The Harvard Institute of Politics, along with Salena Zito, a Washington Examiner reporter and contributor to CNN and the New York Post, has developed a new course to remove students from their liberal surroundings on campus and drop them in the rural heartland, aka the home of those who voted for President Donald Trump.
Over the last few months, IOP students have been traveling the backroads and main streets of America with journalist @SalenaZito to learn from and report on the people and places outside the classroom. #IOPening https://t.co/NJEWJmNDrM
— Institute of Politics (@harvardiop) June 17, 2018
The “Main Street Project” is a journalism workshop designed to “give students the unique opportunity to experience main streets and back roads across New England and the Rust Belt with Salena Zito,” the school’s website states.
Zito reported from small town America during the 2016 presidential election and is co-author, along with Brad Todd, of “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” which explores Trump’s election.
The reporter explained in a column Saturday that students were taken to Chicopee, “about 90 miles west of their prestigious university in Cambridge, but when it comes to shared experience, it might as well have been 1,000 light years away.”
After the experience, she asked the students who they think the people they had met voted for, only to be surprised when she told them almost all of them had voted for Trump.
Zito would explain on Twitter that they did not seek out areas that went for Trump.
Chris Kuang, 20, a sophomore from Winchester, Mass., who is chair of the Harvard Union, and Sam Kessler, 21, a junior from Blue Bell, Pa., and president of the Harvard Political Review, helped recruit the first class, which began in February.
The student leaders “were both hungry to learn what shapes people’s voting habits,” Zito wrote.
But in the end, the class may say more about how isolated elitist students are from real, everyday life in America than the other way around.
More from Zito on her students:
Nearly all of them said they didn’t know what life was like outside the coastal cities and states. Only one student, Henna Hundal, 20, had grown up in a rural environment — an almond farm in Turlock, Calif. — while Kessler, a computer science major, was the only member of the class who had ever fired a gun. The students ranged in age from 19 to 21, with an equal number of girls and boys and a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. The majority of them hailed from cities and suburbs in blue states along the East and West coasts. One was from Wales.
They admitted they had been fed a steady diet of stereotypes about small towns and their folk: “backwards,” “no longer useful,” “un- or under-educated,” “angry and filled with a trace of bigotry” were all phrases that came up.
After seeing for themselves that folks in the heartland aren’t bitter Americans clinging to their guns and religion, as President Barack Obama described them, or racist bigots who hate people who don’t look like them, as the media portrays rural Americans, the students suggested a name change for the course.
The students even came up with a better name for the Main Street Project,” Zito said. “They called it #IOPening — a hashtag blending their eye-opening experiences with the acronym for their institute.”
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