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Alumni emphasize political conversations in polarized climate

As early voters turn out in record numbers, it is clear that citizens are continually interested in engaging in political conversations and education.

Friday evening, seven Colorado State University graduates engaged in a webinar series as part of the “Your Voice. Your Vote. Your Rights.” initiative started by the CSU System.

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Hosted by CSU Fort Collins, the department of journalism and media communication and the Straayer Center for Public Service Leadership, CSU alumni shared their professional experience working around politics in Washington, D.C. 

The panelists — six of whom studied journalism at CSU — discussed their careers that range from positions as editors, local news anchors, investigative reporters, lobbyists and legal counsels and their views on the current political climate and journalism industry.

Two aspects of this included the way people can connect with others in their communities and how to navigate political polarization. 

Kelly Kennedy, the managing editor at The War Horse News, spoke on the importance of giving people a voice when they need it the most. 

“Even though our political system right now seems almost paralyzing, we are not bound to repeat those mistakes and injustices of the past if we all just speak up and do our part toward a brighter future.” -Staci McDermott, communications manager, McCain Institute for International Leadership

“When we send people to war, when we vote, we’re making decisions about people’s lives, and when they come back, we should be willing to listen to those stories,” Kennedy said. “It’s hugely important to pay attention to the repercussions of our decisions, but for the veterans themselves, … people who are dealing with combat stress, if they can come back and tell their stories and feel heard, then they’re going to do better, and we owe it to them.” 

Kennedy said that, with the COVID-19 pandemic, getting information out into the world that people can connect with on a personal level is more challenging because reporters cannot interview their sources face-to-face and make those important connections. 

“To me, getting that information out there always goes back to that personal story,” Kennedy said. “If you can get the person it affects and tell their story, then suddenly it’s a much more interesting story.”

Communications Manager for the McCain Institute for International Leadership Staci McDermott said part of her mission at the McCain Institute is to promote the idea that disagreement in politics is not a bad thing.

“Our world is facing challenges like we’ve never seen before, besides the drastic political polarization in America,” McDermott said. “Basic human rights not only have been continually violated abroad  … but here at home with racial injustices, and (the) freedom of the press has been jeopardized, the spread of misinformation seems to have hit an all-time high, we’re experiencing the worst public health crisis in a century.”

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McDermott said these challenges highlight the importance of character-driven leadership, with people in positions of power who aim to serve causes bigger than themselves. 

“The best thing about American democracy is that it provides an opportunity for change, to evolve and improve itself as time goes on, because it isn’t perfect; it’s all about the voice and the will of the people,” McDermott said. “Even though our political system right now seems almost paralyzing, we are not bound to repeat those mistakes and injustices of the past if we all just speak up and do our part toward a brighter future.”

The full panel will be available to watch on the CSU System website by Monday afternoon.

Serena Bettis can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb.

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About the Contributor
Serena Bettis
Serena Bettis, Editor in Chief
Serena Bettis is your 2022-23 editor in chief and is in her final year studying journalism and political science. In her three years at The Collegian, Bettis has also been a news reporter, copy editor, news editor and content managing editor, and she occasionally takes photos, too. When Bettis was 5, her family moved from Iowa to a tiny town northwest of Fort Collins called Livermore, Colorado, before eventually moving to Fort Collins proper. When she was 8 years old, her dad enrolled at Colorado State University as a nontraditional student veteran, where he found his life's passion in photojournalism. Although Bettis' own passion for journalism did not stem directly from her dad, his time at CSU and with The Collegian gave her the motivation to bite down on her fear of talking to strangers and find The Collegian newsroom on the second day of classes in 2019. She's never looked back since. Considering that aforementioned fear, Bettis is constantly surprised to be where she is today. However, thanks to the supportive learning environment at The Collegian and inspiring peers, Bettis has not stopped chasing her teenage dream of being a professional journalist. Between working with her section editors, coordinating news stories between Rocky Mountain Student Media departments and coaching new reporters, Bettis gets to live that dream every day. When she's not in the newsroom or almost falling asleep in class, you can find Bettis working in the Durrell Marketplace and Café or outside gazing at the beauty that is our campus (and running inside when bees are nearby). This year, Bettis' goals for The Collegian include continuing its trajectory as a unique alt-weekly newspaper, documenting the institutional memory of the paper to benefit students in years to come and fostering a sense of community and growth both inside the newsroom and through The Collegian's published work. Bettis would like to encourage anyone with story ideas, suggestions, questions, concerns or comments to reach out to her at editor@collegian.com.

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