Melissa Labonte, Fordham University, NY // Paul Levinson, Fordham University, NY // Paivi Oinonen, Aalto University, Finland
Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM,University, Association of Catholic, USA // Chantal Line Carpentier Chief, UNCTAD, New York Office // Yvonne Pratt-Johnson, St. John’s University, NY
The existing order of higher education has been up-ended by COVID-19. This experience provides an opportunity for all stakeholders of the educational process to reevaluate and reshape this order in a way that is more equitable, inclusive, accessible, affordable, and valuable.
Innovation, technology, and the digital divide has moved from the margins to the center of our education systems, and there is an opportunity to identify new strategies and pedagogies, which will help our youth not only obtain the education that they need but the one that they deserve and that prepares them for our changing times.
Now is the time to reimagine how higher education can emerge stronger from this global crisis than ever before and propose a path for capitalizing on education’s newfound support in virtually every community across the globe. It is a moment in history to understand the central role of education in the economic, social, and political prosperity and stability of nations.
Whether you like to listen to some Lo-fi beats while you study or some classical tunes while you cook dinner, music is undoubtedly an element of our everyday lives. Similar to how music has an integral role in our lives, we, as consumers, also play a powerful role in the success of the music industry. In March 2021, we got the opportunity to speak to Kadijat Salawudeen, in our Digital Communities class at Northwestern University in Qatar taught by Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz. She is a second-year graduate student studying International Communications at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Currently, she works on the PR and Marketing teams at °1824, a vertical within Universal Music Group. She is also a freelancer with She Is The Music as part of the communications committee. Through this virtual discussion, we were able to gain insight into the music industry. Some of the topics which we discussed included, understanding what it takes to be part of it, the role of fans and anti-fans engagement, and the changes that needed to be made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Five years ago, Pope Francis changed the global conversation and directed our attention to our Common Home: the planet earth. The hard, painful and imminent consequences of climate change cannot be ignored. Laudato Si has become a transformative encyclical, which has grabbed the attention and the imagination of people across the world, and particularly of younger people. The global conversation focused on the impact of Laudato Si on different sectors in different parts of the world.
His Eminence Cardinal Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development discussed the ongoing efforts of the Dicastery to keep Laudato Si front and center of public policy making across various sectors by engaging the principals of these sectors. Mr. Satya Tripathi, Asst. Secretary General of UNEP, New York Office, emphasized “action-oriented” work of the United Nations to accelerate the climate related policies. Mr. Marco Mari, President of Green Building Council, Italy, detailed how the engineering work of the Council has taken an aggressive lead to build and refurbish exiting building and also promoting sustainable cities.
Presenters Dr. Juan Chebly, World Food Program, Dr. Luca Rosi, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Italy, Friar Joseph Blay, Climate Justice Activist, Ghana, Adv. Monica Mhatre, Waste Management Activist, India, Ms. Cristina Parenti, Mechanical Engineer for Sustainable Development, Italy, Mr. Edmund Klimek, Architect for Sustainable Development, USA, Ms. Julia Theilen, Digital and Strategic Communication Specialist, Germany, Ms. Natalia Guendel Bueno, Graduate Student of International Communication, St. John’s University, NY, focused on their respective sectors and regions.
Commemorating the 700th death remembrance of the beatific poet Dante Alighieri called for an engagement with is trans-centennial pupils. Toni Morrison, the noble soul achieving immortality, engaged Dante with vehemence and sublime subtlety. Dr. Kathleen Marks, an unfathomable Dante-Morrison savant, unpacked the richly embroidered subtleties of this sublime cerebral engagement. The eminent Dr. Annalisa Sacca, a distinguished poet herself, who entrenched herself early in life at Liceo Classico in Dante, discovered in Morrison’s Paradise a symbiotic soul with Dante. Dr. Florence Russo, a Dante connoisseur, took the audience to the Infernal Dante-journey rung by rung of the canto. Dr. Luca Iandoli, an Engineer, and Dr. Giuseppe Zollo, an Architect, both enchanted by Dante’s poetic mathematics, exposed Dante’s trans-national soul, mind and heart connecting fundamental innovations of Arab numerals and the zero invented by the Indian mathematicians and the Fibonacci’s Abacus – a testament to intellectual engagement in an open and interconnected world.
