Student director engages campus in political debate
Emily McConville | Friday, December 12, 2014
On four Sunday mornings this semester and two last spring, student government sponsored Political Brew, during which members of student government and political clubs, as well as anyone interested in current events, gathered in the McNeill Room in LaFortune Student Center to watch and discuss NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Fenton, who directs the National Engagement and Outreach (NEO) department of student government and organizes the brews, said student body president Lauren Vidal and vice president Matthew Devine, both seniors, suggested the idea at the beginning of their administration, and it soon became NEO’s primary event.
“I thought it was a good idea, and then we hit the ground running with it with the first one, which was in April,” Fenton said. “All the subsequent ones I’ve just completely taken over myself. That’s the main thing that we do.”
Fenton said each Political Brew has had a similar format: attendees come in, get bagels and coffee and watch “Meet the Press,” which frames the discussion that follows.
“Depending on the show, if there’s a large topic that should be discussed immediately, I’ll mute the program and we’ll open the discussion,” Fenton said. “When discussion is closed I’ll turn ‘Meet the Press’ back on and continue the same forum. If not, at the commercial break I’ll mute it and we’ll recap what was just said on ‘Meet the Press,’ and we’ll discuss it that way.”
Fenton said topics have ranged from the November midterm elections to the Ray Rice scandal.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be political, but most often current,” she said. “It just depends on what topic is on the program. If we want to talk about something I think is worth discussing – I’m very up to date on current events, so I’ll just throw out, ‘so what do you guys think of this?’ and that gets the conversation going.”
Since the first political brew in April, attendance has risen from about 30 to approximately 50 people, Fenton said.
Senior Michelle McCarthy, president of the College Democrats, said the event was a way for club members to speak with people with differing political views.
“Political Brew is a great event where our members can come out and discuss current events with College Republicans and other attendees,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s beneficial because our members can engage in dialogue with students outside of College Democrats.”
Senior Mark Gianfalla, president of College Republicans, said the group helped spread the word about the events, and he has seen positive reactions from club members.
“It’s a nice way to start the morning on Sunday. It’s not too early,” he said. “There’s a nice spread for you if you show up. There’s some engagement in intelligent dialogue with others.”
Political Brew can also appeal to students not affiliated with political clubs, Fenton said.
“If they don’t come to talk they come to get more informed of what’s going on and to listen to the people who have a lot of information on current events,” she said. “… From both groups we’ve gotten great feedback.”
Fenton said she hopes faculty will attend Political Brews in the future and she wants to enlist the help of the administration or even NBC.
“[The administration] actually contacted us two Political Brews ago, commending us for watching NBC because that’s what the school is affiliated with,” she said. “I didn’t even think of that when we chose ‘Meet the Press;’ I just thought it was a good middle ground between the parties, but they love it.”
But the main goal, Fenton said, is to encourage people to keep up with current events.
“The overall goal would be to get more people informed of what’s going on, because as much as people like to think they know what’s happening, a lot of people don’t, A, read newspapers, and B, don’t care enough to look into certain issues,” she said. “I’m hoping that by coming to Political Brew and listening to both sides of a point, that they can form their own opinions on certain issues.”