Claire Abernathy saw the change in her Stockton University students on the first day they were in Washington.
There’s a “new energy” in the 10 students she brought to The Washington Center’s Inauguration ‘17 seminar; an energy derived from the excitement of hearing and seeing diverse political viewpoints, Abernathy said.
“It’s all about making connections between abstract ideas and the real world of politics,” Abernathy said, describing what she hopes her students get while they are in the nation’s capital. “You have to actively seek out that real world.”
Abernathy joined the Stockton University faculty in 2015 after earning her PhD from Vanderbilt University; she’s an assistant professor of political science at Stockton, a public institution in New Jersey that has about 8,000 undergraduate students.
Faculty who have been part of any seminar through The Washington Center know that they will return to their campus prepared to adjust or completely change a lecture because of the information gleaned over the two-week program.
Abernathy has already started thinking about that. “For me, a seminar like this helps me to better explain to my students what is happening in Washington, and why.”
Of course, the Inauguration ‘17 seminar comes on the heels of a heated presidential election that called attention to the sharp divide among the electorate. Abernathy felt that divide on her campus. A majority of her students here lean in one political direction, but Abernathy has enjoyed seeing them listen attentively and attempt to understand opinions different from theirs.
She reflected on one of the site visits her group had, as the students adopted the ‘Bring It to the Table’ attitude they had learned about earlier in the week. ‘Bring It to the Table’ is a documentary that challenges voters to sit across a table from someone who doesn’t have the same political beliefs and to talk. The goal is to make each person better able to understand the other person’s ideas about disruptive political issues.
“The students didn’t challenge” the person who has speaking to them, Abernathy said. “Instead, they asked a lot of questions. They were actively paying attention but not getting the information they wanted” because the presenter seemed unwilling to deeply explain the position under consideration.
Stockton University has partnered with The American Democracy Project on a political engagement effort that continues this semester. Abernathy noted that the 10 students at TWC’s seminar will make a presentation to the campus community at some point this semester. They also are part of an independent study that requires them to track the legislative successes and setbacks of Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president.
“It was a tough fall,” Abernathy said, as she reflected on the presidential election, so she’s excited to see how her students will create a positive environment for political discourse on her campus.