On Tuesday and Wednesday, April 21-22, the College hosted the fourth annual Patuxent Defense Forum. Cosponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Patuxent Partnership, the forum allowed academics, military officers, and policy analysts to discuss issues relating to U.S. foreign affairs and defense.
The theme of this year’s forum was “Roles of the U.S. Military in Fragile and Failing States,” with topics ranging from “Bridging the Cultural Divide: Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)-Military Relations in Complex Environments” to “Looking South: Intelligence Sharing to Empower Mexico’s Military and Stabilize North America.” Topics such as these were organized into three sessions held in Cole Cinema.
According to Michael Cain, Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, the Center chooses the theme by talking to professors of the social sciences as well as some students to come up with an idea that would appeal to the local and broader community of defense contractors. A call for papers is then issued, and a committee consisting of both professors and community members chooses the panelists who will present a topic.
Jason Reifer, a graduating senior at West Virginia University, presented with his political science professor David Hauser on conceptions of victory and the U.S. military in failed states. Reifer returned to school after having studied in South Africa and Syria and having worked for organizations from the West Virginia Supreme Court to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Africa. He and his professor worked on the paper and submitted it after receiving the call for work.
Reifer described the opportunity to present as “unexpected but interesting.” He described the College atmosphere as “instantly comfortable,” and praised Hauser as being engaging and for realizing that “no one is really the sole source of all knowledge.”
This year, said Cain, attendance was slightly higher than usual, with about 100 people attending. Attendees included local contractors and members of the St. Mary’s community, including 15-20 students from various classes in Cole Cinema at any given time.
“I think it’s a great experience for the students,” said Cain. He said that the time of the presentation was moved to increase the likelihood that students would attend.
However, the panels were aimed largely at the contracting community, making some sessions more accessible than others for students. “Most of the session I attended was over my head,” said first-year Rosa Palumbo. “I don’t know all the military lingo, and except for the professor who talked about what victory means, I had no idea what they were talking about.”
“I do think that some of the language used was a bit over my head, but overall I was able to understand most of what the presenters were saying and [was] able to walk away with a lot of useful information,” said junior Sara Metz, who also attended some of the panel discussions.
She said that it was difficult to find an aisle seat and to leave for class without disrupting the presenter, but overall, she found the experience a positive one.
“I think more students should attend next year,” Metz said. “It’s an invaluable learning opportunity from professionals, and not solely based in academia but also in experience.”
Cain hopes that more students will attend next year, and will involve the Student Government Association to find ways to get more students involved, especially seniors interested in international relations who might want to get a sense of the opportunities available to them.
He said, “It’s a resource for the students that I want to make widely available.”