The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

Front Row Seats to History

Date: Sep 29nd, 2019

This week Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry concerning President Donald Trump.  Our students and faculty leaped into action and are already transforming this historic moment into the best possible learning opportunity.

The morning after Pelosi’s announcement we “stopped the School”–rearranging commitments to provide time for a “teach-in” about the rapidly evolving situation.  (The graphic organizer we used is at left; click on the image to view the entire organizer.)  What is the impeachment process, and when has Congress used it in the past?  What is the history of U.S. involvement in Ukraine?  Who is Hunter Biden, and why do many Republicans think his conduct is worthy of investigation?    What is the President’s alleged misconduct at issue here, and why might it be illegal?  During a break near the end of our “teach-in,” the White House released its version of the now-famous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.  Students huddled around their computer screens, connecting what they had just learned to what they were reading.

Later that day at School Meeting, several students noted the next day’s highly anticipated House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.  They crafted a plan to reschedule morning classes, leave the dormitory at 4:00am, travel to the Rayburn House Office Building (the site of the hearing), and hope they would be admitted.  All 24 students expressed interest in going, and so, after a bit of extra planning (for example, selecting two hardy faculty chaperones!), the plan was set.

On Thursday morning before dawn the students found themselves numbers 3-27 in line for the hearing.  In the dim light they did homework, held an impromptu Morning Meeting (including singing Happy Birthday to a fellow student), and scanned the day’s latest news.  Eventually, they went past security and lined up outside the hearing room until just before the hearing was set to start.  You can watch two short videos of the students in line below:

13 students were admitted into the room (the other seats were filled by the press and Congressional and DNI staffers), creating an instant ethical dilemma: who would get to go?  The students had previously drawn numbers from a hat to determine priority, but an on-the-fly decision was made to have the 13 who made it in rotate out after about 75 minutes.  This meant every student got to hear a substantial portion of the exchange.

It also meant that the students were front and center in countless video clips and photographs from the hearing.  For several hours five SEGL students were visible in the lead photograph on The New York Times homepage (see left); many others were visible in other media outlets.

(You can watch the entire hearing via C-SPAN here.)

Seeing themselves in front row seats to history helped reinforce the historical importance of the day’s events, and helped empower students as active participants in American democracy.

Perhaps this semester is developing a knack for organizing its own activities: on Saturday, after weeks of planning, they attended the penultimate home game of the Washington Nationals baseball team’s regular season.  The game turned out to be an important one: the Nationals secured home field advantage for the wild-card playoffs with a victory (they host the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday!), and the students got to see the Nationals rack up 9 runs (including a grand slam home run!) in the second inning of a 10-7 victory.

Needless to say, everyone slept well this weekend!