Generations mix at public issues summit

Students and local residents from different age groups came together to discuss Americans’ role in the world at a public issues summit hosted by the College last Wednesday night.

The summit differed from others held in the past by touching on international issues rather than focusing solely on local issues. It also encouraged an intergenerational dialogue as people of all ages were invited.

With the 75 participants representing these diverse ages, William Ball, associate professor of political science and director of the Leadership in Public Affairs program (LPA), said he felt everyone found the conversations interesting. According to Ball, there was civility and interest among the generations. The elders listened to the youths and vice versa.

Participants deliberated in small, moderated groups over four approaches to America’s global role. These discussions included dialogue about the war in Iraq, tsunami relief, the principles of free trade and environmental preservation.

John Rebbeck, a 1996 graduate of the College and a Hightstown resident, said that this was his second time attending a College-held public issues summit. “If I’m going to complain, I’d better be willing to participate,” he said of his involvement at the summits.

In attempt to fulfill the intergenerational theme of the summit, Rebbeck brought his father to the summit. Richard Rebbeck, a 75-year-old retiree from Ewing, said he never attended a public issues summit before but thought hearing the opinions of younger generations was very interesting. “As you get older, your opinions shift,” he said.

Joe Shure, a 17-year-old senior at Ewing High School, felt the summit provided a good opportunity to get a sense of how different generations feel about important topics. “The older generations were able to lend insight based on their historical knowledge,” Shure said.

Students at the College also participated at moderated at the event. For Rachel VanHorn, senior political science major, it was her third time at a public issues summit but her first as a moderator.

VanHorn said she learned a lot at the summit from the different ages and viewpoints. “Civic groups are needed everywhere,” she said. “You need to care in politics.”

Participants completed surveys at the beginning and end of the deliberations about their feelings on certain world issues. The surveys were tallied immediately, and the participants received the results at the end of the night.

The survey results will be added to a nationwide record compiled by the National Issues Forum, based in Dayton, Ohio. Ball said that the information “contributes to the national voice of the people on the subject of Americans’ role.”

Participants also wrote letters to other generations on their personal views of Americans’ role in the world. These letters, upon permission from their authors, will be included in the final report on the LPA Web site, and may be printed in newspapers, including The Times of Trenton.

Ball said the population has become alienated from politics in recent years. He said that by holding a “citizen to citizen discourse,” the population could participate in a true democratic process.

This was Ball’s first summit dealing with international issues. He said the intergenerational approach was spurred by past summits, as the average participation age at the last summit was 56, with no participants from outside the College under age 30.

According to Ball, students at the College will have more opportunities to participate in these summits during the fall semester, with the upcoming gubernatorial election.

LPA and The Times of Trenton sponsored the summit. Albert Stark, head of the law firm Stark and Stark in Lawrenceville, also presented the College with a gift that supported the summit.