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Until coming to Idaho, I had managed to stay sheltered in my 50 degrees and sunny California winters, but the forecast proved to be the opposite as our car trekked through snow en route to Sky Mountain Lodge for the State of Nature Political Affairs Retreat.
I had never been in a blizzard before.
The horizon was invisible as snow blanketed plains blended into a white sky. Google Maps routed us, rerouted, took us off the main road, then back on.
After some worrying, pushing and a lot of driving, we arrived at Sky Mountain Lodge.
The people in the cabin engaged in conversations as the cars arrived at the large cabin. Over baked potatoes and cornbread, a light exchange broke out before the group gathered to play games and address the elephant (or donkey) in the room — political discussion.
For students outside the political science major, the phrase political discussion can sound like contention, frustration and confusion. At the retreat, in the realm of political science, it means thought and progress.
Travis Smith, a faculty member from the Political Science Department, began the discussion with the issue of being a good citizen and a good person. Can an individual be one or the other? How does society change this? What does it mean to be good? Students discussed the issue, debating the philosophical issue of moral relativity — what it means to be good and if that varies between societies.
“We talked about the good citizen versus a good person and how those things aren’t always the same,” Smith said. “And what do you do when you’re trying to be a good person and your society has different standards.”
Duane Adamson, a political science faculty member, explained research he conducted, where he studied what citizens expected of democracy in European countries that were in the process of becoming democracies. The discussion raised the question: Do we expect too much or too little of democracy’s involvement in our lives?
Students shared thoughts, raised questions and exchanged ideas. The retreat further opened my mind to the fact that political discussion doesn’t have to be abrasive, but rather an exchange of philosophical ideas.
“It just fascinates me,” said Yoli Oussanov, a freshman majoring in international studies. “We were having those discussions and just having our thoughts being spoken, bouncing around ideas from each other I thought was cool being able to see … different perspective(s) on things.”
The mini lectures and discussions were followed by a long evening of board games, Mario Kart, political debates and homemade cinnamon rolls.
For Jocelyn Deering, a senior studying political science, the retreat was not only a time of learning, but relaxation.
“We also just had a good time afterwards just being able to relax — enjoy ourselves from the hectic weekends that we have doing homework,” Deering said.
When it came down to it, the retreat was a time for connecting intellectually, through friendship and in humor, away from everything. It was a
time to not only take a quick step away from Rexburg to a new town and new setting, but it was a step away from stress and contention to a
setting for interesting, engaging and connecting discussion.
“I loved it, everything about it,” said Gala Palavicini, a freshman studying political science. “I liked the lectures that that were given and I like the environment, just waking up and seeing the mountains. I love my major, so it was like a hobby coming out here, and also it kind of cleared my mind to get ready for next week.”
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