By Sam Phillips
The Student Government Association hosted a panel discussion that addressed some of the concerns people have after the first few weeks of President Donald Trump’s presidency on Feb. 2.
About 25 students and faculty members attended. The speakers were Keith Lepak, a politics and international relations professor at Youngstown State University; Kristine Blair, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Ann Jaronski, the director of Student Counseling.
Eddie Howard, associate vice president of Student Experience, moderated the event. Gabriella Gessler, president of SGA, kicked off the discussion by assuring the crowd that the university wants to maintain global perspectives in light of the immigration ban and encouraged the participants to reject marginalization.
Lepak said American society has become increasingly vulgar, which is why it accepted a presidential candidate that talked about fondling women.
“[Trump] is the epitome of where American society and culture is at the moment,” he said.
The rise of social media and the internet has engaged young people in politics, but with so many sources available it can be hard to discern real facts from something that’s fabricated, Lepak said. He advised the audience to read news from various news outlets and to listen to people who have opposing ideas.
Blair agreed that social media has made citizens more engaged, but leaders and citizens should be responsible and accountable for how they speak online and in real life. She said she is impressed by the civic engagement demonstrated by YSU students and faculty.
“We prove daily that social justice rises above partisan politics, as it should,” Blair said. “Yet in the cultural and ideological divide that has escalated [since the election], we find ourselves divided by a war of words.”
Words can lead to division and violence when they signify hate, fear mongering and denial of civil rights, Blair said.
“One person’s locker room talk is another person’s misogyny,” Blair said. “Our words have consequences — our words matter.”
Blair said it’s important for people to have productive conversations about their differences instead of agreeing to disagree or staying silent. She said citizens should actively listen, think critically and defend the value of the liberal arts.
Jaronski said there has been divisiveness since the election, and intolerance of differing opinions and ideologies.
Making a positive change begins with people understanding their own values but also actively listening to the values of others, she said.
“We listen to reply, to respond,” Jaronski said. “We don’t listen to understand. One of the things that’s important is to learn how to listen to understand … learn to pause.”
Having a conversation about differing ideas can be hard, Jaronski said, but civil discourse begins with inquiry, listening, problem-solving and acknowledging another person’s perspectives. She said people learn by having their ideas challenged.
Gessler said SGA wants to make students feel secure in their beliefs and asked the panelists what advice they could give to students who are called names when they are trying to advocate for things they care about.
“Don’t be intimidated by what they call you. Know your values,” Lepak said. “Don’t let yourself be labelled a whiner.”
Blair advised the audience to resist the labels that are given to some college students, such as snowflake.
“Don’t shy away from discussions,” she said.
Howard reminded the audience that leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. have risen from the same kind of conflicts that the U.S is going through.