Third-year Hannah Scholl engaged in discussions about the state of democracy and the problems facing different political systems with liberal arts students from around the world at the Athens Democracy Forum earlier this fall.
Scholl was selected through a two-level competitive application process from the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA), an international partnership of liberal arts institutions. As Oberlin’s first-ever student delegate, she was among 20 students chosen from 19 partner campuses to attend the International New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, held in Athens, Greece, each fall. The theme of this year’s forum was “Reinventing Democracy—New Models for a Changing World.”
The student delegates began their preparation for the forum in a meeting at the American College of Greece over the summer. Students were broken into small groups and asked to share their views of the state of democracy in their countries and the extent to which youth are involved in the democratic processes.
The students returned to the American College of Greece three days prior to the forum to continue those conversations and to consider five forum themes from the perspective of youth from their parts of the world:
- We and them: the tectonic plates of nationalism and multiculturalism
- The echo chamber and the Agora: the use and abuse of new and social media
- The cost of inequality: Where has all the money gone?
- Back to basics: What must be done to restore faith in Democracy?
- The collapse of the traditional party
“As student delegates, we were tasked with taking lots of notes throughout the forum, asking questions at the panels, and eventually producing reports about some of the sessions,” explains Scholl, a German and politics and double major from Wellelsy, Massachusetts.
Scholl witnessed some lively events at the forum. Syrian human rights activist and author Kassem Eid appeared on stage wearing a Batman mask to make a statement about politicians banning masks, while Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to President Donald Trump, went up against French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy in a debate.
“One of the highlights was not the forum itself, but being able to have formal and informal discussions with fellow liberal arts students from around the world, including Spain, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Germany, Morocco, Greece, and Italy,” Scholl says. “For example, it was extremely valuable and humbling to hear my fellow delegate Ann talk about the protests in Hong Kong. I also loved staying up late talking with my roommate Shreya, who is from India, about democracy and the different problems with political systems in both of our countries.”
Scholl’s visit to Athens included a tour of many cultural sites, including the Acropolis, the Old Parliament House, Stoa of Attalos, and the Zappeion, as well as a day trip to Schinias Beach.
“Hannah was an outstanding inaugural student representative of Oberlin, says Tania Boster, liaison to GLAA and executive director of integrative and experiential learning for the Bonner Center. “This is a unique opportunity for students interested in international affairs to engage directly with global leaders in journalism, business, policy, and academia alongside students from other international liberal arts institutions."
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