The endlessly provocative and perennially in search for a satisfactory answer was the subject of global conversation: media and trust. It reflected different regions of the world with respective cultural, historical and political traditions shaping the notions, dynamics and political exploitations of trust. The conundrum of trust is as old as human beings as they came to live a shared community life.
The presenters from their respective convictions shaped by their respective lived experience and intellectual assessment succintly shared their highly regarded deliberations.
Dr. Minna Aslama-Horowitz along with Dr. Janne T. Matikaine, University of Helsinki, Finland, representing the state of trust in the Western European countries, offered a quantitative methodology to make sense of the why and how of trust play out in the society. Dr. Josepf Trappel of the University of Salzburg, Austria, explored very evocatively the philosophical perspectives of trust in relation to media. Dr. Razan Jardan and Prof. Roozbeh Ali Kafi of the American University of Dubai compellingly provided a historical, cultural and religious background to help us to make sense of the conundrum of trust in media in the regions of the Middle East, better understood as the Arab world.
Please click on the image to view and listen to the presentations.
My academic journey: from Stockholm University to St. John’s University
In January 2017, I started the International Communications (ICM) Program at St. John’s University in Queens as an international student from Sweden. Prior to that, my leave request from my ordinary job at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) Headquarters in Stockholm had been accepted. Immediately when I read the description for ICM, I knew it was for me. While the Communication part was new to me as I had done my undergrad studies in Business Administration and mostly worked in Finance Departments in the Swedish public sector after that, the Global Development part of the program was more familiar since I had worked for SIDA (corresponding to USAID) in the recent years.
My interest in global development comes from my background. Having grown up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sweden with a Congolese father and a mother who was a Swedish missionary in Congo, my dream was always to work for an international organization with the goal of making the world a better place.
ICM – St. John’s University in Queens
In 2014, I followed my husband to New York as he had assumed a position as a diplomat and Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations. While living in Queens as a housewife, I took the opportunity to pursue my master studies. A dear friend of mine, Ms. Emilia Udvareva, recommended St. John’s University and helped me prepare all the necessary applications. My first impression was my interview with Dr. Basilio Monteiro. He looked me in the eyes and said, there will be a lot of readings, 5-6 books a week. With two children at home, I thought to myself, he must be joking. It later turned that he did not. It was a lot of reading, everything from Cicero “The Republic and The Laws” to Luciano Floridi’s “The 4th Revolution”. I was very excited about my first lesson. I remember looking at my peers, they all looked so young and so confident and seemed to be from all over the world. For me, St. John’s University in Queens is diversity personified. My impression was that many of them had studied media and mass communication in their undergrad studies. I felt a little bit lost. However, the lessons soon became my favorite moments of the week. In my first year, I had Dr. Monteiro and Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz in all my classes, and in my second year I also had Dr. Mark Juszczak and Dr. Candice D. Roberts. I was impressed by their charismatic and engaging way of teaching which made the time to fly by. I feel honored to have attended these classes. The discussions always held a high level, and I soon began to admire my peers for their maturity and relevant inputs, despite their young age.
Argentina – ICSB Academy
After my first semester, in the summer of 2017, Dr. Monteiro asked if I wanted to travel to Argentina. I said yes even before I was sure what it was about. Dr. Monteiro together with the Dean, Dr. Katja Passerini, and the Assistant Dean, Kevin James, would take 7 students from the ICM Program in Queens, and 2 students from the Global Development Program in Rome, to a competition for Small Businesses in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Buenos Aires arranged by the International Council for Small Businesses (ICSB). My best memory from this trip was the connection that I felt with the students from our University. Other dear memories were of course the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, the food, the tango, as well as the ICSB Academy where we learnt how to pitch, make a business canvas, what to think about when starting a small social business, and that was my first real contact with the UN SDGs. I got inspired by the SDGs and have since had a vision for my childhood village of Luozi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), that by 2030 there will be electricity, water, internet and proper roads. Later, I included this in one of my assignments, which became part of a paper compiled by Dr. Monteiro that we brought with us to another ICSB conference in Italy.
