By: Anthony Moretti
More than 350 students and 30 faculty on Washington, D.C. in the coming days for The Washington Center’s Inauguration 2017 academic seminar.
My faculty colleagues and I are teachers and learners during this program, which begins Jan. 9 and concludes on Inauguration Day. Our role as faculty is obvious: We evaluate and grade multiple assignments that students complete. My responsibilities are slightly different this year – I’m serving as a social media and multimedia director, along with a couple of interns working with me as we document the myriad experiences associated with the seminar.
But my faculty friends and I are also learners. We have the opportunity to hear from men and women who work in and around the world’s most powerful city. These professionals from government, the non-profit world, the media and other industries provide us with important stories, facts and data that we then share with students at our home institutions. It’s common during a seminar to see faculty feverishly taking notes, and as we do we’re already thinking about that lecture or presentation that we’ll modify because of what we’ve heard.
Having had a chance to see the schedule (no, I didn’t hack into anyone’s email!), a couple of sessions are particularly exciting to me. During the first week of the program, we’ll hear from former members of Congress. Of course, I can’t predict exactly what they’ll discuss; however, it’s likely they’ll talk about the corrosive nature of Congress and its soured relationship with the Executive Branch. Poll after poll indicates that the public – all of us, in other words – hold Congress in low regard. We see these elected officials as selfish, out of touch, beholden to special interests or elitist. Whether they are or not isn’t the point – what this sentiment means for the health of our democracy can’t be good. I hope these former elected officials remind the students that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue do so much to make our republic a little better each and every year.
Later in the program, two current and one former journalist will spend a morning with us. They’ll examine how Donald Trump might govern as president with Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. They’ll also review the absolute necessity for the media and the public to never stop asking the questions that hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. This idea of accountability often got lost in the white-hot partisan rhetoric of 2016, a year in which too many journalists were quickly labelled biased (or worse) for challenging politicians to detail their agenda for the country. No politician should be given free rein to lead without expecting probing questions from the media, and I hope this session reminds students that they, too, should use social media and other channels to ask their leaders directly about their plans.
MLK Day on Jan. 16 will be a special one for everyone taking part in the seminar. We are taking part in the national day of service. We’ll sign up for an event that appeals to us and spend a couple hours reminding ourselves how fortunate we are as we give our time to help someone else. And all of us taking part in this seminar are fortunate. We know where our next meal is coming from. We have family and friends we can call on in times of need. We have a warm bed waiting for us. Not all people do, and remembering that is vital.
America wraps up that week with Donald Trump officially becoming the 45th President of the United States. The faculty and students don’t have a formal program that day – instead, we’ll head to the Capitol or the National Mall to witness history as we watch one man voluntarily surrender the power he has held for eight years and another man assume it. Of course, multiple times over the preceding 10 days, faculty will discuss presidential power with students, but on Inauguration Day, theory becomes the reality.
Be sure to follow what faculty and students share during Inauguration 2017. The interns and I will upload photos and stories to this blog site, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And because those technologies allow you react and respond to what you see, please do so. We’re hoping to hear from you.