The Power of Politics

by Anna Sharp

Why do we need each other? Why do we need politics? What happens in a society without democracy? These are all questions Belmont Political Science professor Dr. Nathan Griffith answered in his seminar, “P for Politics: Words That Scream for Your Submission.”

Dr. Griffith began by posing the question ‘what is politics?’ He explained that the root of the word, ‘polis,’ means community in Greek. Therefore the heart of politics is that it brings people together. People do not do well on their own, Dr. Griffith reminded the scholars. However, he continued, “the problem with communities is they’re full of people.”

The Prisoners’ Dilemma

To illustrate his claims Dr. Griffith introduced the idea of ‘the prisoners’ dilemma,’ a strategic game that examines the logic of choices made by two prisoners who are arrested for the same crime and isolated from each other. The game reveals that if both prisoners betray each other, their sentences will actually be greater than if they both keep silent. Therefore it is always the better option for each prisoner to keep his word to his partner and not talk. Dr. Griffith suggested that this is the reason criminals form communities; they can coerce their members to keep silent, since betrayal will mean the other members are there to retaliate. In a similar way, he joked, “government is the mafia for honest people. It makes us keep our promises.”

Václav Havel

He went on to explain the role of control, conformity, and fear in keeping authoritarian governments in power, listing several examples from history. Václav Havel, a Czech playwright who became president after the country’s revolution against communism, used the example of a green grocer who must choose whether or nor to display a sign in his shop that supports the communist regime. If he displays it, he is revealing his submission to the government. Yet if he alone refuses to conform, his dissent means nothing, and he will be punished. Dr. Griffith’s next example was a bit closer to home: internments camps the U.S. government forced Japanese residents into in the atmosphere of fear following the Pearl Harbor bombing. He also noted the chilling fact that some Americans called for similar treatment of citizens with Arab heritage over fifty years later, after September 11. “Fear makes us do stupid things,” Dr. Griffith acknowledged.

Tocqueville published his observations in Democracy in America in 1838

He then took the scholars back in time to the 1830s when the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville came to our country to study what made democracy work in America and bring his ideas back to France. Tocqueville found that what made our country’s democracy effective included our laws separating powers, federal programs done through state governments, customs of self-sufficiency within communities, and religion because it teaches people to restrain their impulses and make room for others. In short, he suggested that the more community there was, the better the politics were. Therefore the way to avoid or defeat an authoritarian government is to build relationships with our neighbors. “It’s no longer us and them—it’s us,” Dr. Griffith said. He returned to Václav Havel’s story of the green grocer; if the green grocer alone refuses to put up the sign, he fails. Yet if he talks to his neighbors and they rebel together, the despotic government is suddenly threatened. The scholars got the chance to see this theory in action in the final scene of V for Vendetta, wherein everyone in London joins together to overthrow their tyrannical government. This dramatic conclusion to the seminar left everyone empowered to go forth and take Dr. Griffith’s advice to “be government”—even if it might look more like doing jury duty than starting a revolution.




Countdown to College

Picture1FAFSA? CSS? The Common App? Rolling admissions and early decisions? David Curtis, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Director of the CLASS Scholars program, tried to clear up some of the confusion about these terms and others by giving the 2017 CLASS Scholars and their families a crash course on the college application process last Thursday evening. The presentation covered basics about the college search, including where and how to research colleges to find matches in terms of interest and affordability. From there the discussion went into applying for colleges and finding financial resources from grants to scholarships. Tennessee Promise and the Hope Scholarship were given an overview, as well as other local foundations, like the Scarlett Foundation and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, both of which help fund the college dreams of local scholars.

And after all the preparation and application, the Scholars were told, to quote Tom Petty, “the waiting is the hardest part.” Though you might hear about admissions decisions early depending on how you apply and your destination university’s policies, you’re likely not going to get the full picture of admissions and financial aid until Spring of your Senior year.

And once the decision is made, there is yet more to do, including enrollment deposits, housing arrangements, and the all-important decisions about how that last summer before college will be spent. At the end of the evening, the Scholars had a lot more to think about, including the realization that, as one of them put it, “we’re almost done, aren’t we?”



