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To say that immigration is one of the hottest topics in American politics feels almost like an understatement. One can hardly open the news application on their phone or go on social media without seeing at least one article pertaining to the issue. Immigration policy concerns were heightened this summer, as President Trump enforced a family separation policy that was viewed by many as cruel and unnecessary. As photographs of children torn from their mothers’ arms and held in cages spread throughout the nation, American citizens started to question the state of our immigration policies – some for the very first time. While Americans began to argue with one another about the humanity, legality, and necessity of such policies, political science professor and the director of the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center (GSEC) Dr. Hollis France began to wonder: How did we as a country even get to this point?

Thus, Dr. France was inspired to organize a panel with three of her colleagues about the history of immigration policy in America and, more specifically, its relationship with gender. She invited three panelists to speak: Mr. Mohammed Iqbal Degia, Professor Briana McGinnis, and Professor Julia McReynolds-Perez.

Mr. Mohammed Iqbal Degia is a senior international affairs professional whose dominant interests include human rights, gender and race. Dr. France asked him to speak about the deep relationship these interests have with immigration, particularly in America. To inform, he gave a presentation outlining the history of immigration in America and how that history influences the climate today. Degia reminded the audience that the U.S. was built on the idea that “white is the standard or the norm, and non-white is abnormal and ‘other’.” Thus, white is a priority, an advantage. Since the attacks of September 11th, the concept of the “other” has flourished, particularly through Islamophobia, and has been exacerbated by Trump’s controversial Muslim ban. However, Degia reminds us that discrimination against the “other” is not unique to today and has been around since Columbus and even earlier. He emphasized that it’s important to understand this long history of discrimination and to take a “holistic approach” so as to become empowered and encourage change. Degia ended with a reminder to all those present to vote on November 6th to make our voices heard.

Following Mr. Degia was Dr. Briana McGinnis from the Department of Political Science. While this may be Dr. McGinnis’ first year at CofC, this was hardly her first time speaking about immigration laws and policies in the United States. Public law and the ethics of migration are two of her key interests, as illustrated in her speech. For this event, she specifically focused on the Immigration Nationality Act and the Likely Public Charge Exception Provision, which has existed since 1882. She elaborated how these legal policies impact the American process of deportation, emphasizing the fact that “deportation is something we do because we choose to do it; it is not something we have to do.” She then expanded upon why we choose to deport people, even our own citizens in some cases, and what this says about our society. She concluded similarly to Mr. Degia, encouraging the audience to be vigilant and wary of history, as it has a habit of repeating itself.

The concluding speaker was Dr. Julia McReynolds-Perez, a Visiting Professor of Sociology at the College of Charleston who focuses on Latino/a immigrant experiences. Dr. McReynolds-Perez began by telling her own family’s story of immigration from Argentina. She then discussed the major misconceptions that plague America regarding immigration, debunking all of them one by one. The largest misconception she focused on was how immigration is administrative law, not criminal, and until relatively recently the government treated it as such. That is not to say problems with the American immigration system only appeared recently. Dr. McReynolds-Perez stressed how “We have an immigration system that’s just broken and has been broken for decades.” She then detailed the ways it is failing, particularly how harmful the current system is to women. She reminded the audience that “gender and race have always been a part of this story” and they will continue to be part of it well into the future. Like the other speakers, she concluded by encouraging audience members to look and work towards a future system that benefits all Americans and humans as a whole.

After Dr. McReynolds-Perez finished her remarks, Dr. Hollis France facilitated questions from the audience. Multiple students participated, asking speakers to elaborate on statistics and facts, while also asking them to provide their own opinions and guidance for the future. After all the questions had been answered, Dr. France reiterated her gratitude to all the speakers and audience members for attending. By the end, many had learned much about America’s history, our present circumstances, and had solidified some intentions for the future.



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While some students start their freshman year with a clear plan for their future, some find a passion during their time in college that shapes the whole trajectory of their life plans. For political science alum, Michael-Deveraux Louis Bertin ’16, a Health Policy class taught by Dr. Archie-Hudson in the fall semester of his senior was the moment that began his journey to becoming executive director of the South Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (SCHRC).

Bertin and his colleagues fundraising for SCHRC

“At the time I was looking to do something in the health policy field,” Bertin explained, “and I ran into a friend of mine in a criminal justice class who ran an on-campus club called Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). I ended up hopping on board with them at a campus level and we got legislation passed through the Student Government Association for a naloxone access bill.” Naloxone is a drug that can be used as a live saving measure against opioid overdose. Bertin and SSDP focused on increasing availability of the drug and providing training so that people were aware of how to use it as a life saving measure. SSDP talked with community groups and students about the drug (commonly known as Narcan) and how it can be used. Bertin said “It became like a job almost. It was a calling, a passion.” Bertin followed his passion and stayed with SSDP after college. “I was made president of the southeast alumni board for the organization and decided to implement the campus model statewide. I started calling legislators and local law enforcement, then reached out to a couple of churches who got me in touch with Charleston City Council members and then policy change started to become a real thing.”

