Students Experience Living History on Capitol Hill

Posted: February 28, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: February 25, 2011 at 3:31 pm

By Aisha Jamil

Professor Lisa Gring-Pemble, far right, took her New Century College class to Capitol Hill, where they posed with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. Photo courtesy of Lisa Gring-Pemble

Earlier this month, New Century College undergraduate students learned about civic engagement and political advocacy using the civil rights movement as a case study. The exciting part was that congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis was there to teach it to the students himself.

“If you believe that something is so right, so fair, so just, so good, you have to speak up for it,” the congressman from Georgia told the students when they met with him on Capitol Hill.

Lisa Gring-Pemble, an associate professor in New Century College, an academic unit that offers BA and BS degrees in integrative studies, is the instructor of the class. NCLC 375: Argument and Advocacy is a new course that addresses the modern-day challenges of civil society and helps students acquire the background and skills grounded in theory necessary to participate in effective discourse.

“Increasingly, the level of civility in political discourse has come under scrutiny. I wanted to create a course that enabled students to appreciate the rich, centuries-old history of public deliberation and also empowered students to address real-world arguments and debates effectively, ethically and with respect for difference,” Gring-Pemble explains.

Lewis, along with his legislative correspondent Sam Skardon, spoke with the class regarding the modern civil rights movement, congressional deliberation and advocacy.

Lewis worked with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation.

“He just captivated us with riveting stories: about his parents who were sharecroppers; his failed attempt as a teenager to get a library card; his speech alongside Dr. King during the March on Washington; his subsequent meeting with President Kennedy; and the emotions he felt as he led the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge [in Alabama] before being beaten severely in what would later be remembered as Bloody Sunday,” Gring-Pemble says.

“Our class literally walked right into living history.”

For many students, meeting the congressman was an opportunity of a lifetime.

“Meeting Congressman Lewis and his staff was a very fulfilling experience for me,” says Jessica Smith, a senior majoring in conflict analysis and resolution. “Not only was I able to hear the civil rights movement come alive in his words, but I also got to explore the concept of the current civil rights equality struggles as well.”

During their trip to Capitol Hill, Gring-Pemble’s students also met with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who spoke about the importance of crafting succinct persuasive messages and the role of argument in deliberations.

“He touted the importance of ‘sound bites’ at a time when audience attention spans are short and news coverage relies on brief audio/video clips,” Gring-Pemble says.

On a separate day, Gring-Pemble’s students toured the U.S. Capitol building and visited the Senate and House galleries to see Congress in session.

“Our class trip to the U.S. Capitol was awe-inspiring, to say the least. Standing in a place where nearly every piece of U.S. legislation was passed or shot down, I was riddled with goose bumps,” says Sonja Elliott, a senior majoring in integrative studies with an arts and culture concentration.

“To see the men and women who hold amazing power an arm’s length away, I was overwhelmed with excitement.”

Adds classmate Amanda Neuman, a sophomore majoring in special education, “I am so honored to have these opportunities to visit these miraculous places and meet such inspiring people. I will never take what I have learned here for granted.”

For more information on NCLC 375, contact Lisa Gring-Pemble.

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