College Park Scholars panel discusses election issues

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Photo by Jillian Atelsek

On Thursday evening, less than 24 hours after the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 election season, College Park Scholars students and faculty gathered in Hoff theater to discuss one simple question: Do facts matter?

According to the Scholars website, the panel aimed to analyze presidential politics in “the age of truthiness.” As was explained in the first few minutes of discussion, truthiness is a term coined by late-night comedian Stephen Colbert, and is defined as “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.”

It is no secret that the two major party candidates have taken to accusing one another of misconstruing or downright lying about the facts of the election. The goal of Thursday’s panel was to get to the bottom of this issue and discuss the role that the truth plays in our political discourse, and, by extension, in our society as a whole.

“Scholars is a program that wants to…challenge our students to think critically and to think in interdisciplinary ways,” said Jennifer Littlefield, Public Leadership Scholars director. “Because it’s such an important time, we wanted to engage students in that dialogue.”

Littlefield served as the moderator of the panel, and directed questions both to the audience and to the six professors from various scholars programs who sat on the stage. The panelists’ areas of expertise ranged from philosophy to geology to media literacy, which gave the discussion a very holistic, multi-angled approach.

“Why do illusions become facts?” International Studies Scholars Director James Glass asked the audience near the beginning of the program. He went on to explain the dichotomy between facts and opinion, and to illustrate that in this election season, the two are becoming dangerously intertwined.

As the students listened closely, Glass and his colleagues posed several fascinating questions. Once the microphones were turned on the audience, students had the opportunity to raise points or issues that were of particular interest to them, and hear the six professors’ responses.

Over the next hour and a half, the students and the professors discussed the role that facts play in issues such as climate change, terrorism, and the economy.

“I’m very new to this – I’m not really a political person. I like physics, and engineering and stuff,” said one of the students in attendance, Kwabena Bamfo. Bamfo is a sophomore computer engineering major who came to the panel hoping to gain a better understanding of the complex world that is modern American politics.

Despite the wide range of viewpoints and issues raised at the panel, some common themes ran throughout the evening. The faculty repeatedly encouraged students to consume information about politics in the most unbiased way possible, to open their minds to new ideas, and most importantly, to exercise their civic duty by voting.

“I think it was a successful panel,” Bamfo said after the event was over. “Not only did I get to see multiple points of view, but [some students asked] questions that I never would have even thought of. I like to hear new ideas.”

 

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