Bertin was an influential part of the lobbying process for the Good Samaritan Act in South Carolina. “Previous to this policy, if someone was drunk or sick or overdosing and they called the cops, the cops would show up and arrest them. We’ve taken the fear out of the phone call. So you will no longer be arrested, you’re granted immunity. The only thing that happens is they show up, save your life and direct you to some kind of recovery or rehabilitation program.”

After the successful passage of that policy, Bertin knew they had laid a framework for harm reduction in the state. Today Bertin is the executive director of the South Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (SCHRC) where he works in lobbying and community outreach. He is often the contact point or face of the organization. “I’m always setting up meetings with non-profits in the area who share our mission,” he noted.

Though there have been many moments over the years that have kept Bertin motivated to continue fighting for harm reduction and sensible drug policy, a conversation with a Mt. Pleasant police officer sticks out to him the most. “I was leaving his office after a conversation about syringe exchanges. I left his office and he said something to me that just stayed with me. He said ‘Mr. Bertin, if you can stop me from knocking on another mother’s door telling them that their son or daughter is dead, you would be doing me and the state of South Carolina a great service.’ There’s nothing more key to harm reduction than to save somebody’s life. There are other things we want to accomplish in our mission, but that’s the main thing. My goal here is to save as many lives as I possibly can.”

Today the South Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition is partnered with organizations across South Carolina who are all working in various aspects of harm reduction. The value in the coalition, according to Bertin is that their reach extends beyond the scope of law enforcement and public health organizations. “We deal with people in sex work, we deal with people who are IV users, people who use drugs, and we also deal with the homeless and VA community. We deal with the people that most organizations write-off.”

The biggest lesson that Bertin has learned during his time working in harm reduction is to trust the people he works with and to learn to detach himself from what the organization does. “It is really easy for me to think that I’m the only person doing this, especially running an organization that’s so new and discussing something that people don’t really want to discuss yet. It’s hard to take yourself out of the equation for the greater good. I have to be honest, the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is trusting others and trusting myself. I have to make sure that I’m taking care of myself before I can do anything else.”

Bertin considers himself lucky to have found his passion in working for the SCHRC, and he encourages those still in college to find that drive. “My advice would be to be of service as much as possible. Invest your own personal time into something that you are interested in. In this day and age we have to find something to be passionate about and the only way to do that is to do it.”

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Most college seniors are studying for the GRE, refining law school applications, or on the hunt for a post-grad job, but political science major Joel Milliken ‘19 has been spending his fall semester on the campaign trail as he seeks election for Charleston County Council. A James Island-native, Milliken is running in his home district to address what he sees as the district’s most important issues: development and the environment.

“I’ve grown up on James Island, I’ve lived there my whole life and I’ve seen how it’s evolved even in the last couple of years,” Milliken explained. “There’s a lot more construction and a lot more development going on. One of the biggest issues that has arisen is where development is going, how quickly it is going in, and what we’re doing in terms of infrastructure to support both the citizens we already have and the people who are moving here. One of my biggest issues is flooding. We’re in the midst of a few drainage studies now, but we need to identify all the drainage basins and how they are interconnected, the places that are at risk for flooding, and what impact additional infill would have on that. I’d like those drainage studies and also drainage system upgrades to be completed with additional half cent sales tax funding. We need to preserve the very fragile environment we have here.”

While it might initially seem to be a difficult choice to balance finishing college with running for office, Milliken believes it was simply the right time to seize the opportunity. “One of the biggest things I’ve been learning as a political science major is the importance of participation in government, the importance of putting yourself out there and working with people. And why not now? If not now, when?”

Milliken was particularly concerned with the lack of political competition in his district, which inspired him to run after a Republican primary victory left one candidate running unopposed. “There was no opposition to that Republican ticket. I feel like that’s not really how politics should work. It should be an actual dialogue, not so much a coronation, regardless of who wins the primaries.”

Prior to making the final decision to run, Milliken discussed his options with several of his political science professors including Dr. Gibbs Knotts, Dr. Claire Curtis, and Dr. Hollis France. “My advisor and professors were supportive and encouraging when I ran the idea by them, so I decided to put myself in the ring.”

According to Milliken, his goal is to start a dialogue in his community. “I’m here to give voters a choice, more or less. I’m here to give voters a choice, more or less. By voicing my opinions, and those I believe are shared by other islanders, and putting these ideas out here, I hope to make some impact at least.” He selected a local race because of the impact he felt he could make close to home. “The people who have the greatest impact on where you live, on your day to day life, are the people who are making decisions in your planning commission, your county council, and your municipal government. No one in my generation is really participating in that. [These decisions] are impacting the community we inherit, the community I’m going to be raising a family in.”

Milliken also cites his time as a political science major as influencing his decision to run. “Dr. Knotts’ class on public administration really opened my eyes to just how important local government is in terms of dictating policies that impact us day to day. It was a contributing factor to me wanting to run and wanting to contribute to local government. I always wanted to be a public servant and help people, and actually understanding the role of local government and the role of the people that we elect to local government is something that I have to attribute to political science.”

