Instead of spending a September weekend reading case studies of governments around the world for his “Modern Democracies” course, taught by Professor Pamela Camerra-Rowe, political science major Josh McClain ’19 traveled to Athens, Greece, the home of ancient democracy, to speak with world leaders, influential journalists and dedicated human rights activists.
After a competitive application process, McClain, of Durham, North Carolina, joined 23 other students from 13 countries to participate in the New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, held Sept. 13–17, as a representative for the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA). Aiming to address questions around globalization and democracy in a turbulent world, the Forum gathered prominent leaders, including Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, and New York Times columnists for lunches, panels and presentations.
McClain, fresh from a summer working with the North Carolina Justice Center, a progressive advocacy and research organization, applied to join the Forum because of a drive to deepen his understanding of the complex topics introduced to him by Kenyon’s professors. “Many of the courses I’ve taken have touched, directly or indirectly, on the core questions of the Forum — how we govern, what democracy is and should be, the thorny problems of the international sphere,” McClain wrote on GLAA’s website.
While speaking on panels alongside Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO; Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization; and Brian Smith, president of the Coca-Cola Company’s Middle East, Europe and Africa group proved to be an “amazing opportunity,” McClain believes he learned the most from his international peers.
Though the conference lasted two days, the students spent a week in Greece creating presentations and discussing essential problems surrounding democracy, globalization and the media. His fellow students, traveling from as far as India and Congo, provided McClain with a new diversity of perspectives. “In terms of what I learned in the conference itself, [I realized that] the way we look at democracy isn’t really from a global perspective … which can be really problematic if we want to be actively or effectively addressing the issues we face in democracy.”
Aside from continuing connections with these students, who, McClain says, plan to remain in contact and provide each other with local perspectives on major events around the world, the Forum gave McClain a new way to approach his studies at Kenyon and beyond. “I do think this experience has shaped the way I’m going to approach political science at Kenyon,” McClain said. “Now there’s an even greater depth to whatever I’m studying.”
“We are global citizens,” McClain added. “Democracy is something we have to think about and consider in a global context if we’re ever going to consider it effectively.”
The GLAA is a project of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, of which Kenyon is a member institution.