During my studies in the ICM Program, I had the opportunity to do an internship at one of the UN Agencies, UNFPA Program Division. My main task was to support the Communication Team with the Interactive Strategic Plan 2018-2022. To gain as much experience as possible working with communication and with the UN, I extended my internship to 6 months, even though my credits were only counted for 4 months. I can strongly recommend ICM students to do an internship at the UN if given the opportunity, it adds an extra level of understanding to the program in a global setting.
Another memorable moment at the ICM Program is, of course, the Graduation. I was offered to go in May 2018, which means experiencing the graduation process in its entirety. It meant so much to be able to walk with my peers, especially those I got to know so closely in Argentina. And to have my family and close friends attending the ceremony. After four challenging, in many ways, years in New York, I was more than proud of this accomplishment.
Italy – Study Tour 2018
After graduating from the ICM Program I decided to apply to the MBA Program at the Tobin College of Business in order to sharpen my skills even more before returning to Sweden. The MBA was also like an unfinished business that I had started when I did my undergrad studies in Business Administration at Stockholm University many years ago. During my first semester at the MBA Program, Dr. Monteiro reached out to me and asked if I was interested in attending an ICSB Conference in Italy. He wanted to participate with a paper that he had compiled from his own essay and three other students, which looked at communication and economic development from different countries (India, Ireland and Congo – DRC/Sweden), and I was one of the students. I said of course yes. Our Italian experience was magical. We were warmly greeted by Dr Monteiro’s colleague and friend, Dr. Roberto Parente, who is a full Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Salerno. He had arranged for us to stay in a beautiful lodge in the middle of the Cilente National Park. It was the four of us from St. John’s University; Dr. Monteiro, Monica Martre from India, Hope DeVito from the USA and I, as an International student from Sweden. Dr. Parente introduced us to his students Anna-Laura Califano from Italy and Mara Hesley from the USA who did her research in Italy with another brilliant Professor Dr. Bise Della Piana. Everything was authentic, the nature, the food, the people, and the beautiful language. We truly had an extraordinary learning experience of the Cilente National Park. We visited the Mayor of the town Morigerati Mr. Cono D’Elia and shared a delicious meal with him. We went to a museum and learned how to roll fresh pasta in a small restaurant with a fantastic warm and friendly atmosphere. We stayed there till long after they had closed, discussing marriage and relationships in the Indian culture and sharing our impressions and observations of the trip so far. One day we also made an excursion to the old caves “Grotte del Bussento” and climbed deep down to reach the source of the water. On our way up we took the cable car with a spectacular view of the nature below us. Two days later, we had to say goodbye to our lovely hosts at the lodge and to the Cilente National Park to continue our journey to the conference in Salerno.
In Salerno we were back in civilization with high speed internet, comfortable hotels, and shops and restaurants in every corner. We had a great time attending the conference, presenting our paper, enjoying some shopping in nice Italian boutiques, and especially continuing to enjoy our discussions and the Italian food. And still, we left a feeling of completeness in the Cilente National Park. The pure and authentic way of living, which made people live a long healthy life made a deep impression on me. When I asked if they had any elderly care, they answered that it was not needed because people there rarely suffered from heart diseases or dementia, which is otherwise so common in the western world. The high quality in food with, for example, pure olive oil, homemade pasta and bread, and organic fruits, vegetables and meat seemed to have led to a very healthy life. The only threat to health could be found mainly among the men who smoke cigarettes. Therefore, women tended to live longer since they did not smoke as much as men. This was of course pre-Covid, but I hope that people in Cilente have been somehow spared from the Coronavirus.