Recognizing that not everyone will run for local office, Milliken noted that being an informed voter is something that anyone can do to be a participant in local government. “November 6th is a very big date regardless of whether you’re running or not. Just by becoming informed as to who is on your ballot, making that informed choice and putting that choice on a ballot is one of the most vital acts you can do to be part of this system.”

Milliken also encourages young people to get involved in local government. “Local government is ridiculously vast. There’s so much that we as citizens take for granted as something that just happens on the sidelines, but by going out and actually participating and voicing your opinions, that is how actual policy gets changed. Almost every planning commission is an open forum, most town and city council meetings have opportunities to speak and just by walking in, putting your name down, and discussing what you’re most concerned about, real change happens.”

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In the heat of a Mississippi July, you’ll find College of Charleston political science alum, Sara Hutchinson ’12, surrounded by a group of kind, supportive and brave young women learning to express their experiences through the medium of poetry.  These women are participants in the annual Girls Write the World (GWTW) Summer Program, of which Hutchinson is director.  As part of their week-long program every summer GWTW creates an intentional curriculum designed to reflect the specific challenges faced by its participants.

“Our curriculum combines poetry writing classes, health education, college counseling, and female-youth specific workshops,” Hutchinson elaborated.  “Our goal is to provide a safe, alternative space for creation, exploration and growth, where our participants feel celebrated and supported.  At the same time, it is essential that we are also providing specific, tangible tools that they can use to navigate systems that were not necessarily built for them.”

After graduating from CofC, Hutchinson moved to Greenville, MS as a Teach for America corps member where she taught English and French to middle school students. Recognizing the specific challenges and struggles presented to her students, Hutchinson went on to found Girls Write the World with three other former English teachers in Washington County, MS. 

“After my corps commitment ended, I just felt like there was more work to be done.  As a teacher, I had been particularly concerned about my female students, who had to face both the structural level barriers of systemic racism and sexism, and day-to-day micro-level challenges like the lack of access to health care, or the difficulties of navigating an unhealthy relationship, or just the standard ups and downs of girlhood.  Our goal was for GWTW to serve as a space that was responding to all of that.  So, with the help of my co-founders, we launched our first annual Girls Write the World summer program in June 2015.”

Since its first summer program, GWTW has served more than 80 young women and encouraged the creation of an estimated 500 poems.  The program focuses on literature as a vehicle for empowerment, expression and healing, and recognizes the work as both a political and therapeutic tool.  The program also focuses on college counseling and features a day trip to visit a college campus. 

GWTW campers read during a poetry workshop

Hutchinson herself made the most of her college experience, graduating from the honors college and studying abroad in Morocco and Senegal.  “I am very, very grateful for my college experience. In my post-college life, when I talk to friends with different undergraduate experiences, I’ve come to realize that the community I got to be a part of at CofC, one where I really knew my professors and they knew me, is actually pretty rare.  It sounds cheesy, but college did what it was supposed to do for me: it expanded and challenged and supported me; it made me more thoughtful.”

Though Hutchinson does not work in a solely political field, she puts immense value on what she was able to learn through her political science classes.  “During my time in the department, I was particularly drawn to political theory classes.  The readings, lectures and discussions pushed me to think really deeply about our world, the ways we live together and the ways we could live better.  This sort of framework is valuable for someone like me who is eager to engage in social justice work, but it’s also helpful for any human being who wants to live intentionally and strives to advocate for herself and others.”

GWTW campers visiting the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, MS

Hutchinson’s goals are being fulfilled through Girls Write the World and she has high hopes for the program in the future and for a brand new program called G-Lead, which is being run by a former camper.  “We feel really strongly that the future of GWTW rests in the hands of our participants,” Hutchinson explained. “We’re looking to them to step into leadership roles in the organization, to inform our curriculum, and to let us know what they need.  As our participants continue to age out of our program and graduate from high school, we’re looking forward to having more join our team as counselors in the summers to come.  I think 5 years from now, our dream would be for our former campers to be totally running the show.”

Hutchinson’s advice to current undergraduate students is this: “Life keeps going after college, which (for me at least) was kind of hard to fully understand while I was still in school.  Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes in exciting, and sometimes it’s boring.  Pay attention to what you are legitimately interested in and let that be your guide.  If there is something you care deeply about, or an issue that inspires or enrages you, listen and respond to whatever that may be.”

Girls Write the World has allowed Hutchinson to follow her own advice and she has been devoted to creating a safe and encouraging community among the participants and counselors.  “Literally the only rules we have for our participants are to be kind, supportive and brave, but we are strict about those rules.  I can’t exactly put it into words, but I know that something very powerful happens when women come together and commit to love each other and to themselves.”

Learn more about Girls Write the World here. 

