Students, professors get together for ‘Civics & Snacks’ discussion

Kevin Soter

In an attempt to increase opportunities for students and professors to connect, the Northwestern Political Union held its first “Civics & Snacks” event Thursday evening. Students and faculty from all areas of study were invited to the informal discussion on American exceptionalism at The Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, 1902 Sheridan Road.

The event was a “pilot” for what the Political Union hopes will become a regular tradition, said Ali Riegler, the group’s director of finance.

“Basically, it’s just a relaxed evening,” the Weinberg freshman said.

Union executive board member Trey Herr said the goal of the event is to supplement the group’s more formal weekly debates.

“It’s an opportunity for engagement with everybody,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “We have all sorts of majors here. Political Union is a very diverse group.”

More than 20 students and professors talked over snacks for about 45 minutes until the group sat down in a circle to discuss the evening’s topic. After a brief introduction by American Studies Prof. Bill Haarlow, attendees jumped into the discussion.

Those in attendance hashed out whether America is truly “exceptional,” the various forms of exceptionalism in American political discourse and the complications presented by the concept that America is somehow unique.

The theme lent itself well to the nonpartisan Political Union’s goal of open political atmosphere. According to its website, the group was founded in 2008 “to foster a revival of intellectualism, sincerity, and sophistication in Northwestern’s campus political discourse.”

Haarlow pointed out in his opening remarks that opposing political ideologies can use the idea of a unique America to support their beliefs.

“Is (exceptionalism) a right to health care, or is it a right to be left alone?” he said.

Political Union President Nick Ruge said he plans to turn “Civics & Snacks” into a regular event next fall because of a void it fills.

“I’m really excited about it because I think it can be a lasting addition to the political discourse on campus,” the Weinberg sophomore said.

Other events have “gestured to” the need for more student-faculty interaction, Ruge said, but the Political Union will provide “a more permanent and established connection between professors, graduate students, and undergrads.”

Communication freshman Julia Maguire said the gathering was a good chance to achieve her goal of reaching out more to professors.

“I don’t (talk to professors) as much as I’d like to, so I think this is a really good opportunity for students,” she said.

Political science Prof. Georgia Kernell said the gap between students and faculty is certainly not intractable.

“Students seem really interested and outgoing and almost more outgoing than the professors here,” she said.

The informality of the event makes it an appealing option for students to expand their minds beyond the classroom, Herr said.

“Come, have a cookie,” he said. “Talk. Listen. Learn.”

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