Our learning experience ended in a small village along the Amalfi coast. ICSB had arranged a bus drive up the hill on a very narrow serpentine road to a beautiful banquette with award prizes to the winners of the papers. Dr. Monteiro won the prize for his paper and our trip could not have been more successful. I am so proud and honored to have experienced this learning experience through the ICM Program. I only hope that Dr. Monteiro will soon be able to take his students to new fascinating places in the world, maybe to Uganda.
Embassy of Sweden in Uganda
A year into my MBA studies, I got my dream job as First Secretary / Controller at the Embassy of Sweden in Kampala. I believe, however, that my studies in the International Communication Program had an impact in why I was selected for this job. It certainly turned out to be the right foundation for this position. My internship at the UNFPA and the ICSB trips to Argentina and Italy gave me a great understanding of the UN and the Sustainable Development Goals, which I carry with me when I meet our UN partners in Uganda. When reading proposals from partner organizations such as NGO’s, the World Bank, International NGO’s etc. or in my interaction with Ugandan government institutions, I take with me the lessons on governance and policies that we learned from Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz. And perhaps most importantly is the foundation that I got from the political philosophy lessons with Dr. Monteiro, which opened my mind and constantly challenging our traditional way of thinking and seeing the globalization and the western world’s way of working in developing countries. Even though I am working with global development, it is important to understand that the traditional grant system is in many cases not sustainable and in order to find sustainable solutions, we need to get corporate on board. I am therefore very proud of Sweden and Sida for changing the focus from traditional grants to also include other forms of financing such as loan and guarantees, acting as a facilitator and catalyst for the private sector, both locally and globally. Sweden’s focus on digitalization and the UN Leaving no one behind is also something that I understand and can fully relate to after my years with the ICM Program.
My takeaways from the ICM Program and advice to current and future students at St. John’s University
With the exception of the concrete impact that the ICM Program had and continues to have on my work at the Swedish Embassy in Kampala today and in my work in an international setting, I especially take with me all the fantastic lectures with my brilliant professors Dr. Basilio Monteiro, Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz, Dr. Mark Juszczak and Dr. Candice D. Roberts, moments with my peers, the friendly and warm atmosphere at St. John’s University in Queens, the amazing trips that I made with Dr. Monteiro and his students to Argentina and Italy, another insight into how the world works, and the mechanism behind the media, political decisions, and how everything goes in waves. For my current work, I could not have had a better platform than my ICM Program. Another thing that I take with me is the interest in international communication in terms of how we can use media and social platforms to reach out, influence, communicate and share information. I will continue to be more active in working with our internal and external communication at the Embassy and develop my own social media channels to interact more with my friends and professors at St. John’s but also with other friends and colleagues around the world.
During the Fall semester of 2020, in the International Communication Master’s program, the foundational course ICM801, taught by Dr. Minna Aslama-Horowitz, included several discussions on “global wicked problems” that all nations share to a degree – and that can be alleviated partly with communication, be it awareness-raising regarding the challenges, or access to communication technology for participating in solving those problems.
One of the key themes was the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals range from “No Poverty” to “Quality Education”, “Responsible Consumption and Production”, “Partnerships for the Goals”.
La doctora inglesa Alice Steward (1906-2002) fue una de las científicas más influyentes del siglo XX. En los años cincuenta, comenzó a estudiar el aumento en los casos de cáncer dentro de la población infantil. Además de su interés en el tema como profesional de la medicina, tenía también una motivación personal, ya que su ahijada había muerto por leucemia algunos años atrás cuando tan solo tenía cinco años.
La doctora Steward estaba particularmente interesada en saber si había una correlación directa entre el cáncer infantil y el uso de rayos X. El tema no era precisamente popular y no encontró muchos apoyos por parte de casi nadie. De hecho, recibió una beca prácticamente insignificante para poder llevar a cabo su investigación. Ella, sin embargo, lejos de abandonar, decidió armarla con un particular método de trabajo: le pidió al estadístico George Kneale que trabajara con ella y que, activamente, intentase buscar el desacuerdo, que pusiera en tela de juicio absolutamente todas sus conclusiones, que intentase por todos los medios desbaratar sus argumentos y demostrar que estaba equivocada. Kneale, además, era la persona ideal para hacer esto, ya que sus personalidades eran totalmente opuestas. Él era introvertido y ella sociable, cariñosa y empática. Él prefería los números y la soledad, ella a las personas y la compañía.
