Washington comes to Furman

September 17, 2013 | Rebecca Neal Tompkins '02, Contributing Writer

Congress photo by Shutterstock.com
Congress photo by Shutterstock.com
Congress photo by Shutterstock.com

When you think of a college political science class, you might imagine going to class and reading and learning about government, political leaders and current events. But last Friday, the political system came to life for students in Professor Danielle Vinson’s The American Congress course (PSC 301) when three members of Congress paid a unique visit to the classroom.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C. 4th District) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah 3rd District) visited this class of 19 to give students an up-close and personal view of today’s political landscape and government affairs. While the senator and congressmen focused on Benghazi one year later and why it still matters to the American public, students also had the opportunity to ask any question they wanted of their Washington visitors.

Gowdy said, “What I wanted the students to get out of this is a couple of things, and number one is that Benghazi matters, and why it matters separate and aside from any political analysis.”

Gowdy also wanted the students to understand that not every congressperson of the same party agrees all the time. “It’s important for students to see that you can have three members of the same party who do not have completely monolithic, homogeneous views of everything. We all three run under the same Republican flag, but we do not agree on every single issue. And, we have those differences, I think, with civility and grace.”

Gowdy indicated he brought his House colleague Jason Chaffetz along to talk with the class because he is young and connects well on topics important to young people. Graham’s unique perspective on the Benghazi topic as a result of serving in the Senate minority provided the students good insight into both chambers of Congress.

Amy Lawrence ’14, who interned for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of which Reps. Gowdy and Chaffetz are members, said it was helpful to have this panel bring tough topics to the student level.

“They made things easy for the ordinary person to understand,” said Lawrence. “Having three members of Congress on campus in a small class setting is the biggest thing I’ve seen while at Furman—well, next to Newt Gingrich being here.”

Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, visited Furman November, 2011 during the lead up to the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary. While on campus, Gingrich, too, spoke to a political science class.

Vinson noted that each time she teaches The American Congress course, she tries to get at least one member of Congress to visit.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to ask questions of the people who hold elective office,” said Vinson. “It’s an opportunity for them to get a sense of who these people are, and what their views are of Congress.”

Gowdy frequently visits college campuses in an effort to educate and energize young minds.

“It’s important for young people who are discouraged with politics to see there are three people hopefully that are interested in Benghazi for the right reasons,” he said. “I love going to college campuses and interacting with young people.”

Chaffetz, the youngest member of the panel, noted why he was glad to be part of the class discussion.

“When you visit with students and see the hope in their eyes, that recharges my batteries,” said Chaffetz. “They’re the hope of the future. They’re the ones who have to have political involvement. It’s a shame really we don’t have more young people involved and engaged in politics. I never thought I’d be in this position, but now that I am, I think that’s just part of the role [of a congressman]. Stand to answer questions and share perspective and hopefully spark their minds to want to continue to be engaged in their government.”

(Congress photo by Shutterstock.com)