The most recent Media and Politics Café brought together three diverse panelists and over 120 students and faculty to discuss a myriad of topics, including: how the media and society defines the Millennial generation and Generation Z, how social media has affected our culture, the use of social media by elected officials, gender in politics, and more.
The discussion began with Korina Anja Ramsland, director of JWU's Gender Equity Center, giving an impassioned speech about the power of the Millennial generation to affect change in politics, economics, and society at large. Then the panelists were introduced.
Representative Shelby Maldonado was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 2014 as representative of Central Falls. She serves on several committees, including the Committee on Municipal Government, the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, and the Legislative Black and Latino Caucus.
Dr. Pablo Rodriguez is also very involved in the community. He is Chair of the Women & Infants Health Care Alliance, President and CEO at Women's Care, former Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, and a Clinical Associate Professor at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Additionally, he hosts his own radio program on Latino Public Radio, of which he is CEO and chairman.
Dr. Brooke Foucault Welles is an Assistant Professor in the department of Communication Studies and a faculty affiliate of the Network Science Institute and NU Lab for Texts, Maps and Networks at Northeastern University. She teaches and researches the importance of social networking to achieve personal and team goals.
The conversation began with each panelist introducing themselves and how they developed in their fields. Then they were asked about society’s perceptions of Millennials and Gen Z. Society and media often paint millennials as lazy, self-absorbed, and unconcerned with current events. However, each panelist disagreed with this statement.
“There are people I represent in my city…young millennials who are activists today coming from the inner cities of Rhode Island who are fighting for justice, who are being a part of society — contributing to the tax base… so obviously those statements have no place at my table,” said Rep. Maldonado. Dr. Rodriguez also noted that millennials aren’t lazy, they are just using different tools (social media) and creating virtual communities rather than physical ones.
There are people I represent in my city…young millennials who are activists today coming from the inner cities of Rhode Island who are fighting for justice."
Social Media & Politics
The topic of social media relevance continued with discussion about how elected officials are using social media. The panelists concluded that in some cases — even in their own careers — social media is an incredibly useful tool that allows them to reach a wider audience. However, it can often be misused by people like Donald Trump to circulate misinformation. That is why it is so important to ask for evidence and proof of information, Rep. Maldonado noted.
Naturally, discussing Donald Trump segued into the topic of gender inequality in politics. Professor Emily Lynch spoke about the lack of female role models in politics for future generations to look up to. However, the panelists felt optimistic about the future of females in politics. Dr. Rodriguez noted that more and more females are going to college, which may signal more females running for office in the future.
Afterwards, the audience asked the panelists some questions about how social media has played a part in feminism, LGBTQ causes, and how people get their news. Dr. Welles noted that the ability to connect with people via social media and hear their stories has helped many causes because it creates more awareness. Dr. Rodriguez pointed out that social media has sped up many changes in our culture because of how easily people can access information.
The Café concluded on a positive note of optimism for the future. The panelists agreed that there are many issues in our society that have a long road ahead for improvement, but the Millennial and Z generations are fighting to push society forward — with social media as their greatest weapon.
The State of RI Media & Politics: Fung, Diossa & McGowan at JWU