Y así es como estas dos personas tan radicalmente diferentes comenzaron a trabajar usando el método del desacuerdo, un modelo de trabajo colaborativo cuando menos valiente. Ella le pasaba sus datos, sus modelos, sus estadísticas, y él hacía todo lo posible por buscar errores que invalidaran sus conclusiones. ¿Por qué? Porque los dos estaban de acuerdo en que si Kneale era finalmente incapaz de probar que la doctora Steward estaba equivocada, eso le daría a ella la suficiente confianza como para saber que iba por el buen camino en sus investigaciones.
A través de este método fueron capaces de demostrar que, efectivamente, dentro del grupo de niños enfermos de cáncer que formaban parte de su estudio, la mitad de ellos tenía una cosa en común: a sus madres les habían hecho radiografías durante el embarazo. Esta importante conclusión se materializó en un artículo titulado ‘A survey of childhood malignancies’, publicado en 1958 en el prestigioso British Medical Journal.
La primera reacción a dicho artículo fue de escepticismo y de rechazo. En primer lugar, la máquina de rayos X, relativamente nueva aún, se presentaba como una diosa salvadora. Se utilizaba regularmente para ver la posición del feto en madres embarazadas, además de otros usos médicos como por ejemplo el tratamiento del acné. En segundo lugar, se estaba poniendo en tela de juicio la infalibilidad de los doctores y su buen hacer. Y en tercer lugar, todo esto lo estaba haciendo nada menos que una mujer. Esto provocó que la popularidad de Alice Steward cayera en picado: jamás volvería a recibir una beca y, poco a poco, fue dejada de lado por el resto de compañeros de profesión.
Lamentablemente, se siguieron haciendo radiografías a mujeres embarazadas: la industria médica estadounidense y británica no estaba dispuesta a aceptar ningún tipo de desacuerdo. De hecho, tardaron 25 años más en abandonar esta práctica.
La dificultad de aceptar el desacuerdo y los sesgos cognitivos
Todos los seres humanos, en mayor o menor grado, tenemos ciertos sesgos cognitivos. Un sesgo cognitivo es, explicado de forma muy simple, un prejuicio inconsciente que nos lleva a interpretar el mundo (lo que vemos, lo que escuchamos, lo que sentimos,…) de forma subjetiva y selectiva. Los sesgos cognitivos nos pueden llevar a juicios inexactos, a interpretaciones ilógicas o irracionales.
Uno de los experimentos más conocidos en este sentido es el “efecto Bouba-Kiki”. Fue detectado en 1929 por el psicólogo estonio Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967). En un experimento en Tenerife (España), el académico mostró esta imagen a un grupo de gente:
A continuación, les preguntó cuál de estas figuras se llamaba “takete” y cuál “baluba”. La inmensa mayoría vinculó la forma puntiaguda con el nombre “takete”, y la forma redondeada con el nombre “baluba”. En el año 2001, el neurocientífico indio-estadounidense V. Ramachandran (1951) repitió el experimento usando los nombres “kiki” y “bouba”, obteniendo el mismo resultado: kiki para la forma puntiaguda y bouba para la forma redondeada. Llamar “bouba” a la forma redondeada podría sugerir que este sesgo nace de la forma que toma nuestra boca cuando pronunciamos la palabra, que es más redondeada, mientras que empleamos una pronunciación más tensa y angular para el sonido “kiki”. Eso supuso una base experimental para comprender que el cerebro humano extrae propiedades en abstracto de formas y sonidos más allá de los vínculos aparentemente racionales.
Hay muchos tipos de sesgos cognitivos. Uno de los más conocidos y que mejor ayuda a entender el concepto es el “sesgo de confirmación”, que consiste en la tendencia a averiguar o dar más importancia a la información que confirma nuestras creencias. Esto es lo que sucede cuando, de manera automática, solo leemos los periódicos y vemos los canales de televisión que concuerdan con nuestras ideas.
