Politically-motivated Roger Williams students got a chance to step into the spotlight when MTV dropped by campus last semester on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
That evening, filming took place in the Global Heritage Hall Atrium for the acclaimed television production “True Life.” This popular series of documentary episodes has been providing its viewers with a first-person perspective on the hidden or unseen parts of society since 1998. “True Life” offers a glimpse into the lives of real people involved in everything from drug use, sexuality, money issues, and abnormal social behaviors.
Now, RWU will be featured on the program after hosting a forum comprised of liberal and conservative students to discuss opinions and break the silent barriers around both parties. Given the political tension across campus, as evidenced by protests, micro-aggressions, and heated post-election debate, students were granted this opportunity to be able to voice their opinions and engage in lively dialogue about all political issues and the direction in which our nation will be headed.
To create the show, a camera crew follows a series of subjects though a certain part of their lives; in this case, the program followed sophomore Will Nardi, a political science major passionate about conservatism.
Alongside Nardi, freshman Kalasia Richer also spoke for conservative political views on the featured panel, while Mariela O’Neill and John Rice took the liberal side. Many others students, such as Xante Chalwell and Melissa Mota, also took part in the planning of the event. Those involved expressed that the main goal of the event was to open up conversation and increase unity on campus.
Students gathered around on three different floors of GHH to witness this event unfold, chomping on popcorn and discussing recent events on campus.
Freshman Brittany Lynch unexpectedly got her fifteen seconds of fame when she was asked to be featured in the documentary.
“I stopped by GHH to get a coffee from Starbucks and next thing you know, I’m on camera for MTV,” Lynch said. “One of the producers approached me, questioning me on how my political views affect me and my family, as well as how I felt about this election and the direction of this country.”
Brittany Fulgione, a junior, kickstarted the open mic portion by posing questions to the panelists about Nardi’s article that called the transgender community a “rejection of reality.” The lively night included frequent discussion of strong political opinions that had been expressed over social media, both by those on the panel and those in government positions.
Various students have expressed concern over Nardi’s political views, featured on several blogs such as “The College Conservative,” “CampusReform.org,” and “The College Fix.” He also posts conservative articles on his own personal blog site, “The Rabble Rouser,” which takes its name from the term meaning a person who speaks with the intention of inflaming the emotions of a crowd of people, typically for political reasons. According to fellow students in opposition, Nardi fits that description well, covering topics of political correctness, modern conservatism, religion, and sexuality.
However, the audience’s slightly negative attitude did not discourage him.
“I am a big believer in freedom of speech,” Nardi said.
The forum was hosted with the intention of showing the conflict between college conservatives and liberals attempting to meet a common ground, although some did not believe this could be achieved. A senior student, who wished to remain anonymous, commented that Nardi’s “stubbornness and extreme disregard for the truth” would restrict him from meeting in the middle.
In one of Nardi’s articles, “I Debate to Win,” he states, “Lately I have been hearing a lot of rhetoric from liberals and conservatives who want to call themselves middle-of-the-isle moderates. People have told me that I should try to make compromises, because that is the only way America moves forward. I am here to tell you that compromising is wrong. I am a conservative.”
Many subjects discussed by the audience members and panelists included issues of climate change, immigration, the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms as a matter of self-defense, the idea of protests surrounding social issues, domestic terrorism, and tweets by Donald Trump regarding the rights of those who burn the American flag.
“Being an immigrant, there is already institutional limitations that you have to succeed, and then you have misogyny and xenophobia on top of it? Why be land of the free, what is the point?” asked O’Neill, regarding Trump’s plans to strictly limit immigration.
“Donald Trump does not represent all of [the] conservatives.” Richer remarked, reminding that the crowd that not all Republicans or conservatives share the same opinions as the then president-elect..
The topic of the president-elect’s scheduled appointment of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency stirred up controversy as well. “Trump may be a climate change skeptic, but that doesn’t really matter to me because I am also a climate change skeptic,” Nardi said.
“Overall, I think that it was a really helpful experience for most of the people here, even if everyone didn’t speak,” Fulgione said. “It made me a lot more positive about our campus after learning that people don’t want to fight so much and don’t want this hatred on campus and do want to create a sense of unity. They just don’t know how to do it, so I think that’s the next step.”
At the conclusion of the evening, the panel leaders, as well as those in attendance, had the opportunity to sign a peace treaty accepting each other’s opinions despite the division and polarization of conservatives and liberals. Given the high emotions and acknowledging the political climate of campus post-election, those who signed resolved to form a bond of community and reflect on how their actions affect others.
“I think that this was an amazing event, and for everyone who wasn’t here, I hope that they will talk to their friends who came and see that civility is possible, and we can have this kind of civil discourse and move forward as a community,” Nardi said.
In regard to the outcome of the forum, however, many students believed that there wasn’t a balance of opinions. Although there was a large, mainly-liberal presence in the audience showing applause, some in attendance at the forum had mixed opinions about the future of politics on our campus, and if the peace treaty signed will actually be effective in uniting conservatives and liberals.