Interested in supporting their mission? Donate or check out their t-shirt shop.

under: Alumni

Alumni Spotlight with Johnnie Baxley

Posted by: knottshg | April 20, 2018 | No Comment |

Johnnie Baxley C’92 is a partner at Willson, Jones, Carter & Baxley, P.A. After graduating from the College of Charleston with a B.A. in Political Science, Baxley attended the University of South Carolina School of Law. He currently lives and practices law in the Charleston area and is active on several boards of the College. Check out the Q&A below to learn how Baxley’s experience as a political science major led him to law school and beyond.

What motivated you to go to law school and become a lawyer? Did you start out college knowing that would be your career path?

I started at the College thinking that I would major in one of the sciences and go to medical school or go into orthodontics. However, I did not enjoy those classes. I took a political science class and really enjoyed it. I had been on the debate team in high school and had several friends who were thinking about law school, so it was certainly on my radar. After that class, I had a long conversation with Dr. Bill Moore who encouraged me to pursue political science and law school. Once I moved into my later years at CofC, that was the only career option that I even considered.

How do you think the skills you developed through the political science major have helped you in law school and in your career?

The political science major teaches students to think critically, to advocate a position and back it up with logical arguments, and to write effectively. The major also teaches important skills like reasoning, persuasion, and logic. As a political science major, one learns to effectively and persuasively communicate, both verbally and in writing. Students also learn how to gather information and organize it for a purpose, analyze and assess information, and organization skills. All of these skills were extremely helpful in law school, and these skills continue to be important in my legal career.

What do you believe was the most important take away from your undergraduate experience?

Balance.  I learned fairly quickly at the College that it is possible to be a good student and still have a lot of fun. I knew folks that were really good at studying and made good grades but did not involve themselves in college life. I knew others that saw college as a huge party and cared nothing for their studies. There is a balance between these two extremes that allowed me to experience the best of both worlds. I was able to make good grades and do well academically, but I was still very involved in clubs, organizations, and sports on campus. That experience, and the lesson learned, has served me well throughout my career.  It is possible to have an effective work/life balance and to have a successful career and successful family life.

What did you enjoy most about your time at CofC?

So many things!  Basketball games, hanging out at College Lodge, my fraternity experience with Pi Kappa Phi, intramural sports, spending time with Dr. Moore, Student Alumni Associates, and the list goes on.  Living in downtown Charleston for four years was amazing, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I loved my time at the College.

You moved back to the Charleston area after law school and now practice here. What made you want to stay in Charleston?

My wife and I both grew up in the Charleston area, and we couldn’t think of a better place to live and raise our family.  Charleston is a wonderful place. We love living in the area – the people, the weather, the water, the history, the culture. There is a reason Charleston is repeatedly named the #1 city in the United States.

What, if anything, do you wish you had gotten the chance to do as an undergraduate, but didn’t?

That’s an easy one – study abroad.  My parents had three kids in college at the same time, so studying abroad was not a viable option for me due to financial concerns.  I absolutely love to travel, and the opportunity to journey to a new country and live there while studying in college would have been an unbelievable experience. It is something that we will strongly encourage our children to do during their college career. That experiential learning is something that simply cannot be duplicated in a classroom.

Even for students not considering law school: what do you think is the most important thing students should know as they graduate from CofC?

As a political science major, you are well equipped to succeed and excel in many various jobs and careers. The skills that one learns as s political science major are invaluable skills for lots of careers. If students combine those skills and knowledge that they learn at CofC with a strong work ethic and perseverance, success will follow.

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Water Expert Gives Convocation of Majors Speech

Posted by: knottshg | April 5, 2018 | No Comment |

On March 29th, the Political Science Department hosted Dr. Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute for the Spring 2018 Convocation of Majors. Approximately 200 students, faculty, and community members were in attendance. The President of the Political Science Club, Mary Boyd Barefoot, gave opening remarks, followed by Department Chair Dr. Gibbs Knotts. Dr. John Creed, Associate Professor of Political Science, introduced Dr. Gleick, who followed with his speech on the Future of Water. The presentation tied in closely with The College’s Quality Enhancement Plan of Sustainability Literacy and this year’s focus on sustainability regarding water and water usage.

Dr. Gleick discussed water in the global context, emphasizing how for many countries across the world water is not as accessible and taken for granted as it is here in America. He said there are billions of people without access to basic water services. He also talked about climate change, a lack of infrastructure and awareness, and ecosystem destruction. He then discussed various challenges for water management including water-related conflicts which are becoming increasingly more common internationally, and issues of water-related diseases. He reminded audience members that America also faces water problems referencing the city of Flint, Michigan, various river fires and toxic algal blooms.

Dr. Gleick ended by discussing “potential futures” the world could face. There are both negative and positive possibilities, but overall Dr. Gleick remains optimistic. He mentioned tactics that must occur for us to reach the more positive futures, saying “As good as our laws are, they are not as good as they need to be. They need to be updated.” Additionally, he said, “We need to match the quality of water we have with the quality of water we need,” emphasizing methods such as reusing waste water, desalinization, ecosystem restoration, and urban water conservation. He gave examples of how other countries, such as Israel, have implemented innovative ideas and technology to conserve water. These are systems we too need to implement, and we also need to educate people more deeply about where water comes from and why it needs to be protected. He ended his speech by emphasizing the immense human, environmental, and economic costs to inaction.

