• Frances Hui

Faculty foster political conversations with domestic and international students


Original publication

Coffee and Conversations aims to create a welcoming environment to discuss U.S. politics with both domestic and international students. Frances Hui / Beacon Correspondent

The Department of Communication Studies and International Student Affairs kicked off the first of three Coffee and Conversation events to provide a space for discussion of U.S. politics and social issues in a comfortable environment.


Domestic students, international students, and faculty members examined the U.S. political system and media during the second event on Oct. 26, according to Department of Communication Studies English Language Learning Supervisor Jeremy Heflin.


Heflin hopes the event creates a mutual exchange of opinion between domestic and international students and speakers.


Political and Sports Communication Professor Spencer Kimball, Chair of the Department Of Communication Studies Gregory Payne, and Graduate Program Director Tim Riley spoke at the event—ten students attended.


The college welcomed its largest number of international student this year—16 percent out of 925 undergraduate students, which is 5 percent more than last year, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.


Riley, who studied in England as an international student when he was in England, said it is important for international students to be curious about a different political system so they can rethink their system of beliefs and make changes in their own political system.


Graduate international student Ye Huang who joined the discussion said she often felt anxious when talking about U.S. politics since she was not familiar with the system. Often times Huang said she was afraid of offending people unintentionally on sensitive topics that come up in politics.


“I think as we live in America, [Coffee and Conversation] is a good chance to get involved in this environment, in order to better know the politics and cultures in the U.S.,” Huang said in an interview.


Heflin said with midterm elections approaching on Nov. 6, the departments wanted to educate students on the nation’s election system and listen to speakers and students’ opinions about the upcoming election.


“[The event] is to broaden what we think as both educators and facilitators at the school,” Heflin said. “The whole point of an education community is equality between students, faculty and staff who value what each other’s thinking and bring to the conversation in different perspectives.”


The speakers briefly introduced the U.S. election system, which was soon broken down into “ideal democracy” and “democracy-in-reality.” Democracy-in-reality details the idea that each person’s vote does not hold equal power as it would in an ideal democracy, according to Heflin.


In the 2016 presidential election, which Riley described as an election where people voted for change, an outsider won the electoral college.


“If you ask me, I think we shouldn’t even report on Trump’s tweets,” he said. “If we let the politicians set the agenda, we are doing the voters a disservice.”


First-time Massachusetts voter and graduate student Kristen Bates said she was interested in how the media covers the way politicians present themselves. Bates said she loved the idea of having a conversation with international students because they make domestic students rethink their definition of democracy.


“What I love about talking with international students is to say ‘what does that mean and why’, and the part of ‘why’ is sort of reflecting yourself of why do I believe it,” she said.


The next meeting of Coffee and Conversation will be held in the last week of November, continuing the discussion and allowing students to share their opinions on all kinds of social issues in a speed-dating style, according to Heflin.

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© 2018 by Frances Hui.