The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Discussion in division

Photo by Photo by Cristian Aguirre

Mercieca received the Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in teaching in 2016. 

In early Greek history, in the time of city-states, major cities would make space for the agora: The center of town meant for communication and fellowship. In that same vein, associate communication professor Jennifer Mercieca founded Aggie Agora.
Aggie Agora is a part of the College of Liberal Arts and focuses on facilitating positive political conversations among students. Throughout the school year, Aggie Agora hosts events such as Workshop Wednesdays to discuss political engagement and a Friday Lecture Series based on a specific theme.
For the 2017-2018 school year, Aggie Agora’s theme is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures.” Shetterly’s novel was selected for the College of Liberal Arts’ Common Ground Reading Initiative, an effort to create a learning community through a shared reading experience for first year students.
Mercieca has been a professor at Texas A&M since 2003 and said she considers herself very fortunate to join the communication department in the College of Liberal Arts.
“It was my first job outside of grad school and I was very lucky to get it,” Mercieca said. “When I came here, this communication department was very well known for its department in presidential rhetoric and one of the best places in the country for research and scholarship, which is one of my interests, so I felt like I won the lottery.”
In 2015, Mercicia co-chaired a committee that focused on getting the entire university involved in the 2016 Presidential debate that was potentially going to be hosted on A&M’s campus. After the plan to host the debate fell through, Mercieca began thinking of other ways to get students involved in political conversations.
“We then thought about hosting a program in the College of Liberal Arts that would be very engaging in teaching students about campaign finance and how to understand political adversity and how to talk about politics,” Mercieca said. “We would host debate watching parties and host lectures.”
Three years into the program, Mercieca said she is very pleased with how the students engage with one another, even when they disagree.
“The conversations have been really good,” Mercieca said. “Students are curious. They are eager to learn. We’ve talked about so many difficult, button pushing issues. And I’ve never felt uncomfortable and awkward about anything the students have done. They’ve been respectful and open and even when they disagree they do it in a way, in our forum, that is productive, so I really enjoy the conversation. I learn a lot from the students.”
In addition to learning how to disagree with others, Mercieca said she wants to encourage students to talk about important, controversial topics.
“It’s a big controversy nationwide as to whether or not people are able to talk about things,” Mercieca said. “That’s been one of the cool things. We not only talk about things, we bring people to campus, to teach us why it’s important to talk about those things. I enjoy the opportunity to talk to people about politics.”
Mercieca said by hosting these events, such as their Friday Lecture Series and Difficult Dialogue events, she hopes to encourage students to participate in the electoral process and discuss important topics when needed.
“Our voter turnout is pretty low in Texas,” Mercieca said. “We either rank 48 or 49 or 50th, traditionally, for election turnouts. People in the college-age actually vote less than the average Texan, which is really pathetic. So when we ask people “Why don’t you vote,” it’s really because they say ‘Oh it isn’t relevant to me, I don’t think my vote counts.’ Or even ‘I don’t know how to get started.’ Well, let’s make it accessible. Let’s teach people how to understand politics.”

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