Making a Case for Communication

by Ashley Sanders

On December 1st, forensics team sponsor, Jason Stahl, and students from the Belmont forensics team came to give performances for CLASS scholars. Mr. Stahl began the seminar by explaining what a forensics team does. Forensics, he explained, stems from the idea “to build a case.” So the forensics team works to argue and persuade using a wide variety of communication methods. He explained that there are many different ways to make an argument. One less commonly known way is through performance.

Forensics Team Director Jason Stahl

Madison Kendrick demonstrated this with her performance combining all different kinds of literature to make an argument regarding the way society treats older women. Madison “built her case” by showing various stories that all spoke to the same theme. She used poetry, drama, prose, and even news headlines to demonstrate that women are frequently mistreated in the last third of their lives.


Allison Mahal also used performance to make a point. Allison’s performance, however, came from a single source. Allison performed a scene from a play that spoke to the nature of grief and how people cope.


Next, Janvi Shukla and Laura Durr gave speeches they wrote for public address.

Janvi gave an informative speech on the Sikh religion attempting to inform her audience about the religion’s history, beliefs, and the discrimination they are facing in post-9/11 America.

Laura gave a persuasive speech on dishonorable discharge from the military due to sexuality. She built her argument providing evidence of real cases and personal anecdotes. At the end of her speech, she gave her audience some action steps they could take and had a petition the students could (and many did) sign.

Finally, Finley Sehorn and Justice Sloan debated Blake Simmons and Noah Miller. They debated whether or not the United State should fund germ line editing. The persuasive tactics used by both sides included poking holes in the other side’s argument attempting to discredit them before launching into their own argument.


Each of the students on the team demonstrated different ways you can build a case and make an argument. They all used different persuasive tactics: evoking emotion, providing solid evidence, and attempting to discredit the opposition.

Scholars and speakers talk after the presentation.

Election Questions Answered

by Ashley Sanders

Two days after the election, political science professor Nathan Griffith came to answer questions about this insane election season. The seminar began with a (half) joking question: “Is there any way to reverse this?”

Griffith explained the Electoral College, explaining that it is highly unlikely that the electors would vote against their party. He said these electors are selected because they have shown they are incredibly loyal.

Dr. Nathan Griffith
Dr. Nathan Griffith

He then explained that although it may be flawed, this system is the most efficient. Direct democracy, by contrast, is incredibly inefficient. Limits were initially put on democracy so the people do not have too much power. Direct democracy requires putting a lot of trust in every citizen and we are afraid of “the tyranny of the masses.”

Griffith went on to discuss the post-election atmosphere that we are living in. He said, “right now it’s about fear.” People are afraid because they aren’t sure what to expect. The biggest issue with the election we just witness was “once you start dealing in fear, that’s all there is left.”

He assured the scholars that there is no need to be afraid – the president has a very small impact on our day-to-day lives. Griffith said, “The only thing they [the president] directly effect is what we talk about.”

Though this election seemed unlike anything we have seen before, Griffith suggested this is nothing new. He explained that candidates starting playing the “good vs. evil game” to get voters to the booths long ago. To get voters to show up on the Election Day, they had to incite some kind of passion. This manifested as a good vs. evil mentality. Candidates try to suggest that you have to vote for them not only because they are right but also because the other candidate is so wrong that they may actually be evil. This naturally breeds the kind of animosity we saw throughout the election season and in the events following the election.

Griffith promised that everything would calm down. He said that what is important now is how we handle this. Something is broken is our country. The question Griffith left the scholars with was “Will we listen to the people who can tell us how to fix it?”

Teamwork Just Might Make the Dream Work

By Ashley Sanders

Belmont Professor Dr. Nathan Webb began his talk on teamwork by addressing an unfortunate reality: group work, particularly in an academic setting, is pretty unpopular. He had the scholars take a quiz to gauge their feelings about group work. Not surprisingly, most feelings were negative. Because of the popularity of this opinion, it has been given a name: grouphate. These inherently negative feelings about group work are just one of the obstacles against group work. The others he listed include, social loafing, which means that people are lazier in social settings because they assume someone else will pick up the slack. Other issues surrounding group work are difference in personality and goals.


Even with all of this working against it, Forbes ranked the ability to work in a team as the number one skill you can bring to the workplace. So, Dr. Webb argued, there must be some real benefits to teamwork. One of which is synergy. “Synergy makes 1 +1 = 3” Dr. Webb said. Synergy is what occurs when people mesh together so well that they become more than just a sum of their parts. Another benefit is that working in a group allows you to compliment each other strengths and weaknesses. It also encourages accountability and provides opportunities for diverse perspectives.

Dr. Nathan Webb

Dr. Webb had the students free write for two minutes (one minute on their strengths and one minute on their weaknesses) to demonstrate that everyone brings something different to the table, and if a group is put together and managed well, working in a group can be both efficient and enjoyable.

Dr. Webb went on to discuss what we do in groups: communicate, lead, make decisions and solve problems, run meetings, and facilitate discussion. Then, he put this into practice. Dr. Webb split the students into two groups.

“We are going to the moon,” Dr. Webb said. He then explained the scenario: they were a NASA space crew that crashed 200 miles from their meeting point. They had 15 items but could only bring 8 with them for the journey. Their mission: to rank their eight items.


Dr. Webb gave the students time to discuss their options before bringing everyone back together to compare lists. The first three were the same: oxygen, water and food. After this, their lists varied. Dr. Webb told the students that these kind of activities help to recognize all the parts of the decision making process. He asked questions about involvement in the discussion, leadership, and how the students came to decisions.

Finally, he returned to his original question: does teamwork really make the dream work? And his answer: “it depends.” If teams are put together and managed well, then yes it does. But if they aren’t, then maybe not. However, Dr. Webb said, group work is unavoidable so you might as well learn how to do it well.

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.



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.”