On Wednesday, November 4, 2015, a three-person delegation of Gettysburg College students arrived at the United States Military Academy at West Point for the 67th annual Student Conference on U.S. Affairs (SCUSA). Kara Fitzgerald '16, Dan Cummings '17, and Jackie Beckwith '16 represented the College and worked with over 280 other students in attendance who hailed from 124 schools and 26 countries.
West Point is located on the bluffs overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York and is home to the United States Corps of Cadets. While the academy’s classic architecture is nestled beautifully within the stunning landscape, the Army college’s culture is perhaps best known for its strict discipline and high scholastic standards.
On her initial impressions of West Point, senior Jackie Beckwith offered the opinion that “If these cadets are the next generation of American soldiers, then our country is in very good hands. It was evident from the start of the trip how capable and intelligent the cadets are; West Point not only excels as a military institution but also as a place of leadership and scholarship. The respect, consideration and kindness we were shown throughout the conference was topped only by the many informed and open discussions about current events that were had both within and outside the confines of the conference.”
At SCUSA, cadets and civilians work side by side to bring different perspectives to a host of pressing foreign and public policy issues currently facing the United States. Conference participants are assigned to a specific topic, and each issue is addressed via multiple “round table discussions” featuring two policy experts, one cadet leader, and a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students from across the world. After participating in multiple discussions throughout the conference, each group produces a comprehensive brief regarding potential strategic U.S. responses to their assigned problem. And in addition to almost nonstop conversations, students are immersed in West Point culture as they eat in the mess hall, sleep in the barracks and are held to many of the same rules and restrictions as the cadets.
This year the Gettysburg College delegation was involved in round table topics including “Democratization,” “Civil-Military Relations” and “Europe.” In reflecting on her round table experience, senior Kara Fitzgerald concluded that, “it was so amazing to hear the perspectives of students from colleges and universities across the nation regarding the democratization process in pivotal countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. We produced a policy paper advising the promotion of democracy by the U.S. in tandem and interwoven with the promotion of equality, and I can only hope that the greater understanding of West Point and democratization, lasting friendships, and valuable networking connections I took away from the conference will result in better global governance down the road.”
Each night of the conference concluded with a panel of guest speakers addressing this year’s conference theme of “Confronting Inequality: Wealth, Rights and Power.” The first panel featured Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, U.S. Agency for International Development Economic Advisor Wade Channell, professor and biologist Dr. Jerry Melillo, United Nations Population Fund Senior Advisor Dr. Azza Karam and professor of sociology Dr. Pamela Paxton. This year’s keynote address was delivered by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001 and was a key player in many international crises.
The conference concluded with a short presentation in Eisenhower Hall featuring the briefs that each round table constructed. As stated by junior Dan Cummings, “Each table produced informative briefs from just four days of work. It was inspiring to see how students from all over the world worked together to solve pressing foreign policy questions while also sharing their life experiences and listening to others.”
Honoring the legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Eisenhower Institute is a distinguished center for leadership and public policy that prepares the successor generations to perfect the promise of the nation. A distinctive program of Gettysburg College with offices in the heart of the nation's capital and in the historic Gettysburg home once occupied by Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, the Institute combines top-level dialogue among policy-makers with a premier learning experience for undergraduates.