University of Wisconsin-River Falls

News Source

Dec. 5, 2003

UW-RF Students to Attend Politics Conference
By Sarah Matara
UW-RF News Bureau

Three UW-River Falls students have been selected from a statewide pool of applicants to attend a prestigious conference sponsored by a prominent southeastern Wisconsin think tank.

Senior Christine Honadel, a broadcast journalism and marketing communications major from Augusta; senior Brandon Bankston, a broadcast journalism major from Prescott; and senior Ember Kauth, a psychology major from Nekoosa, will attend the conference in January.

The conference, titled "From the Horse's Mouth," will give Wisconsin students who are disillusioned and frustrated with politics the opportunity to voice their opinions to members of Congress. Congress members will attend and speak about why they believe politics is an important part of public service and why they have dedicated their lives to it.

Program Director Christopher Beem of the Johnson Foundation, one of the sponsors of the conference, said it will be interesting to see if either side changes its mind after hearing from the other.

"There is overwhelming evidence that while young people are very good at volunteering, they are not very interested, and often turned off by, politics. The U.S. representatives who are coming are young, idealistic, smart and they believe that politics is public service, and that it is an important part of being a good citizen. I thought both groups should hear directly from each other about what the other thinks."

Two United States Representatives—Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Paul Ryan—will speak with students at the conference. EJ Dionne of the Washington Post will be the moderator.

Honadel thinks this is a good opportunity for her to ask members of Congress why they believe politics is a vital part of public service.

"The most important opportunity I will gain is the chance to participate in this discussion for students, like myself, who are frustrated by politics and would like to learn more in order to change their attitudes. I, personally, take a great interest in non-profit organizations and community service, which is an area that often times takes hard hits from funding cuts."

Bankston said the conference has the potential to be interesting and informative if the structure of the conference is an open-ended discussion format.

"If they structure the conference as a talk from politicians explaining why we should like politics, the conference won't produce any meaningful results. If, however, they structure it so that the politicians are trying to find out why people are so disillusioned about politics, then the conference will be worthwhile."

Kauth said she strongly believes in the virtues of democracy, where the people's voices and concerns are reflected in the actions of their elected officials. She also feels that politicians are more concerned with the interests of corporations and a privileged few than with the interests of their constituents.

"Many politicians talk the talk to get elected, but few stand up to corporate pressures or are willing to go against the status quo, even if that means enacting legislation that many see as unconstitutional and oppressive. I'm looking forward to attending this conference because I hope by meeting the representatives face to face, by sharing my concerns and by hearing their opinions, I will regain some faith that this country is not a democracy in name only," Kauth said.

Students had to be nominated by a staff or faculty member from their college or university and then submit a one-page essay explaining why they want to attend the conference. Colleges and universities from throughout the state were asked to nominate up to three students per campus to attend the conference. All three nominated UW-RF students were chosen out of a total of 35 students who will be attending.

The conference is sponsored by the Johnson Foundation, Wisconsin Campus Compact and Wisconsin Public Television.

The Johnson Foundation is a nonprofit organization that sponsors small meetings of thoughtful inquiry in an atmosphere of candor and purpose. Their conferences are held at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wis.

Wingspread was built in 1939 for the family of H.F. Johnson, Jr., who lived there from 1939-1959. In 1959, the Johnsons established the Foundation and designated Wingspread as its educational conference facility. The building was designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wisconsin Campus Compact is an association of college and university chancellors and presidents who strive to promote service that develops students' citizenship skills and values, encourage campus-community partnerships, and help faculty to integrate public and community involvement into their teaching and research.


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