Updated: Oct. 23, 2017 at 1:18 a.m.
The GW College Democrats and College Republicans co-hosted political journalist Chuck Todd in Jack Morton Auditorium Saturday for a wide-ranging conversation about civil discourse, the political climate and safe spaces.
More than 200 alumni, parents, students and members of the School of Media and Public Affairs’ National Council packed the auditorium for a discussion moderated by SMPA Director Frank Sesno. The event was a featured element of Colonials Weekend.
Hunter Wilson, the vice chair of the College Republicans, and Jazmin Kay, the president of the College Democrats, introduced Todd before he took the stage.
“He zeroes in on what is happening in Washington and why it matters,” Kay said.
Sesno started the chat talking about the importance of challenging different political viewpoints both on campus and in the news. Todd, who hosts the weekly political talk show “Meet the Press” and studied at GW in the 1990s, said he aims to make his show more accessible for audiences at large.
“The goal for me is for people to feel as if they’re getting information,” he said. “But also, the goal for me is every Sunday morning, I want people to get uncomfortable for at least five minutes watching the show – getting them uncomfortable but getting them to think.”
Sesno then turned the conversation to the newsmaking process and what news means for the public today. Todd said America’s new leadership is defying political convention, something the media must adapt and react to quickly.
“We are in the middle of massive political realignment, massive economic transition and cultural change,” he said. “We’re in an unusual situation.”
Todd then fielded audience questions about safe spaces, trust in the press, feelings versus facts and local and national news.
Hannah Kelman, a freshman, asked Todd about his take on safe spaces on college campuses.
“Let me put it this way – I’m glad my mother didn’t protect me from anti-semitism,” he said. “I should hear that somebody judges me based on a Jewish stereotype. She could have easily put me in a safe space, and at 25, I would think, ‘well what the hell is this?’”
He said people should be sensitive to individuals, but that using safe spaces to protect people from controversial speech is the “last thing the founders were thinking about.”
“I know it’s well-intentioned, but in all honestly, I think it’s bad – bad for our country,” Todd said as the audience erupted in applause.
Sesno said a balance between being sensitive and holding a robust intellectual debate is something GW’s leadership grapples with every day.
“I feel that what we should do in higher education is what we should do in journalism,” he said. “That is, transport you to places that are different, unfamiliar – sometimes uncomfortable – to challenge the way you think.”
A quote attributed to Jazmin Kay has been updated to accurately reflect Kay’s statement at the event.