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Guest lecturer speaks on ethics, activism in the age of Trump

| Friday, September 15, 2017

Sonalini Sapra, associate professor of political science and director of gender and women’s studies at Saint Martin’s University in Washington, spoke Thursday at Saint Mary’s about ethics, pedagogy and activism in the age of Donald Trump.

“This talk is essentially my attempt to make sense of some of the ethical and pedagogical challenges that I’ve had since the Trump election,” she said. “I thought this would be a good space to converse about these challenges with students and faculty and maybe elicit some of [their] advice and support in how to confront some of these ethical and pedagogical challenges.”

Sapra, who previously taught at the College, said she wanted to provide some context for the changes she has witnessed in higher education because of Trump’s presidency.

“I see intensification of attacks on media news and the rise of fake news stories,” Sapra said. “There seems to be this developing narrative on the right that cast some doubt on the worth of colleges in general, particularly liberal arts colleges and universities — the value of engaging in liberal arts study.”

This falls under the narrative of calling any news one dislikes “fake news,” Sapra said.

“Our president has done this several times,” she said. “Any news story that he doesn’t like, he refers to as fake news. Or any news source he doesn’t like [he] calls fake news sources.”

In order to combat the issue of “fake news,” Sapra said she has incorporated media literacy into all of her courses, with the hope of teaching students how to navigate available information and find what is true.

Sapra said she has also seen an intensification of attacks on professors.

“This was always something that groups did, but I also feel like it has become more intense under Donald Trump, so there are various organizations … where they look at faculty syllabi, they look at speeches that faculty are making in the classroom,” she said. “The mission is to be a watch dog to the nation’s higher education system to expose liberal bias.”

Sara said there is a number of websites like this that post about professors.

“I bring this up because a lot of their stories get picked up by Fox News,” she said. “When it gets picked up by Fox News, it goes on to get picked up by white nationalist groups or alt-right groups. There seems to be this amplification that occurs because of student activism.”

Sapra said she wanted to students to be aware of a resource called the Southern Poverty Law Center, which offers support for students in the event that alt-right groups come to college campuses.

Professors have a responsibility to combat injustices in the classroom, Sapra said.

“One might say we’re taking too much of a partisan stance if we do, but I think of it more as laying out the groundwork or ground rules for knowledge and discovery and then faithfully applying those principles,” she said. “It is not only our responsibility in the classroom, but it is also the duty of the administration and the college as a whole to not waver on certain fundamental values.”

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

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