Dr. Gleick then opened the floor to questions from the audience. He answered concerns about flooding in Charleston, public versus private resources of water, international water conflicts, and specific case studies across the country.

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Dr. Briana McGinnis will be joining the Department of Political Science in fall 2018. Dr. McGinnis received her PhD in Government from Georgetown University and has been a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and teaching interests focus on political thought and law, specifically in terms of citizenship, migration, and discipline/punishment. This fall Dr. McGinnis will be teaching Introduction to Political Thought and a special topics course on discipline and democracy. In the Q&A below, Dr. McGinnis shares what she’s looking forward to about her upcoming move to Charleston and the courses she’s excited to teach.

What excites you most about moving to Charleston?

I’m from Minnesota and have never lived further south than Washington, DC (where I went to graduate school), so I’m excited to be in a completely new natural and historical environment. Charleston is a beautiful city that has done a phenomenal job of preserving its historical architecture. I’m looking forward to both the new climate and getting to know more about the city’s heritage.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Political Science Department at College of Charleston?

I am looking forward to teaching small classes! It’s much more practical to keep students actively involved with the material when classes are a manageable size, and small classes also allow for getting to know students over the course of a semester to a degree that just is not possible at institutions with very large classes.

Who is your favorite theorist to teach and why?

That’s a tough question; there are a lot of thinkers whose work I think is great, and there are also a lot who are fun to teach. In terms of sheer enjoyment to teach – I would have to say Thomas Hobbes. While his 17th Century language initially may be off-putting to first-time readers, once you become accustomed to it, he’s quite entertaining. Hobbes is a cantankerous grump picking fights with, well, basically everyone. Add to that his provocative picture of the political world, and what’s not to like?

If you could teach a class on any topic what would it be?

I would love, at some point, to offer a course on citizenship – both its history as a legal concept and how the idea is actually employed in liberal democracies.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I generally describe it as “conversational.” I try, to the greatest extent possible, to make each class meeting an active exchange.

What research projects are you looking forward to working on or are you working on right now?

I am looking forward to working on a book about how the collateral consequences of conviction (post-punishment legal restrictions like felony disenfranchisement) affect the experience of citizens after they have served their terms of punishment. Criminologists estimate that as many as one in three adults in the U.S. has a criminal record, and while not all those people will experience collateral consequences, we need to ask some difficult questions about how our criminal justice policies are undermining the equality we associate with a functioning democracy.

What is the biggest piece of advice you have for undergraduate students?

Undergraduates are busy, but your student years pass quickly! Take advantage of as much of the college experience as you can. When else in your life will you have the time and opportunities to do things like attend a public lecture? When you’re taking classes, keeping up on the reading and writing papers can seem like a chore, but I would encourage undergraduates to try to appreciate how great a privilege it is to be able to take this time to engage closely with ideas and issues.

What’s something about you that makes you unique?

For several years, I’ve collected antique cookbooks and I sometimes make the recipes. Some of them are delicious (pumpkin pudding with rosewater from 1868, for instance), others are… not. Let’s just say there was a period when savory gelatins were all the rage, and turkey in aspic (1936) is every bit as disgusting as it sounds.

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Student Spotlight with Olivia Rothstein

Posted by: knottshg | March 16, 2018 | No Comment |

Sophomore Olivia Rothstein is a double major in political science and historic preservation. She is from Gainesville, Florida, and is an active member of the Student Government Association and has served as a Peer Facilitator for the Honors College. Olivia is also a student worker in the Political Science Department. In addition, she is part of the American Politics Research Team (APRT) and has pursued independent research projects exploring the intersections of political science and historic preservation.

What led you to majoring in political science?

I’ve always been interested and passionate about politics. I have been helping my Dad volunteer on campaigns since I was six years old. My whole life my entire family has [told] me I am going to be a lawyer like my Dad, but I never listened. I came to College of Charleston knowing I would absolutely not major in political science and not attend law school. However, I got lost during orientation and by chance I ended up at a session that Dr. Knotts was leading. He started talking about his Campaigns and Elections class, and I knew I just had to sign up for it. Two weeks into the class I knew I had to meet with him and five minutes into the meeting I knew I wanted to declare my major in political science. He was just so welcoming and informative, and I saw that this really was my passion. To this day my siblings won’t stop bothering me, saying “I told you so” but it’s worth it.

Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement on campus?

