Resilience in Uncertain Times
Colum graduated from Ulster University having studied Law and currently serves as President of Ulster University Students’ Union where he is completing a second term. He sits as a National Executive Councillor for the National Union of Students (UK) and a trustee of the National Union of Students – Union of Students in Ireland. He holds a seat on Council, the governing body of Ulster University. He has worked to raise the profile of student issues locally and nationally with focuses on sustainable funding for higher education, voter registration and combatting mental health issues in young people. Colum previously volunteered with the Equality Challenge Unit, Habitat for Humanity and the Committee on the Administration of Justice.
June 19, 2017
Every day the Washington Post delivers stories of policy reforms led by President Trump’s White House; last week tragedy struck as a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball team and FBI Director James Comey gave evidence at a congressional committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. In a city that lives and breathes political discourse everyone is a pundit providing insight, informed or otherwise, into the political landscape.
Dealing with difference and resilience in uncertain times are two of the core focuses for the Class of 2017. The United States offers itself as a constantly evolving case study on overcoming division and persevering through times of turmoil and for 8 weeks I have the opportunity to experience it firsthand.
On my second weekend in Washington, my host mum took me visit two of the key corners of America’s Historic Triangle in Virginia: the site of the first permanent English colony, Jamestown, and the former capital of the Virginia Colony, Williamsburg. Both function as ‘living museums’ with actors and historians dressed in period costume giving an insight into life in the 17th century. The sites are immaculately restored, the staff are well informed and the weather wasn’t bad either!
The colonial project, which started as a business venture, grew to serve as the foundation of the birth of a nation. The formative years at Jamestown were filled with famine, hostility with the native Powhatan population and struggles over a lack of leadership. Later, Williamsburg would play a key role in the American Revolution as a people rose up to usurp the monarch.
Over the course of the last fortnight I listened to speakers from all sides of the political divide and none address the class; from an advisor to the Obama administration, leaders in the trade union movement, the Irish Ambassador, a former Republican Senator, the NI Bureau and a former FOX news anchor. My trip to Williamsburg and the insight it gave me into the early days of American history served as a reminder of how far things have come. While the divide faced by the people here is no longer one of subjects opposed to their monarch the divergence of opinion in the country’s politics and across its capital are still very real.
As a class, we have been challenged to look at the divides at home and find shared solutions. A small group of us will be focusing on the migration debate that continues north and south of the border in Ireland and laying out a vision for 2040.
There is no more fitting place to consider these problems than in DC, the administrative home of a nation of immigrants. A country where many are still uncomfortable with cultural difference and where the immigration debate has shifted to building walls, blacklisting countries in the Middle East and extreme vetting. Perhaps this is a look into our future or perhaps Northern Ireland and Ireland will take a different path, it’s for us to decide if we want to be a spectator or a participant in that debate. At times the divisions can seem insurmountable but as history has shown us change is inevitable, even if for some this change isn’t the progress we hope for.