Speak Up, Speak Out committee member shares history of CMU's open forums
Speak Up, Speak Out is an open forum series that provides Central Michigan University students a platform to share their opinions on current events.
Merlyn Mowrey, philosophy and religion faculty member, has been on the SUSO committee since the formation of the series 17 years ago.
SUSO focuses on trending issues in the news, with each forum including a panel of students and faculty with specialized knowledge on the topic of discussion. Questions are also asked by the audience.
Carl Lee, mathematics professor, and Hope May, philosophy and religion professor, were also on the SUSO committee with Mowrey when the series formed.
“We wanted to create some activities for students that would make them more aware of current events,” Mowrey said. “From the beginning, our hopes have been to encourage (students) and get them interested in politics, big news and other cultural issues as well.”
Central Michigan Life asked Mowrey about the reasons behind bringing the forum to CMU, and how it’s changed over the years.
CM LIFE: How did Speak Up, Speak Out get started?
MOWREY: It started in 2000 after some institutional research came out showing CMU students were not as engaged in current events or even in culture as most college students.
What was the purpose for starting the SUSO series?
With the presidential election coming up back in 2000, we wanted to provide students with reliable information, and talk to them about registering to vote. (We wanted to) encourage them to get informed about the issues and learn how to support their positions with critical thinking.
What kinds of topics does SUSO cover when it’s not an election year?
Once we got going, we started doing assessments every spring. (The committee) gets together to tabulate what students want to talk about based on their votes and input from previous forums. We also base our discussion topics on what’s in the news and what the big issues seem to be that relate to students on our campus.
How do you decide who will be on the panels?
The committee starts making recommendations by checking around the university to see who has some expertise or interest on each topic we choose to discuss. We see who has been writing or teaching in those areas and we do the same with students. We try to get students who are interested in particular topics and open-minded enough to listen thoughtfully to the ideas of others and express their own ideas with good reasoning behind them.
Of all the panels you have organized or attended, are there any that stick out to you as the most engaging?
I’ll never forget the very first year. At one of the forums, Sterling Johnson, a political science professor, was on a panel talking about some foreign policy issues in the upcoming presidential election between Al Gore and George Bush. (Johnson) was so remarkable and knowledgeable on the subject.
At the end of that forum, a student came up and asked me what he taught. She said “(Johnson) made me realize that I need to know more about the world.” She ended up taking his course the next semester and that was wonderful.