Student Spotlight – Caleb

CLASS Scholars attend high schools all across Nashville and bring to the Seminars a variety of interests and experiences. In the Student Spotlight feature, we’ll be letting you know a little more about who the CLASS Scholars are and what they do besides attend Seminars!










Caleb – East Nashville Magnet – Class of 2018

Caleb’s hobbies include writing, drawing, reading and “of course” video games. His favorite subjects in school are English, Spanish and history. Caleb says he likes the Humanities “because they are what bonds our world together,” and they “allow us to understand each other more, communicate ideas, and learn from mistakes made in the past.”

Whether gaining better insight into Shakespeare’s mind or experiencing the culture shock of learning that the Spanish “C” is pronounced differently in Europe, Caleb has enjoyed the seminars so far. As a lover of theater, his favorite CLASS experience has been seeing King Lear and attending its seminar. Although he doesn’t necessarily act, he is interested in behind-the-scenes aspects such as playwriting, set design, and prop building.


The Importance of Fusion

By Anna Sharp

Where can you start the evening learning about law school and end it watching an Enrique Iglesias music video? The CLASS Seminars, of course. Dr. Mitch McCoy led the class of 2018 Scholars in a seminar he called “Professions, Language and Love,” a title that hinted at his overarching theme: the importance of fusion. As both a Spanish professor and a Pre-Law advisor at Belmont, Dr. McCoy knows about combining your interests into a profession.

Dr. McCoy began by asking the scholars to imagine (with reluctance from some) that they wanted to go to law school. He then took them through a series of questions designed for the student who is considering law school, and they were encouraged to examine their imaginary reasons for wanting to attend. In addition to this questionnaire, Dr. McCoy distributed an information sheet that he gives to Belmont students who come to him interested in law school. “You’ll be so far ahead of the game if you do decide to go to law school now,” he told the scholars.

In overloading the scholars with information, Dr. McCoy was simply illustrating his true message: if you want to go to law school, “you need to have really good reasons for it.” He gave this insight with his own personal experience to bolster it, revealing that he got to law school and realized he didn’t actually want to practice law. He only continued because he is “really loyal” and wanted to finish what he had started. “I got a job because I had a law degree, and it paid more because I had a law degree, but it wasn’t my heart’s desire,” he told the scholars. Nevertheless, Dr. McCoy now gets to fulfill his heart’s desire by teaching Spanish while still using his experience from law school to help students who aspire to careers in law. Showing that it is entirely possible to have a career that combines your different interests and skills, Dr. McCoy moved into a discussion of the other half of his own combination.

As Dr. McCoy began to take the scholars—some students of Spanish themselves—through the Spanish alphabet, they discovered that they were speaking two different dialects. This led into an exploration of the differences between the Spanish of Spain, which Dr. McCoy was speaking, and the Latin American Spanish, which many scholars were familiar with. As soon as the differences were sorted out, the entire room was chanting Spanish vowel exercises with expertise. Dr. McCoy was impressed by the scholars’ grasp of the language. “Your teachers have taught you well,” he told them. “I love this!” On realizing that he didn’t need to go back to basics with this group, Dr. McCoy switched his topic from grammar to culture.

After trying out some steps on their own, the scholars watch a performance by famous flamenco dancer Sara Baras.

The scholars learned that Spanish artist Salvador Dali collaborated with Walt Disney in 1946 to make a short animated film called Destino. After watching the film the scholars gave interpretations of its symbols and themes, with Dr. McCoy encouraging all ideas. The dreamlike lamentation portrayed in the film was the perfect segue into his next topic—flamenco. Dr. McCoy passed around a fan (or as he called it, an abanico) for those who wanted a dramatic flare and taught the scholars several different variations of flamenco hand clapping before moving onto footwork. Soon everyone was standing up and banging their heels on the ground trying to get the planta tacón tacón combination correct. The lively dancing set the mood for the seminar’s conclusion: the music video for Enrique Iglesias’s song “Bailando.” The mix of musical styles in the song brought Dr. McCoy full circle to the idea of fusion—and not just in music. He left the scholars with advice to someday combine what they love with their profession as well as an open ear for any questions about “Spanish, law or just life in general.”