This semester Professor Andrew Perrin launched an exciting new first-year seminar, “Citizenship and Society in the United States.” The course has been working in tandem with students in a parallel class in political science at Williams College, taught by Professor Nicole Mellow. In November students from both classes met up in Washington, DC, for meetings and research. The collaboration and the trip were facilitated through a Social Science Research Council (SSRC) effort on teaching across institutions and supported by the Department Rachel Rosenfeld Fund.
Throughout the semester, students read statements about democracy ranging from the Federalist Papers to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Students analyzed contemporary politics in light of these ideals through original research including field observation on Election Day, intensive study of journalism and news media, and contemporary research.
Students worked in small teams combining UNC and Williams students. Before the trip each team identified leaders they were interested in interviewing and organized interviews. In Washington, they interviewed Senators, Congress members, journalists, diplomats, lobbyists, and more. They used these interviews as the material for their final papers for the class. Anna Herbert, a student from Asheville, said: “The hands-on learning experience it provided through being able to see how policy was implemented and understanding how people in different levels of the legislature work together to accomplish things in Washington. Talking to congresspeople face to face gave the material that we have been discussing in class more relevance and sparked my interest in the topic more.”
The class as a whole met together with congressional leaders, including Representative David Price (D-NC-4), Representative Don Beyer (D-VA-8), Representative Gwendolynne Moore (D-WI-4), and staff from the office of Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). They had a dinner meeting at the National Press Club with Donna Leinwand Leger, former USA Today Managing Editor and former president of the Press Club, and another dinner meeting with Laura Dove, Secretary to the Majority in the US Senate. One student in the class, Abbey Rogers, commented that “one of the best parts about the trip was learning about how politics in Washington works, especially from people we do not hear about like Ms. Dove.”
Collaborating with the Williams students and meeting with important figures in Washington “gave us the ability to put what we had been learning into context,” said Maeve Taylor, a student from Chapel Hill.