Otro de los más conocidos es el “sesgo de falso consenso”, que consiste en la tendencia a creer que las propias opiniones, creencias, valores y hábitos están más extendidos entre las otras personas de lo que realmente lo están. En otras palabras, la tendencia a pensar que el resto de la gente comparte nuestras ideas, cuando en realidad, no necesariamente es así.
Otro ejemplo de sesgo cognitivo muy extendido es el “sesgo de deseabilidad social”, que consiste en decir lo socialmente aceptado en vez de expresar lo que verdaderamente opinamos. Generalmente nace de la necesidad de sentir la aprobación social, de querer caer bien a la gente, aunque a veces puede haber otros motivos (económicos, políticos, etc).
Si volvemos a la cuestión de las radiografías en las mujeres embarazadas, vemos que estos tres sesgos jugaron un papel clave a la hora de impedir esta práctica. Por un lado, la industria médica dio menos importancia a las averiguaciones de la doctora Steward porque no confirmaba sus creencias; por otro lado, dieron por hecho que el resto del colectivo médico compartía su postura; y, finalmente, no quisieron decir que ese nuevo invento que tanto adoraba la sociedad tenía efectos tan dañinos en los fetos, ya que no era lo que la gente quería oír.
Cómo vencer la dificultad del desacuerdo
Hay una tendencia generalizada a identificar el desacuerdo como algo negativo cuando, en realidad, debería ser nuestro mejor aliado. Parte del problema reside en que siempre nos han enseñado que debemos ser más asertivos, que tenemos que saber defender nuestras ideas y, si puede ser, evitar el conflicto. Sin embargo, esta postura plantea dos problemas de base. Por un lado, no permite a la persona desarrollar las herramientas necesarias para gestionar el desacuerdo y, por otro, desencadena un efecto condenatorio hacia el desacuerdo (“no me gusta que no opines como yo”).
El primer paso para subsanarlo comienza por comprender que el desacuerdo es algo sano, natural e inevitable. Es, de hecho, algo positivo si se sabe manejar correctamente. Precisamente, gracias al desacuerdo, la sociedad ha podido evolucionar, avanzar y mejorar en muchos aspectos. El segundo paso consiste en escuchar a la otra persona sin dar por hecho que no tiene razón, o que la tenemos nosotros. Si ambas partes son capaces de hacer esto, se estarán librando del llamado “sesgo de certeza” o la tendencia a mostrar un exceso de confianza en tus ideas, a creer que siempre tienes la razón. El tercer y último gran paso consiste en ser capaces de integrar el desacuerdo en la comunicación para construir el llamado “conflicto positivo”, y verlo como una oportunidad de diálogo más que como una amenaza. De este modo, el objetivo de la comunicación entre las personas en desacuerdo ya no será convencer al otro, sino buscar acuerdo, que es algo muy distinto.
La clave está en comprender que las personas no necesitan tener las mismas ideas, solo necesitan tener el mismo respeto (siempre y cuando, claro está, dichas ideas no atenten contra los derechos humanos). Todos tenemos sesgos, y todos tenemos puntos ciegos que nos hacen interpretar la realidad de manera diferente. Nuestras vivencias y nuestras circunstancias personales son el cristal de la ventana a través de la cual miramos. Esa ventana que nos resulta cómoda, que nos reafirma y nos reconforta. El día que nos atrevamos a mirar por esa otra ventana que otra persona diferente a nosotros nos muestra, ese día habremos iniciado el camino a la integración sana del desacuerdo como un elemento más de la comunicación, y comprenderemos que el desacuerdo no debilita tu postura sino que fortalece tu conocimiento así como la inteligencia colectiva.
IG @Pictoline, publicación del 16 de junio y del 2 de julio
“Contributions of journalism for peacebuilding” was the central theme of the webinar How to communicate peace in the post-agreement, organized by the U. Manizales School of Communication and the Institute for International Communication, of St. John’s University. Listen here to an interview with the international speakers of this virtual space.