College of Charleston has so many amazing clubs, organizations, and departments that I constantly want to be involved. In the fall semesters, I work as a Peer Facilitator for the Honors College, helping incoming students adjust to life here at CofC. I absolutely love it because I enjoy meeting all the different people, learning about their interests, and helping them overcome the various challenges of college. I’ve also learned so much about the school that I never knew before! Additionally, I am a Senator for Student Government Association which has been so much fun. It introduced me to different people and ideas around campus, and I have been able to feel like I am truly making a difference in my community. Just last week, a couple fellow senators and I wrote a resolution regarding gun control on campus and in the state of South Carolina. To see that bill pass and to be able to talk about something I am so passionate about was amazing. In addition to Student Government, I am on the Executive Board for College Democrats. This gives me the opportunity to utilize all the great knowledge I learn from political science by organizing events that range from simple meetings to panels to writing letters to congresspersons. Finally, I am deeply involved in the department itself. As a student worker I help run the social media and put together the advising newsletter.

I also serve as a Lead Mentor for the nonprofit organization Kids on Point which partners with the College of Charleston. This group connects college students and community members with local youth from underserved areas, and it’s truly an incredible organization. All the kids at the program participate in the sport of squash, along with receiving mentors to help with homework and developing necessary life skills. The organization has truly changed my life, introducing me to the most amazing kids.

How do you balance double majoring and how do you see your majors intersecting?

I am a double major in Political Science and Historic Preservation and Community Planning. It’s an interesting mix that often spurs a lot of questions in people. At first glance they don’t seem to intersect, but in actuality they are deeply intertwined. Politics is involved in everything, including preservation. It’s through studying preservation that I learn so much about America’s history; various cultures and their practices; and the impact preservation has on building and uniting communities. The first example that comes to most people’s mind is the issue of Confederate and Confederate-sympathizing statues. Though this is hardly the only example where preservation and politics connect, it is timely. You cannot fully understand that issue until you take a look at the politics surrounding it and its history along with the history of the monuments themselves and why people want to preserve them. That is the only way an adequate solution can be reached, through understanding, and that is only possible by looking at both the fields of preservation and politics. These connections between the two fields makes it a lot simpler to double major, it never seems like a burden or inconvenience. It gives me the opportunity to pursue many of my interests at once and seeing where those interests intersect. Like everything else in college, its mostly just about time management and careful planning!

What kind of research projects are you working on right now?

I am working on two main research projects right now and revising some others. I am a member of the APRT and am helping Dr. Knotts and Dr. Ragusa compile research for a book they are writing about the presidential primaries in South Carolina. I have been looking at South Carolina politicians since the 1970s to see if they had any involvement in making South Carolina’s primary, “first in the south.” Additionally, I have been looking through newspapers for any mentions of the primaries and to see which politicians have visited the state on campaign stops, where they visited, and when. It’s been really interesting to learn so much more about South Carolina since I am an out of state student. Additionally, I am working with an art history professor Dr. Nathaniel Walker studying Thomas Campanella’s City of the Sun. I am reading about Campanella’s utopia, particularly focusing on the urban design and then using Google SketchUp to create a model of the City of the Sun. This is another great example of the intersection of political science and preservation. I am reading about this utopia and its society, ranging from education to governance to religion. I am then taking this information and seeing how that would look in real life and how someone would try to preserve a city like that. Finally, I am reviewing the research I completed last semester about cultural property destruction in the Middle East, another intersection of politics and preservation. I will be presenting the paper at the annual William V. Moore Student Research Conference in April.

What advice would you give to students who are looking to do research in political science?

Find a topic that interests you and meet with a professor! Whether it’s a professor you are taking a class with, one you saw speak at an event or panel, or one whose research just really interests you: schedule a meeting! One of the great parts about CofC is the availability of research for undergraduate students, so take advantage of it! You can either work on a project a professor is already working on or create your own and ask them to advise you on it. The options are essentially endless when it comes to research with the department and the professors are always willing to help.

What do you like most about working for the political science department?

My favorite part about working for the political science department is the people. They are all friendly, engaging, and helpful. It has been fabulous to get to know Tracey Andrews, the department’s new administrative coordinator. She is always there to help everyone and put a smile on your face. We have a blast in everything we do. The entire department is like that. They make tasks that might seem boring fun, just by being themselves. Also, everyone is so welcoming and anytime I need anything I know the doors are open and they will be there to help me out. It has given me the chance to meet more students majoring in political science and to talk about my passion for the subject and department at multiple events such as Accepted Students Weekend and Honors Interview Weekend. I love being able to share my excitement with so many other people here.

What are your plans for after graduation? How do you think being a political science major will help you reach those goals?

After graduation I want to take a gap year to work in either the nonprofit or public sector, learning even more about local and state government. Then, I want to attend a joint program where I receive my Masters in Preservation and a law degree. In the long term, I want to work on using the law to protect and promote preservation, whether this means through lobbying, working for the public sector, or owning my own firm. I wouldn’t be able to do this without my political science degree. In addition to helping me truly realize my passions, it is through this program that I have learned vital skills such as critical thinking, research, and advanced writing. Additionally, the knowledge I have gained through this major is invaluable, teaching me about law, policy, legislation, governance, and more. This will give me a great foundation as I continue to pursue my future goals and endeavors.

