Warner speaks with students

Published 10:47 am Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In a classroom usually occupied by the theoretical, students at Hampden- Sydney College (H-SC) saw the real world of politics enter Thursday when Sen. Mark Warner came to speak with them for an hour at the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest.

Warner, a Democrat and former Virginia governor who has represented the state in the U.S. Senate since 2008, gave an opening speech and then took questions from a group of about 20 students.

“I first became familiar with Hampden-Sydney in many ways back in the early 90s when I had the opportunity of being the president of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, which is basically the United Way for all the private colleges in Virginia,” he told students during his introductory comments. “And it was during that time I got to know Sam Wilson, and he was an extraordinary individual, extraordinary leader, loved Hampden-Sydney, heart and soul …”

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Wilson, a retired lieutenant general in the Army and former Hampden- Sydney president who died in June 2017, is the Wilson Center’s namesake.

In his speech, Warner gave students an update on the investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections and society, which has been his focus as vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He said that his work on the Russia investigation, in many ways, “may end up being the most significant work I do in my public sector career.”

As an H-SC press release summarized, the question-and-answer period featured questions from students on a variety of topics. College officials noted that several questions touched on state and local issues, from the sanctity of state electoral systems to the funding of volunteer fire departments, while others focused on federal matters, including constitutional rights, data security on social media platforms and even Senate parliamentary rules.

After the meeting, Hampden-Sydney senior Chris Ross, who is also chairman of the College Republicans, said he thought the event was a good one.

“I’m really happy that the senator came to engage us in civil and meaningful dialogue,” he said. “Whether or not I agree with him on every issue is beside the point, but the fact that we were able to sit down beside each other and actually talk about issues is, I think, very important. … I’m a Republican, but obviously both sides are responsible for the partisan divide. I’d argue the Democrats might be a little bit more responsible, but neither here nor there … just being able to be in a room with someone that holds public office and represents me in Washington, D.C., is, I think, very important. I think everyone should have that opportunity.”

Sophomore Carson King said, “I thought it was a good opportunity to meet with a United States senator. I’m not a Virginian. I’m from the state of Georgia, so he’s not my elected senator, but I thought it was a great opportunity, especially in regard to learning more about leadership and citizenship.”

Junior Chad Pisano said, “I’m from New Jersey, so he’s not my senator, but I’ve never met someone that high up in the government, never been that close to one, so I thought it was a cool opportunity to see that. It was interesting to be able to interact with him and ask questions in kind of a close, intimate setting.”

Pisano said he thought Warner touched on two of the issues that are at the forefront of talk in the nation right now — the gun debate and the influence of Russia.

“Those are both very polar issues, and it was interesting to hear someone who’s not just in the Senate but on the Intelligence Committee, so he’s probably one of the 10 people or something in the United States who knows the most about that,” Pisano said.

Rucker Snead, director of the Wilson Center and lecturer in government and foreign affairs, was pleased to have Warner visit and provide such a great experience for his students.

“Literally in that classroom, this morning, 11 o’clock, I was talking in the national security seminar about the evolution of warfare and what does 21st century warfare look like,” he said. “And we’ve been talking about the evolution of information, which is a tool of national power and the impact of technology and how has that changed. One of their midterm questions dealt with Russian meddling in the elections. If they were the national security advisor, what would (be) their recommendations to the president to deal with future instances? So for them to hear in the classroom theoretically is one thing. For them to hear from the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it takes (it) from theory to reality, so that’s powerful.”

“The opportunities again to ask the senator where does he stand, how’s he thinking on whether it’s gun control, violence in the schools, current political process, it’s quite refreshing,” Snead said. “Because, again, it takes from the theory of the classroom, which is what we do real well here across the campus, to bring it into the reality.”

“Finally the opportunity for students to interact with one of the two senators from the commonwealth,” Snead said, “to have that exchange, for the students to hear from him and see that he is a real person, he’s honest and open, but also for him then to hear from them in terms of what’s important on their minds, and he gauges that based on the questions they’re asking him, where their concerns are … it’s democracy in action.”