If you are interested in learning more about the contributions journalism can make to peacebuilding, find here the recording of the webinar held on November 6, 2020.
October 31, 2020 By: Nathalie Larin (Journalism Student)
NEW YORK – Five panelists from Europe and the United States discussed the increased polarization of political conversation, populism in the media, and journalists’ challenges in the current political and social climate during a virtual event on October 16, 2020. The global conference was co-hosted by St. John’s University’s Institute for International Communication (Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies) and the University of Vienna.
The speakers included Barbara Trionfi (Executive Director at International Press Institute, Vienna, Austria), Nana Walzer (Center for Applied Communication, Vienna, Austria), John M. Phelan (professor at Fordham University, NY), Kara S. Alaimo (professor at Hofstra University, NY), and Elisabeth Fondren (professor at St. John’s University, NY).
“This topic today could not be more timely,” said Interim CCPS Dean Glenn Gerstner in his opening remarks, referencing partisan print and broadcast campaigns and the pervasiveness of negative advertising across many media outlets.
“We live in an increasingly polarized world and political communication has become painfully coarse. With such a divided and polarized public, let’s try to unpack these issues,” said Basilio Monteiro, Chair, Division of Mass Communication and Director of the Institute for International Communication. The two-hour discussion was led by Minna Horowitz (Institute for International Communication) and Thomas Bauer (University of Vienna, Austria).
In their talks, panelists pointed out that social media and online filter bubbles have further polarized political opinions; that freedom of the press is under attack across the world including in democracies; that communicators, media educators, and individuals have an ethical and social responsibility to promote civility, and that propaganda continues to pose a threat to the truth content of information.
“Authenticity is key when it comes to credibility. It is the presentation of a message that convinces people,” Walzer explained in her typology of uncivilized behavior and dark or bright leadership styles. “People expect politicians to lie and at the same time they rely on their gut feeling as a source of trust.”
Panelists also suggested that the polarization of both content and form of political messages has created both national and international challenges for journalists.
“What we have seen through the COVID-19 crisis is a great weakening of press freedom around the world, from Europe to North America, Asia, and parts of Africa as well,” said Trionfi. “At the same time, we have seen a weakening of trust in the news media.” The ongoing global health pandemic, she stressed, has raised the stakes for journalists and the importance of accurate media coverage, since people’s lives depend on reliable and uncensored access to news.
Other speakers discussed the broader themes of civility and deception in public affairs, and the growing skepticism of official information, leaders or institutions on digital platforms. ”Expectation of behavior is what makes us behave and be civil,” said Phelan. He also cautioned that hate speech on social media should not go unchallenged by individual citizens, echoing Trifoni’s point about journalists exposing and fighting back against uncivil or undemocratic attacks against the press.
Media literacy and political education may be part of the solution, panelists agreed. “I think we have a responsibility to share knowledge about how citizens and the public can find a middle ground … this is why looking at different opinions, looking at international media, but keeping a clear focus on factual truths and facts is crucial,” Fondren said.
Scholar and journalist Alaimo spoke about political rhetoric, dogwhistling tactics and coded language that politicians use to discredit each other. In addition, she discussed that women – and in particular women of color – tend to be targeted by hate mail and online harassment on social media. “I am really worried that we can no longer have civil conversations,” she said.
More than 80 audience members from all over the world, including Vietnam, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Dubai, Jordan, the United States, U.K. and several other European countries participated in the event. Audience questions prompted a discussion about the opportunities and consequences of a global public sphere in light of increasing political polarization. In his closing remarks, Bauer proposed a ‘reason of responsibility’ that embraces humanist and social interpretations of communication rather than technological, economic, or profit-driven uses. “We have to widen the concept of political communication. It is a widespread sphere of everyday discourse related to topics, to themes, or to events of public or political interests,” he said.
Political communication, Bauer said, “is a source of sense and making sense.”
