Communication Studies, National Conventions 2012

In fall 2012, SMU students are attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, as part of a political communication studies program in Meadows School of the Arts. They are attending with Professor Rita Kirk, director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, and Dan Schill, assistant professor of communication studies, who are conducting “Dial Test” research for CNN.

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The Olympiad of politics

An update from Savannah at the Republican National Convention: 

Let’s face it — people are tired of politics. Five days ago The Wall Street Journal released a poll claiming that the approval rating of Congress has matched an all-time low of 12 percent –  not something to be particularly proud of. But this shouldn’t be the time to change the channel.

As of right now, the biggest show in politics has come upon us. Like the Olympics, this quadrennial event is a logistical behemoth; although, unlike with the Olympics, we largely discredit the work that goes into them. Since getting here, I have realized that this isn’t something that just materializes on the nightly news to fill the news hole. Instead, the people here are just as dedicated to politics as Usain Bolt is to being the fastest man on earth.

Drs. Kirk and Schill of the Communication Studies Department have been our guides and coaches in this new and fast-paced world. This isn’t their first rodeo. In fact, they have served as mentors to some of the people running the RNC today.

One of them in particular, Rachel Russell, was able to share a meal with us during the calm before the storm, so to speak. After a great Florida sunset, probably the last one we would see while here, she met us for a passing of the torch. Russell had accompanied Schill and Kirk to the RNC four years prior in Minneapolis/St. Paul and was now giving us her advice as a graduate of the Communications Department. Beyond the obvious things like timeliness, a sense of urgency and an overall good attitude, Russell was able to share some of her stories and quirkier tidbits, like the necessity of chocolate and hand wipes. But, Russell is not just a page anymore. Instead, she is now a sought-after entity in the political sphere.

Russell is serving as the assistant to the Tampa Bay Host Committee Chairman, Al Austin, a well-known Tampa man, who is credited with being one of the reasons the convention is in Tampa. He has served as a delegate or an alternate for Florida since 1972. Russell described her work for him as a dream, and her boss as one of the most interesting people she has ever met.

In a brief anecdote she was able to reveal his passion for politics. In his home, Austin holds all of his delegate badges as well as presidential buttons in a nondescript cigar box. Simply the history there is a testament to his dedication. In essence, the greater part of his time on Earth is in that box. Her respect was evident in the story, as well as her desire to also give back to the democratic process.

Overall, this convention is a way to get us, the new crop of political hopefuls, into the game. And I, for one, am already hooked. In typical SMU style, we have unprecedented access to all the things happening in Tampa. So, stay tuned and let my fellow classmates and friends tell you their stories as well, because we are in the big time now. From dodging the hurricane to becoming friends with the Secret Service, we will be here to tell you all of our tales in our Olympic trials.

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