Last week, the Affordable Care Act panel, “This Won’t Hurt a Bit: ObamaCare and Your Future,” was held in the Hawkins-Carlson Room at Rush Rhees Library. The panel offered up debate with a variety of experts with a wide range of views on the healthcare law. Panels such as this are a powerful way to spark discussion on campus and an invaluable piece of a college education.

Students at the University of Rochester will go on, like those at other top ranked schools, to fill a variety of positions at companies, educational institutions, non-profits, and political organizations. When out in the world, they will have many chances for political activism, but being a student on campus offers a unique opportunity to fulfill that role. There is a reason that college campuses are thought of as hotbeds of political activity and breeding grounds for new thought and political reform.

In addition, one of the core issues of college campuses is the concept of a bubble. Sometimes, it seems like we know of the outside world, but don’t think of being a part of it. Panels are a great way to deal with this problem. By bringing in experts from other parts of the nation, as was done for the Obamacare panel, the bubble is broken, at least for a short while. Even when the panels involve almost solely on-campus professors, the mere act of discussing topics ranging far beyond the bounds of Rochester works to break through the barrier and reach the outside world.

Finally, panels, when done correctly, are a way to challenge one’s own views. Students often come to college with a firm set of perspectives which are seldom changed. A study by Mack Mariani of students at 38 colleges and universities found that from freshman year to graduation, students did not change their self-identified views any more than the general political trend at the time. Universities are usually portrayed in popular media as bastions of thought and debate on a plethora of issues, working to shape the ideals and beliefs of the next generation of leaders.

Mariani’s study seems to indicate that this ideal image is  a myth. If you come to college as a left-wing environmentalist liberal, or a right-wing pro-life conservative, four years of schooling isn’t going to change your mind. With this in mind, panels offer a rare chance to break the statistical chances. Panel discussions at the very least offer a chance to listen to both sides of an issue. These panels offer diverse arguments, from a presumably intelligent and well-researched perspective, allowing students to be informed enough to make their own decisions and potentially mold a new viewpoint. Panels force people to hear both sides of the argument in an era where one can simply read the Huffington Post, or the Drudge Report to get their respective partisan fix.

With upcoming panels on the NSA and the Minimum Wage, it would be in the best interest of every student looking to round out their views to attend these and any other future panels.

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