SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – As a self-proclaimed news junkie, Lydia Kisley, class of 2010 from Mentor, Ohio, was excited to see her letter to the editor printed in the opinion section of the March 22 issue of The New York Times: Case Study: A Student's Free Speech. Kisley wrote in response to an article titled "Court Hears Whether a Drug Statement Is Protected Free Speech for Students," regarding the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Supreme Court case.
"Some of the comments the judges and lawyers made really got to me," Kisley said. "Just the fact that they were considering taking free speech out of the classroom bothered me and on a whim, I decided to write a letter to the editor."
Her letter was not only published, she won the paper's Letter to the Editor Contest and a $100 prize.
"I read The New York Times that is offered on campus almost every day," Kisley said. "I started to go to The New York Timesdiscussion group regularly at the beginning of this semester and absolutely love it. It's a great way to follow current events and hear different opinions on them. You really get the chance to learn beyond the classroom."
According to Ed Hasecke, assistant professor of political science, The New York Times Casual Conversations about Current Events discussion group meets at 3 p.m. every Thursday in Post 95 in Wittenberg's Benham-Pence Student Center. Although several campus departments sponsor the group, Hasecke, Michael Anes, assistant professor of psychology, and Fitz Smith, assistant professor of English, facilitate the conversation in an effort to keep the focus on students.
"We actually discourage faculty from attending because this should be about the students having a conversation," Hasecke said, adding that efforts to engage students in their responsibilities as democratic citizens and empower them to put their voices into the public debate is a primary goal and that the Letter to the Editor Contest encourages student participation.
"Of the thousands of letters written daily to The New York Times, we have a student who was accepted and given the LEAD position in the series of letters," he said. "This is a very big deal."
The contest rewards the first student published in any of the participating newspapers each semester, including theSpringfield News-Sun, Dayton Daily News, Columbus Dispatch, USA Today and The New York Times.
The Knowledge Network, a division of The New York Times, sponsors the use of the newspaper in colleges, along with activities that promote civic involvement, and disseminates materials that can help teachers incorporate the paper into the classroom.
"Topics discussed include international issues from the Iraq War – torture and the war on terror; educational policies from entrance exams to No Child Left Behind," Hasecke explained. "We have debated whether the fashion industry is art or a waste of resources, and the list goes on."
The diversity of the members of the discussion group include majors in English, psychology, political science, sociology and undecided students, according to Hasecke.
"One surprise is the fact that students in the disciplines you would expect are not as well represented – Lydia is in biochemistry. I think the interest by those (students) not in political science is fueled by the fact that this group allows students who do not have classes in politics to talk about politics," Hasecke said.
"Lots of times a topic will come up that I know nothing about," Kisley said, "but from the people in the group discussing it, I leave knowing something more about the world around me. We're always looking for more people to come and expand the views in our group.
"I personally think it's important to follow the news. It's caring about what is happening to our community, nation and world."
Written By: Phyllis Eberts