Postcard from West Point

Photo by Oliver Kaplan.

By Oliver Kaplan

Photo by Oliver Kaplan.
Photo by Oliver Kaplan.

Last month I was honored to participate in the 64th annual SCUSA conference (Student Conference on US Affairs) at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York. The conference is a venue where college students from around the country (both American and foreign) spend four days at West Point to debate various foreign policy topics and foster positive civil-military relations from an early age.

The theme of this year’s conference was appropriately “Leading in Lean Times: Assuring Accountability and Assessing American Priorities in an Age of Austerity.” I was a faculty co-chair of the roundtable on Latin America, and the students in our group were hard-pressed to devise foreign policies (both conventional and unconventional) that would promote US priorities in the region without breaking the bank.

As part of the experience, the college students sleep in the barracks and eat in the mess hall, literally getting a taste for what military life is like. For their part, the military cadets get a chance to remember what civilians are like.

Photo by Oliver Kaplan.
Photo by Oliver Kaplan.

Donning my social scientist hat, I came away with two main observations about the interactions among the students:

  1. The cadets motivated the civilian college students to push their limits of endurance (discipline?) and to stay goal-oriented (complete the mission) as group members collaborated non-stop for three days to produce a policy paper.
  2. The college students pushed the cadets to think outside the box and question conventional wisdom and authority (at least once in a while).

I certainly benefitted from an extra dose of both of those things, and I’m sure we all could!

I highly recommend the conference to all students (and faculty) as a great way to meet wonderful, engaging people and get an insider’s view of one of our nation’s finest educational institutions and training grounds for military officers.

  1. My recollections of SCUSA align closely with yours. I went as a Midshipmen from the Naval Academy in 1991 and again as a military instructor in 2000. The Social Sciences department at West Point hosts a high quality event.

    In Annapolis, for the past 50 years, we have held the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference (NAFAC) to similarly gather undergraduates from around the world to discuss contemporary topics of international relations. We’ll again be doing so from 9-11 April, 2013. This year’s theme is “A Time of Transition: Crafting Foreign Policy for the Near Term.” It is a great conference for your students to hear from a wide range of distinguished speakers and engage in small groups with their peers. More information is available at .
    Oliver, I hope you are able to send a postcard from Annapolis next Spring.

    (And if you are wondering where the government gets funding to put on this event, the conference is wholly funded by the generosity of private donors and alumni for the benefit of our future leaders in the private and public spheres.)

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