NEW YORK, NY: On October 21, the Institute for International Communication in cooperation with The Center for Global Business Stewardship at St. John’s University hosted an academic-civic discussion roundtable entitled The Crisis in The Caucasus. The conversation specifically addressed the ongoing month-old war in the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) and the humanitarian crisis unravelling from those atrocities. Open to the public the virtual roundtable, moderated by Isabel Arustamyan (2nd year law student at St. John’s Law School), drew from the expertise of three invited panelists.
Dr. Artyom Tonoyan (Research Associate at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies) started the panel with providing a thorough historical overview of the current context and the plight of the Artsakh Armenians since the 1920s Soviet government’s decision to include the republic with its over 90% ethnic Armenian inhabitants as part of a newly formed republic of Azerbaijan. He emphasized that the details of that decision were still unclear to the historians, though speculations are abounding.
Answering a question on the religious component of the current war, the second panelist, Dr. Mark Movsesian (Frederick A. Whitney Professor & Co-Director, Center for Law & Religion, St. John’s Law School) stressed that while religion has played a role historically (Armenian church is one of the oldest in the world, adopting Christianity in 301AD several years before Rome’s conversion, while Azerbaijani are predominantly Muslim) and that there are attempts to present the current war from a religious perspective, there is much more at stake. Specifically, he emphasized the political element in the current war stemming from deep-rooted antagonisms, declining oil-based economy, and the threat of terrorist mercenaries employed by Azerbaijan as confirmed by the international media and the intelligence services of several governments (including France, Russia, and the U.S.).
Following up to the earlier points, Dr. Siobhan Nash-Marshall (Mary T. Clark Chair of Christian Philosophy, Manhattanville College) addressed the patterns of continuity from the Armenian Genocide of 1915 up to this war. As a philosopher and genocide scholar, Dr. Nash-Marshall emphasized the parallels between the present war and events of the early twentieth century in the same region. She touched on grand imperial designs of the last century that seem to be motivating the current attack on the Armenian population in Artsakh. She expressed hope that an average person learning about the tragedy in Armenia will be motivated to join the humanitarian call to end the atrocities and resolve matters peacefully.
The event drew strong participation from St. John’s community and general public and concluded with an engaging questions and answers session.
Alexis Torres ’09CPS, ’11GCPS has many responsibilities as Chief of Staff at the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), a New York State public benefit corporation that maintains, programs, and manages 92 acres of land and 36 acres of pristine public parkland in downtown Manhattan—but she handles them with aplomb by never forgetting the lessons she learned while a student at St. John’s.
“After more than a decade of work in state and local government, I am grateful to St. John’s for preparing me to take on the real world and dedicate my career to public service,” she said.
“Alexis stood out not only as a smart and hardworking student, but as a gracious person with a contagious smile,” said Dr. Monteiro. “She always cared for others; she was known among her classmates as someone they could always rely on for anything. She is a problem-solver without drawing attention to herself.”
At St. John’s, Ms. Torres was a member of the Public Relations Club and a host of a show on WRED-TV, the campus television station. She also was a student worker for St. John’s Office of Conference Services and at the TV studio.
“My first job was at St. John’s and I am forever grateful,” she said. “I attribute my work ethic and leadership skills to all of the mentors who guided me during my time there.”
As Chief of Staff at BPCA, Ms. Torres helps manage the day-to-day operations and oversees implementation of a variety of special projects and events. This includes the planning of public events for the authority’s annual Earth Day and Climate Week celebrations, which—given its role as an environmental sustainability leader—are important dates on the BPCA calendar.
Most recently, she has been managing and coordinating, along with New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, the construction of new memorials to Mother Cabrini and to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Maria that devastated Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico in September of 2017. Both memorials will be located in Battery Park City.
Ms. Torres began her career at the City of New York’s Business Integrity Commission (BIC) during the administration of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. There she worked to help eliminate organized crime and other forms of corruption from the public wholesale markets, trade waste, and shipboard gambling industries. While at BIC, she received a mayoral award for excellence in customer service and became a certified Spanish translator and interpreter for the City of New York Language Access Plan.