[image-1]Cable news correspondent Joy Ann Reid moderated a panel discussion about the first year of the Trump presidency that led to a rumination on retiring College of Charleston president Glenn McConell Thursday night.
Five multi-disciplinary CofC academics weighed in on how the first 365 days of President Trump have affected their students, their classes, and their disciplines.
African-American studies professor Patricia Lessane affirmed that the College has a “unique history” as one of the oldest universities in the country, but that it must still face its lingering structural inequality.
“It’s the 13th oldest institution of higher education. At the same time, it has had a very storied history of racism,” Lessane said. “We were just having a conversation in the green room about the numbers of the African-American students. It still trails behind the number of African-American students who go to other schools.”
Political science professor Latasha Chaffin worried about the lack of black representation at the school. She qualified that by arguing that students are more active than she has ever seen them.
“I think students are seeing some of these movements where we come together to impact what our legislators are doing,” she said. “This is a time when we’re able to see how we can affect policy. In terms of the racial climate, we have conversations with our students … to understand why there’s an environment where we have 33 percent Black [people] in Charleston, why do we only have six percent black [students] on campus?”
Lessane added that today’s students are apt to conduct their own research.
“They’re politically savvy,” she said. “My black, white, my trans students. They’re really educated about what they believe is wrong and they fact-check.”
Reid confessed that most of her visits to the Holy City involve tragedy in one way or another, with either the shooting at Mother Emanuel, the subsequent trial of Dylann Roof, or the trials of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager (“We needed a guilty verdict to solidify ourselves as a morally just place,” Lessane said) filling up her schedule as a correspondent.
When the conversation turned to media coverage, communications professor Michael Lee made a distinction between two different, and sometimes competing, types of coverage of the Trump administration.
“I think there’s the Trump show presidency, covered by mainstream outlets and Twitter. That’s mostly concerned with personality and how media figures react to tweets,” he said. “Then there’s the shadow presidency. It’s not happening in secret, but it’s less salacious. It’s very typical politics not that different from what George Bush was doing. They’re doing things that are straight in the Republican agenda.”
Reid is a highly prominent fixture on the social media site. The Poynter Institute ranked her at number four in a list of the most tweeted journalists.
“I think it’s an awakening for media,” professor Lee said. “Do you cover the show presidency or the typical presidency?”
Toward the end of the hour-and-a-half discussion, Reid brought up the retirement of college president Glenn McConnell, who announced on Monday that he would be stepping down from his post this summer. The theater erupted into cheers, and professor Lessane did a small dance in her seat.
“I would say that CofC students were very vocal when [McConnell] was hired, and I’m gonna leave it at that,” she said when asked if students should take part in a selection process for a new president. “Add to that too: We definitely need that. You can look at our wonderful leadership, but it is majority white male.”