Toreros attend 2017 Presidential Inauguration

Students that attended the Inside Washington Seminar to learn about the 45th Presidential Inauguration pose in Washington D.C.

In honor of the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, 12 Toreros had the opportunity to spend this past intersession taking a seminar class on elevating political discourse. This year’s Inside Washington Seminar included a combination of students from University of San Diego, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, and Michigan and was taught by USD professors Del Dickson, PhD and Mike Williams, PhD.

Leading up to Inauguration Day, the students spent two weeks in the classroom listening to lectures, meeting in small groups, and going on site visits around the city. Students sat in on in-depth policy lectures and had the chance to ask questions of prominent political figures.

It was Dickson’s sixth time teaching the D.C. seminar and the third inauguration he has attended. He explained his time working with the students in D.C.

“For both Dr. Williams and me—we talked about this—our students make all the difference in the world,” Dickson said. “They are absolutely great—they work hard, they are smart, they are perceptive, and most of all, they are a lot of fun to be with.”

Dickson reflected on his experience at this year’s inauguration.

“There is no substitute to being there, and watching history live and in person,” Dickson said. “The atmosphere is wild, and it is a unique opportunity to watch democracy in action. The crowd was a wild mix of Trump supporters and Trump protesters, and it is catnip for anyone the least bit interested in politics.”

As much as he enjoyed seeing democracy in action, his favorite part of attending the live inauguration was the combination of academics.

“The seminar gives the inauguration its context, and our guest lecturers give an insider’s view of how D.C. operates,” Dickson said. “It is really a fantastic way to get an insider’s view of politics.”

Junior James Hussey was one of the dozen Toreros taking the seminar class. Hussey said that he believes it was a great opportunity to witness the cornerstone of American democracy.

“This class gave me the ability to be up close with many members of the United States government and those who know the most about it,” Hussey said. “I got to pull back the curtain and see behind the scenes, something not possible from a classroom. The most memorable part was seeing the Senate confirmation hearings. While I was only in an overflow seating room, I still got to walk around and see the Senators interact with the media outside the chamber.”

Senior Scott Develle shared why this particular intersession class was so different from a classroom setting back at school.

“What was different about this class more than anything was that it was both the classroom experience and what we learned outside, of the classroom that shaped the experience,” Develle said. “With most class work you do not get that type of experience, from walking around the exciting D.C. area and breathing the city air to being a local for three weeks is like nothing I’ve experienced.”

Develle described how different it was to be present at the live Inauguration rather than watching it from a TV screen.

“When being at the Inauguration, I had a first-hand experience of what it was like to hear Trump’s speech and what the supporters and protesters were feeling at the time toward the establishment,” Develle said. “Some protests were about climate change and other issues as well as some of his cabinet picks. There were many conversations about how the new administration sees a correlation between wealth and power. If I had to describe the new administration within the next four years it would be change and making sure that America is first in decisions.”

Thinking back on his academic, immersive experience in D.C., Hussey gained some insight about politics and America in general.

“If there is one thing I learned, it is that nobody really knows what is going on,” Hussey said. “Each expert came in and said something different than the previous; there were very few that completely agreed.  Everyone has a different view about problems and what should be done, and there really is no single answer. In D.C., confidence is king, and I will definitely carry that with me for the rest of my life. Also, I realized that a huge amount of people will always disagree with you.  Sometimes you just have to follow your gut, I will definitely remember that from my trip.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the trip was a group dinner and lecture for USD students at Comet Ping Pong, the site of the infamous fake news story “Pizzagate.” Dickson explained that, according to a wild story spread by the alternative-right, including National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the restaurant was supposedly the site of a child molestation ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta. As a result of this absurd rumor that got its start on Reddit, restaurant employees were flooded with death threats from those all over the country who believed the rumor. The fake news story became so prominent that one person, Edgar Welch, drove to D.C. from his home in North Carolina with an assault rifle and shot up the place.

“Bryce Reh, the manager, talked with our students about the real world effects of fake news, and his story was absolutely riveting,” Dickson said. “They are still getting threatening phone calls and emails daily, and he even let our students listen in on a couple of threatening calls made while we were in the restaurant. It was absolutely appalling, but we all learned a lot about fake news.”

Dickson also stated how the group met House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy.

“He is also second-in-command to Paul Ryan in the House,” Dickson said. “McCarthy is from Bakersfield, and he was happy to talk with our students when we ran into him in the Old House Chamber, while touring the Capitol.  He was especially happy to talk to Dr. Williams and Jennifer Givens, who are both from Bakersfield.”

The group of students also had the chance to talk to Steve Scully of C-SPAN and received a special tour of C-SPAN from their Vice President and USD alumnus, Peter Kiley.

As a professor who has taught several D.C. seminar classes, Dickson explained that he learns something significant every time he goes with a group of new students.

“I learn as much as our students do from these seminars,” Dickson said. “It is a great opportunity to get to know our students better, and also to meet students who come to the seminar from colleges and universities all over the country. We hear from a wide range of politicians, civil servants, reporters, media folks, think tank researchers, and academics, all with interesting views on politics and life in Washington D.C.”

Dickson attempted to dispel the stereotype that Washington is full of power-hungry, self-dealing phonies.

“That is not entirely untrue, but the seminar is also a good reminder that Washington is also full of sincere, selfless people who are dedicated to public service, social justice, and making the world a better place,” Dickson said. “It is inspiring and empowering. I know that our students come back more enthused and more engaged in politics, and many of them later move back to work in DC. As a result of this seminar, our alumni network in Washington D.C. is absolutely amazing, and they stand ready to help our new graduates who move there to find their feet as they begin their careers in D.C.”

He firmly believes that this seminar is the perfect combination of academics and real-world politics— theory and practice. Although students may learn valuable information within classroom settings, the opportunity to have an insider’s view of American politics through hands on experience enables endless possibilities for future career endeavors.