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Inside Politics

Rhetorics of terrorism, homeland security at Richmond

University of Richmond students seek answers

By Kelly Gyenes

Kuswa's class met each Tuesday night on the third floor of the university's new Weinstein Hall.
Kuswa's class met each Tuesday night on the third floor of the university's new Weinstein Hall.

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War and Society
University of Richmond
Richmond (Virginia)

Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2004 election season, is sending correspondents to the colleges where they studied to report on issues affecting today's young voters. In this edition, Kelly Gyenes returns to her alma mater, the University of Richmond.

RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- Past generations of college students took courses on the Soviet Union to understand the Cold War. Since September 11, 2001, many of today's students are studying the new threats facing the United States.

"What's the most important rhetorical issue confronting us?" University of Richmond professor Kevin Kuswa said he asked himself in designing a seminar offered this fall semester for the first time. The answer: Terrorism and homeland security.

"Everyone has it on their mind in some way or another," Kuswa said. "You can't really go a day or even an hour without some kind of reference to Iraq, terrorism, freedom and patriotism coming up."

Thirty-one students were able to enroll in Rhetorics of Terror/ism, Homeland (In)Security, and the State. At least 25 others were turned away because the class was full.

Several of the students in the class are members of Kuswa's debate team. They said the professor was the key reason they signed up. Other students said they enrolled so they could make better-informed decisions about political issues and their lives.

"Homeland security is on everyone's mind," said Amanda Leeds, a senior rhetoric and communication studies major from Connecticut. "As I'm finding out, it's touching all of our lives a little more than expected."

Inside the classroom

Each Tuesday night of the fall semester, students participated in a three-hour whirlwind of discussions and presentations.

Is violence avoidable? Does terrorism operate exclusively through fear? How can homeland security be achieved?

Each session tackled the issues with the understanding, as the syllabus says, that the class "will never be able to approach these topics in an all-encompassing or even comprehensive way."

In readings, discussions and student presentations, the students touched on such concepts as good and evil, tolerance, and biases in the media.

The debate team members said they found the readings helpful in their debates.

Lauren Gentry, a freshman member of the debate team, said the class inspired her to take an Arabic-language course.

Awareness of issues

Some students said the course made them more aware of the likely issues in the 2004 presidential election.

• "It's going to be tough to cast a vote because a lot of people are going to be bringing up other issues, but the fact is that security is what allows everything else to happen," said Billy Lyons, men's junior class president. "I'm looking for a candidate that has the best answer and the best solution to this problem."

• "If a candidate is going to emphasize that they are against the war on terrorism, then I want to know why, and I want to know how they are going to fix the situation," said Lily Hayes, a senior biology major.

Hayes said homeland security is high on her list, but health care reform and education are important to her, too.

Casey Seidel, Billy Lyons and Lily Hayes, left to right, took Kuswa's rhetoric of terrorism and homeland security course.
Casey Seidel, Billy Lyons and Lily Hayes, left to right, took Kuswa's rhetoric of terrorism and homeland security course.

"Security is a word we throw around loosely -- I want to see what their ideas for security are," Hayes said. "How are you going to make people feel more secure? How are you actually going to ensure security? I want to see results. And I want to see a general plan."

• "When the whole anthrax thing came around we talked about how duct tape and plastic sheeting will save us," Amanda Leeds said. "That was supposed to be a measure of homeland security. I think what's more important is that we come up with a logical and effective means of protecting our country."

• "I would like to see a lot more multilateral cooperation from the United States," said sophomore member of the debate team Casey Seidel. When she casts her vote, Seidel said she is looking for a socially liberal candidate with a calmer, less militaristic foreign policy than the Bush administration.

• "He's been thrown some curve balls," Craig Marcus, a sophomore political science major from Detroit, Michigan, said of President Bush. "For a president he's had to go through a lot. It definitely hasn't been an easy presidency for him."

• "I don't think any candidate is going to be able to come out and dominate every single issue," said Chase Rowan, a senior finance major. "What I look to is the balanced platform and demonstrated excellence at surrounding him or herself with people who inspire confidence."

Rowan said the economy is one of the most important issues to him, although he says he is not a single-issue voter.

"Terrorism is something you have to understand and move around," Rowan said. He said he wants to see someone with a long-term strategic plan for security measures, but he feels that the issue itself is "simply reality."

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