On Friday, Jan. 30, students and faculty gathered in the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life for the first in a series of discussions sponsored by the Center. Simply named “Allbritton Talks,” the series was created by Rosy Capron ’14, the University’s 2014-2015 Civic Engagement Fellow, and seeks to bring community members together for meaningful conversations about public life. The first talk focused on the rise and morality of unpaid internships.
Capron explained the motivation that spurred the series’ creation.
“Part of the inspiration was thinking about ‘What is public life?’” Capron said. “We have the Allbritton Center, which has classes and hosts speakers, but we haven’t had much of an opportunity to bring students into the fold, to ask them, ‘What does it mean to examine our public life? What does it mean to have a public life?’”
One important aspect of the series is that it draws students and faculty from all walks of life to discuss common issues. Capron stated that in the discussions she hopes to recreate and build on the conversations students have with their friends.
“I [created the series] thinking about really great conversations that I have with students and that I had when I was a student about political topics and current events,” Capron said. “It’s important to also have those conversations outside of your friend group with people who are less likely to agree with everything you say, to be confronted with difference and to grapple with these issues.”
The topic of the first discussion, unpaid internships, was selected as a non-controversial way to begin the series, according to Capron. One attendee, Alicia Gansley ’15, expressed her satisfaction with the outcome of the discussion.
“I thought it was a great chance to meet with staff members and students to talk about a really hot button issue for Wesleyan students and students across the country,” Gansley said. “Everyone was respectful and engaged, and I enjoyed it.”
Despite never having had an unpaid internship, Gansley said that she still felt included in the discussion.
“I feel like the topic [still applied to me], because as we talked about, for some people, including me, unpaid internships aren’t a reality or a choice that we have, so I’m [glad] I got to have a voice in the conversation, saying, ‘It’s just not the same for everyone,’” Gansley said. “I’m doing the Civic Engagement certificate so this is sort of right up my ally. I think it’s a great way to institutionalize the conversations we have in our dorms and around school.”
Joli Holmes ’17, another attendee, stated that she enjoyed having a conversation about public life with like-minded students.
“I enjoyed the experience because you don’t get to have these types of conversations in class,” Holmes said. “It’s an out-of-class experience where you’re still learning and discussing important and meaningful topics. I think a lot of students could benefit from this type of conversation.”
Holmes described her experience at the first talk and her willingness to continue to engage in these types of conversations.
“I would absolutely come to another talk,” Holmes said. “I think it depends on the subject matter, of course, but if they are structured like this I would come. It was a good size, too. It would be good to include more people, but at the same time it would be harder to have this type of conversation with a larger group.”
Capron echoed these sentiments, stating her excitement for future discussions, which might be about more controversial topics.
“I was happy to have students as well as staff and administrators there,” Capron said. “I’m curious to see how it will be with different sized groups and other topics. We started with [the topic of] unpaid internships because it’s of relevance to students but it isn’t necessarily divisive and intense and everyone can speak from their own experiences, but it will be interesting to hear the conversations [that arise] from more controversial topics. We definitely want [topics] that people will get excited about and be passionate about; we just don’t want to be exclusive. We’re going to be branching out and we would love to get people riled up as long as it’s a good atmosphere and it doesn’t get personal. Getting heated isn’t a bad thing.”
The calendar for the talks is still undecided; however, Capron hopes they will become a weekly event.
“The goal was to have these conversations weekly, and if students want to keep having them, we will,” Capron said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to have people sit in a room and chat. We want to be flexible and respond to current events that come up. I hope people submit topics that are of interest to them so that we can [incorporate them] into our conversations.”