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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Claire Curtis

Posted by: knottshg | March 9, 2018 | No Comment |

Dr. Claire Curtis has been teaching in the political science department at the College of Charleston for twenty years. Since joining the department, she has taught classes in political theory, including the required introduction to political theory course, contemporary liberalism, and utopia/dystopia. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Bowdoin College, Dr. Curtis’ is the author of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract and is currently working on her second book. Her own research interests lie in utopia/dystopia and the intersections of political philosophy and fiction. In the Q&A below Dr. Curtis shares her own experiences from her time at CofC and elaborates on her current research.

So, you’ve been in the political science department at CofC for twenty years now.

That’s really weird.

What made you decide to become a professor?

I went to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and I thought I was going to be a classics major. Then summer between high school and college I went to the Soviet Union on a high school trip and I came back from that like, “oh my gosh I have to study the Soviet Union this is so cool.” I got to college, and I took this upper level Soviet studies class and I started taking Russian and a couple of other classes. There was a guy in the political science department at Bowdoin who did soviet politics and so I took all the classes he offered and then I was like, “oh I kind of like this political science thing.” My junior year I went to Poland and when I [came] back from Poland I decided that “that was all really interesting, and I am no longer interested in Soviet Studies or behind the iron curtain, I have gotten that out of my system.” I went back to Bowdoin for my senior and was taking a political theory class and thought (a) I really like this political theory stuff and (b) I thought what many students think when they’re seniors in college and not sure what to do: I knew what I was good at, and I was good at school. So, I thought, “I’ll keep going to school.” I didn’t apply to that many graduate programs. I got in to Johns Hopkins. I went because I was good at school.

Was it research or teaching that drew you to the career?

I think it was more about teaching. I went to a small liberal arts college where people really paid a lot of attention to classes and most of my political science classes were under twenty [students]. The political science professors were very enthusiastic, everyone wanted to talk about various things. That was my model: you do research, but you’re also engaged in teaching. Between teaching and research, I was interested more in the teaching part.

Can you tell me a bit about the book you’re working on?

I wrote a book in 2010 about post-apocalyptic fiction and the social contract. That was a really interesting project, but it also told a story that I think we’ve moved past. We’re thinking about how and why we live together differently now. I think mirroring that theoretical point is that if you start thinking about post-apocalyptic fiction that has been written in the 21st century, there are a certain number of literary post-apocalyptic fictions that I think are thinking about the human experience of living together differently. One of the critics of the social contract that I find really compelling is Martha Nussbaum. She is interested in what’s called the capabilities approach, which comes out of the development economics of Amartya Sen. The idea is that when we think about humans living together instead of thinking about the distribution of particular goods to particular peoples, we instead should think about what human beings would like to do and be. Nussbaum comes up with the list of ten capabilities that we are aiming towards. The book is an attempt to explain the human capabilities from Nussbaum via these novels. The way that I categorize them is: capabilities that are particular to the human body; capabilities that are particular to human emotion and cognition; capabilities around our interactions with others; and [capabilities] around control over the political and material environment. The idea is to divide the book into four sections with each section looking into these kinds of capabilities. Nussbaum talks in many of her works [about] how we’ve not achieved these capabilities, and I think that makes it very hard to figure out what a world would look like that did have these capabilities. The novels that I’ve chosen sort of give an indication, even in this post-apocalyptic context, of communities that are providing these capabilities. Although I’ve been thinking about framing the book slightly differently, but I’ll leave it at that.

What do you think is the value in studying fiction in conjunction with political theory or philosophy?

Well I think people learn best through examples, but the problem with theory is that it can seem very abstract. You can talk about the construction of an argument, you can talk about the rhetorical moves being made in the argument you can talk about the logical movement being made from point A to point B in an argument, but it is political theory and so the argument has to come down to the ground at some point. That can be really hard to do. I think one way of doing that is to use robust empirical examples, but that can get really complicated in political theory because you get so caught up in the particulars of the empirical example [that] you lose the whole reason you we’re looking at the example. What fiction does is give you this closed space and then we can have a debate over the meaning of that closed space; but we don’t have to have a debate over the meaning or the empirical understanding of the reality or how it got there or all of the complications that come up when you look at actual empirical examples in the actual world. So, I like it because it has a beginning and an end. I like it because authors are putting people together in particular scenarios to think through how people would think and react.

What has been the most challenging part of the research and writing process so far?

Finding time to do it.

How have the classes you’ve taught at CofC influenced your research or have they?

Some of the classes that I’ve taught have come out of specific research interests that I have. The class I taught on gender, theory, and law actually came out of an NEH summer seminar where I was doing some research around issues of sexual harassment. The utopia/dystopia stuff that I do, I’ve always been interested in that. I took a class on utopia/dystopia in college and I think it’s a really interesting way to think about political theory. I’ve published on The Dispossessed and it’s really great to talk to students about that. I’ve published on the Parable books and Octavia Butler. I like the opportunity to talk about things that I’m interested in writing on. Once I tried to do an FYE around post-apocalyptic fiction and reading the social contract after I’d written the book. I think there are definitely connections; it’s just not always super linear. Nothing I ever do is really linear.

