Panel of ‘Boro professors tackle hot political topics

Category:  News
Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 at 7:12 PM

Controversy took center stage for the “Kavanaugh, #MeToo and American Politics” panel in Multipurpose Room A of the Pogue Student Center.

The event, held on Oct. 10, covered the recent nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the issues surrounding it, and the impact the nomination has had on American politics, culture and media. This panel is just the first in a series of “Uncomfortable Conversations” panels to be held at Edinboro during the academic year.  

The panelists included Dr. Molly Wolf, associate professor in the department of social work; Dr. Jim Wertz, associate dean of the college of arts, humanities, and social sciences, and an associate professor in the department of communication, journalism and media; Dr. Rhonda Matthews, associate professor in the department of history, politics, languages and cultures; and Dr. James Fisher, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, and an associate professor in the department of history, politics, languages and cultures. 

The panel discussion covered many issues, including the treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who gave her testimony before the Senate committee that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. 

Wolf, as a social worker and expert in research related to child sexual abuse and dissociative amnesia, discussed the tell-tale signs of trauma. Spending years as a social worker, she has personally worked with and researched trauma survivors. For this reason, she sees commonalities between these survivors and Dr. Ford herself.

Wolf brought up the concept of memory, which came up during the Kavanaugh hearings with the committee asking Ford to recall the incident in great detail. “Some parts she remembered very clearly, some parts she didn’t,” said Wolf, going on to add that “this is very common…survivors have varying degrees of memory.” 

This, in addition to the fact that so few rapes and sexual assaults are reported or lead to a conviction, caused Ford and other survivors great discomfort in telling their stories, said Wolf.

In addition, according to Matthews, these incidents are all a symptom of the way the system is set up. Matthews, who has conducted research in the areas of intersectionality, and gender and women’s studies, finds that the system is predicated on patriarchy.

“When we talk about the Kavanaugh hearings, we can’t have that discussion without talking about the ways in which Dr. Ford was treated in service [to] the patriarchy, patriarchal systems, and their maintenance,” Matthews said. 

The panel, in addition to dissecting the testimonies of Ford, examined Kavanaugh, the allegations against him and his behavior during the hearings. 

Fisher, who has expertise in the law and politics of abortion and civil liberties, found the nomination to essentially be a once-in-a-lifetime event that covered many issues, such as privilege, consent, sexual misconduct and due process: “In short, most of the things the country has been fighting about in the Trump era and in the Obama era were really encapsulated in this one single political decision, which made it especially toxic.” 

Fisher also questioned what level of proof should be required to possibly confirm or reject a nominee, as well as how much to presume one’s guilt or innocence. 

“We don’t use the standard we use for convicting people of crimes in most areas of life,” said Fisher, who went on to ask, “would you presume the innocence of a babysitter for your children unless you had proof beyond reasonable doubt that they were unsafe?”

In addition, Fisher brought up the temperament of Kavanaugh, and what standard the public should hold a Supreme Court judge to: “We expect judges to at least pretend to be calm, reasonable, objective and neutral,” he said. “[One of the] things we treasure about the Supreme Court is that, unlike most other institutions in American life, it is above standard politics.”

Fisher went on to ponder the differing points of view of the topic of Kavanaugh’s rebuttal: “If you think there’s credible evidence that Brett Kavanaugh committed at least one of the allegations against him, any one of which would be morally unforgivable and disqualifying for a Supreme Court nominee, then his rage is further evidence of his misogynistic and wounded sense of entitlement.” 

He continued: “But if you think the allegations are somewhat fishy, and if they are credible, they may not be disqualifying given his apparently stunning resume and community contributions, then his anger is a natural, and perhaps even appropriate, reaction to this destruction of a person’s hard-earned reputation by an angry mob.”

This division is further exacerbated by the biased coverage of the event in cable news, according to Wertz. “There are very few outlets where we can say it’s unbiased anymore. We bring our own set of biases to an already biased newscast.”

These biases, usually either toward Republicans or Democrats, can lead to very little getting accomplished, as shown by the hearings and then bitter arguments from both sides of the aisle: “We’re losing the ability to engage in constructive discourse with each other,” said Fisher. 

Indeed, a common theme of the panel discussion was how to proceed from this chapter in American culture and politics, which was exemplified in the panelists’ use of Facebook.

By way of background, it has been common in this era for people to “unfriend” their friends and relatives if their views differed from their own.

However, Wolf, who admitted herself that she is more liberal-minded, made a point to avoid this route, opting instead to hear what they have to say: “It is as important that I understand what my conservative friends and family are thinking as it is for them to understand what I am thinking.” 

This sentiment is echoed by Fisher, who stated, “If we don’t get down to the business of constructively discussing the below-the-surface issues in American culture, we’re going to continue angrily talking past each other.”

Wertz also sees the value of constructive discussion, but often takes a different approach.

“I like to see what’s happening in the world, but I don’t really engage on social media,” he said, explaining, “especially if it’s more of a troll-type comment.” 

Instead, Wertz opts for one-on-one engagements and discourse, which is an arrangement he finds to be more fulfilling and worthwhile than a Facebook comment section. 

Matthews found similarly, but took a harder line on the issue. “These types of discussions, a lot of the time, are about the components of my identity that people disagree with.” 

As a result, Matthews adopted this rule for social media: “Facebook is like my living room couch, and at the end of the day, I do not want to sit on my living room couch and have you question my humanity. If I wouldn’t let you say it sitting in my living room on my couch, you can’t say it on my Facebook page.”

While she will not talk with the “crazies on Facebook,” Matthews is indeed willing to engage in discussion with those in disagreement with her, but wants to make sure it is with a well-informed person.

Being well-informed was a concept again emphasized by Matthews’ closing remarks, in which she advised the audience, “Educate yourselves, and then engage in the system.”

In an evening full of intense discussion of hot-button issues, one thing was clear: the “Uncomfortable Conversations” had that night looked to better inform the audience of important current events and provide a space for students, faculty and community members alike to engage in constructive discourse.

Nathan Brennan can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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