Every morning, I wake up to news notifications: short announcements from CNN, the BBC, Politico about the chaos that happened while I slept. Bombings. An update on the current Presidential race. A scandal in Congress. An ISIL leader rumored to be dead. Deposed leaders. More police shootings.
And every morning, I go to class. I’m a third-year student of political science. In theory, I’m training myself to analyze and cope with the kind of the events that saturate the news. Whether it’s the global economy, the United States Presidential election, the environmental crisis, wars in the Middle East, or civil unrest that has spanned from Tunisia to the United States– we’re living in a particularly volatile age of political history.
Even on campus, outside of the classroom and in the streets, students are participating in a larger movement of discontent and social change. Student groups emboldened by the principles of the black liberation movement, feminism, and anarchism have taken to the streets in the historical tradition of college activism.
But inside the classroom is a completely different landscape– not only are there no streets to rush, there’s often not even the opportunity to acknowledge and discuss the world thrashing around us. The university classroom, the device by which my generation’s minds are shaped, can be totally dissociated from current times. In an ironic gesture, some political science professors avoid personal political opinions at all costs. Steeped in theory, history, and academic readings, there may not even be space to connect the politics we’re learning to the politics we’re living.
And as a young feminist, the neglect of experiential politics and the war for social justice being waged just outside our classroom door has become even more evident in the last three years. Political science, similar to real-life politics we see in the news, is only recently starting to move away from its boys club image. There are women in the Political Science department faculty, but the syllabi don’t always include readings from female academics.
There seems to be an unwritten rule once you cross the threshold of a political science class. Academia, which should work to understand, record, and analyze the world around us, has become neutralized. This could be an implicit reaction to the extremes in the political landscape. It could be an extension of the “political correctness” debate. This disconnection between the classroom and the real world could also be a reflection of the institution at large. In classes, everyone is participating in the university institution, which in my case is a public entity. The very nature of institutions, especially old and tax-funded ones, can be restrictive.
My experience as a political science student, especially a feminist concerned with injustice taking place in the U.S. and around the world, has brought up a lot of questions for me about politics. Are experiencing politics and learning about politics too dissimilar to occupy the same space? Can an institution have any part in people’s movement? And would it be authentic? Does state funding have too many unwritten regulations? Are current events too transient to bring up in an academic setting?
The rift between the political science classroom and the real political world is an important space to fill. It speaks to the complexity and dissonance that my generation– the next wave of leaders, activists, CEOs, scientists, writers, and creatives– is maturing in. If college is the final incubation period before we are launched into life as fully formed adults, understanding how the classroom contrasts from society is vital. My generation of young people are the holders of a sought after voting block, and our relationship to politics can very well soon be reflected in the 2016 Presidential elections.