What do you love about research compared to what you love about teaching?

I love to read books so it’s always nice to be doing research. In a sense that’s somewhat [truer] when I’m getting to read a novel, but it’s equally true if it’s a theorist that I’m particularly interested in. I love the reading part of research and I love putting together the puzzle. I think in teaching, it’s about back and forth and the sharing of ideas and the energy of the classroom. Because research, at least the kind of research that I do, is a lot in your head. You spend a lot of time thinking to yourself and talking to yourself. It’s good to go into the classroom and get some energetic conversation about ideas instead of just the conversation inside my head.

How do you keep up the energy in the classroom?

I drink a lot of coffee. Sometimes there are classes where the class itself produces its own energy. I really think this stuff is interesting; so, my goal is to get other people, even if they don’t love it, to at least find it interesting. One of the ways of doing that is to be super enthusiastic about it. And to drink lots of coffee.

What has been your favorite experience at CofC so far?

My favorite experience is probably teaching POLI 150. I love teaching the social contract. It’s a story that is deeply familiar to us, but we don’t have the vocabulary to understand its familiarity and understand the differences between what Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Rawls are saying and why that matters. Probably every class that I teach there’s a certain portion of that class that I’m like “oh I can’t wait till we get to that part.”

What do you think has been the experience that has had the most impact on you?

I mean in some sense this is probably the more honest answer about why my book has been sitting unexamined. In 2006 or 2007, a woman who was then the Director of Women’s and Gender studies, a woman who became the director of African American studies, and I started a writing group. We met every single week and we had rules for our writing group. Coming out of the writing group, I published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the rules for a perfect writing group. Both of those women in the last year and a half died. It was personally very hard because they were both really my best friends here. One died very unexpectedly, but the other had a brain tumor so there had been a long time talking about death and [saying] “How are you going to redo that writing group?” And I’ve yet to figure it out how to redo a writing group. In the 20 years here, that was definitely the biggest challenge.

 Dr. Curtis’ article on the “Rules for a Perfect Writing Group”: https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Rules-of-Writing-Group/126880

under: Uncategorized

Department Welcomes New Administrative Coordinator

Posted by: knottshg | February 14, 2018 | No Comment |


The Department of Political Science welcomed their new Administrative Coordinator, Tracey Andrews, on January 29, 2018. Tracey has spent the majority of her working life in higher education. She began her career at Manchester Community College as a student worker for the Continuing Education Division’s Credit-Free programs, while earning her associate degree. Tracey received her bachelor’s degree from University of Connecticut while also serving as the Program Coordinator for the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She held the position for more than 10 years and in that capacity served as an advisor to students and as a representative of the department on the CLAS Undergraduate Council. She most recently served as the Administrative Assistant to the Associate Provost at the University of Hartford in Hartford, CT. Tracey moved to the Charleston area in August, 2017 to be closer to her daughter Nina and is thrilled to be out of the cold and here with us at the College of Charleston.


What do you like most about living in the Charleston area so far?

I came to Charleston to be closer to my daughter who moved here in 2016 after she got married. The warmth of the people of Charleston has been by far the greatest gift of living here. I think the pace is a little slower here and people are generally more apt to smile and start a conversation with you. Of course, I also love the warmer temperatures and the beaches too!

What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned in your experience working in higher education?

I guess the most important thing I’ve learned personally is how to be a good resource for people. I am an excellent listener and can help others problem-solve so they can get their needs met in the best way possible.

If you could go back and do one thing differently in your life what would it be?

At the age of twelve, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I allowed my mentor to discourage me because I wasn’t fond of math or science at the time. I now know that if you have great passion for anything in life, you must pursue it and the universe will get behind you and help you turn your dreams into reality.

What excites you most about joining the Political Science Department and becoming part of the College of Charleston community?

I visited the College of Charleston on my first trip to see my daughter and immediately fell in love with the campus. The minute I saw the advertisement for this position I knew it would be a great fit for me personally because I have ten years’ experience running a similar-sized department. And where better to be than this department with the current state of affairs in our government? I have not been very political for much of my life, but I am genuinely interested in the work that the faculty and students here are doing to propel us toward a future where truth is respected, diversity is embraced and the needs of our people and our planet are met.

What advice would you give to our current students?

First and foremost, I would encourage them to pursue all things that bring them passion and to especially pay attention to their own inner voice. Now is not the time to say that your parents always wanted you to be X, Y or Z. Now is the time to acknowledge that you were put on this earth as a unique individual with a destiny that only you can pursue so don’t let anything or anybody stand in your way. I would also encourage them to read Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book “I Can See Clearly Now” which will help put it all in perspective.

How would you want to introduce yourself to the students in the department?

I am here for you! If you’ve got any questions or problems, please don’t hesitate to stop by and see me. If I can’t help, I promise to find some resources or put you in contact with someone who can. You are always welcome here.

under: Uncategorized

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