influence us, and for what purpose?

All of this mass media politicking can seem like so much noise after a while, and there is a tendency to tune out. I want to remind the Wes family, especially our students, that this is precisely the time when you should be paying the most attention to politics. I want to remind our students, whatever their political affiliations, to get their absentee ballots or arrange to vote here in Middletown.

Please don’t neglect political participation because of some general dissatisfaction with the whole system. It would be a terrible waste if our campus community became merely skeptical about politics and didn’t participate. If you don’t exercise your power to vote, someone else will be making decisions for you.

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