Mass Incarceration Seminar opens dialogue through debate simulation

Twelve students held the Mass Incarceration Seminar in Newton Hall on Sunday Nov. 6. The Model United Nations editorial board and representatives from the mass incarceration class hosted the debate. Biology major junior Sara Feinland, economics and English double major junior Brendan Mahoney, history major sophomore Jeanmarie Ryan and history and international relations double major sophomore Malachy Dempsey organized the simulation for their class project.

Although Model UN has held similar events, they have never held a mass incarceration simulation. For this event, they collaborated with the students working on their class project. The seminar discussed the topic of the crack cocaine crisis in the 1980s during Ronald Regan’s presidency.

“The War on Drugs is something that affects our society,” Dempsey said. “For our class, we had to do an activist project, so we wanted to examine the foundation of the War on Drugs because that’s the best way to try and fix the situation.”

Each participant researched a public figure and spoke on what that specific figures’ views on the cocaine crisis would have been. Students took their position on the topic as if they were public figures like Jesse Jackson, Governor Cuomo and other political representatives.

The committee of politicians debated whether victims of the crisis should be sent to jail, punished or helped with their drug addictions and then sent back into society. Members also discussed the media’s influence on the crack crisis, its relationship to crime rates, funding, racial minorities, activist changes, other drugs and much more.

The debate was run using parliamentary procedure. Students raised a placard with their figure’s name on it to vote on issues or whenever they wanted to speak. This process ensured that the debate ran smoothly and professionally.

“It was really interesting to be in the middle of all the craziness of the 80s,” Model UN member international relations major freshman Julia Borkowski said. “You look back at history and you don’t really understand how it all worked and how everybody agreed on these dramatic measures, and yet when you are in this committee, it starts to make sense. When you are forced to vote on things that fund your programs, it makes sense why things went down the way they did.”

Overall, the students who participated in the debate had a great experience and actively participated in the discussion. Students enjoyed cupcakes and candy while deliberating with the entire group. Everyone in the committee eagerly voiced their opinions and readily listened to what everyone else had to say about the topic for a successful case.

This seminar certainly left attendees and participants with a better understanding of the War on Drugs that continues to plague our country.