Pictured from left: President Rivera; Director of Forensics Beau Larsen; Forensics Debate Coach Casey C. Moerer ’23; Ruta Rupeikyte ’27; Vincenzo Thousand ’27; Hamza Mahamud ’24; Rep. Loretta Sanchez; and Rep. Rob Woodall.

Photo by David J. Turner

Former US representatives Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) were at Macalester in October for the second Congress to Campus event, the flagship program of the Association of Former Members of Congress.

For more than forty years, the program has sent former elected leaders to more than 140 colleges and universities to model how to converse across differences and help foster the skills necessary for a thriving democracy.

This year’s topic was academic freedom. The pair met with classes and took part in a campus conversation in Mairs Concert Hall with some 150 members of campus in attendance, where they were welcomed by President Rivera. “In our work at Macalester, helping one another develop skills of deep listening, discernment, critical thinking, and persuasive argumentation is as important as teaching students to write really great papers or present capstone research,” she said.

Congress to Campus event in Mairs Concert Hall.Students from Macalester’s forensics team posed questions about several headline-grabbing topics, including efforts to ban books in K-12 libraries, and whether banning discussion of student identities in the classroom violates teachers’ First Amendment rights.

While the representatives often approached topics from different directions, they found points of commonality. Ruta Rupeikyte ’27 (Vilnius, Lithuania) asked about the ethical obligations that both students and faculty have in terms of creating an environment that encourages diverse viewpoints in educational spaces.

Sanchez answered first, recalling a 1992 Thanksgiving dinner with her mother, a Democrat; her father, a Republican; her sister, then-Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.); and other relatives from both sides of the political aisle. The topic of the Los Angeles riots, which had taken place earlier that spring, came up and the conversation quickly grew heated.

“My sister left,” said Sanchez. “She never came back. And we hadn’t eaten the turkey yet…But I’m just saying, I grew up with a variety of opinions, and this allowed me to know who I am. So I would say to you, the more ideas in the mix, the more you may change your idea or the more you may be certain that where you stand is a good place for you.”

Woodall responded with a question of his own. “I think the question we have to ask ourselves is why is it when we’re paying top dollar for higher education, we even think that we might be indoctrinated as opposed to exposed to everything?” he asked. “You only choose a liberal arts institution if you want to be challenged intellectually as opposed to choosing the step-by-step engineering degree that’s going to take you exactly where you want to go. You want be thinkers when you’re here. You want to be challenged now when you’re here.”

Congress to Campus will return to Macalester for a third year next fall.

February 2 2024

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