Student Publishes Class Assignment in Hometown Newspaper

Douglas Fender ’10 had an assignment with a meaningful connection

When most students work on an assignment for class, they often don't think about their work ending up published in their hometown paper. But when a class assignment directly related to a situation occurring in Doug Fender's hometown, he was grateful for his work to have an audience.

For his last class at Roanoke College prior to receiving his degree,  Fender chose to take an Intensive Learning May term course on The Scopes Trial. The Scopes Trial occurred in 1925, when a football coach and part-time teacher, John Thomas Scopes, was criminally charged with teaching evolution, something not allowed by law in the state of Tennessee. The trial was an epic event of the times-a debate over free speech that became a battle between science and religion. The trial featured attorneys Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan and is considered one of America's first major media event.

Fender said he enjoyed his May Term course because it was nice to focus fully on one thing. "We did a two night trip to Daytona TN, the place where the Scopes trial took place. This brought what we were studying alive," says Fender. "Dr. Dunn did a good job of presenting many of the political and social themes of the trial on a more global and contemporary level."

As a part of the course requirements, Fender was assigned to right an opinion piece, similar to one seen in a newspaper, imagining that it was the 100th  anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial. The purpose of this assignment was for students to analyze what made this trial so famous and what we have learned, or failed to learn, from the trial at present time. Fender added a twist to the assignment, writing about the Scopes Trial in perspective from its 85th anniversary, which takes place this year.  He wrote a little bit about the trial but chose to focus more on one of the attorneys, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan is most well known for his prosecution of the Scopes but Fender explains that prior to the trial, Bryan was well known for the work he did for the rights of the common people. Bryan fought against the establishment of the central banking system we have today, which Bryan thought kept common people in debt to a small group of wealthy elites. Fender found a connection between the rights that Bryan fought for and something currently happening in his hometown of Marion, VA.

Smyth County, where Fender is from, is borrowing millions of dollars to renovate and expand the courthouse in Marion. He explains that the citizens are very against the renovations because borrowing so much money will likely bankrupt the county.  The people want to spend their tax dollars on expanding education and industry, but Fender says it is not the peoples' decision as a small group of judges in Marion are overriding the peoples' interest by construing the law  to move forward with the renovations. 

When Fender realized the association between his coursework and the situation occurring in his hometown, he submitted his May Term assignment in the editorial section of his hometown newspaper, The Smyth County News and Messenger.  "As a liberal arts student, I have been in many classes where students have discussed great ideas on how to improve the local community and the world as a whole.  Unfortunately, many of our great ideas remain trapped in the ivory tower of academia.  I wanted to do something a little more real than a purely abstract academic exercise," says Fender. "As students, I think it is our responsibility to take what we learn at Roanoke and use it to better the communities around us. Critical thinking is part of civic duty.  We must do our best to question and influence the future social and political climate."

Fender, a political science major at Roanoke, was a member of the Pi Sigma Alpha honor society as a student. Following graduation, he is going to the University of South Carolina to pursue a degree in law. He says he was very happy with his Roanoke experience. "I am very pleased with my time at Roanoke. I made a great group of friends here and also benefitted from the advice of my professors. I know it was the right choice for me. "

About the Author

Megan Semmelman is a sociology major with a communications concentration from Pennsylvania. She is a student writer for Roanoke College Public Relations and is active on campus in several organizations, including Chi Omega and Relay for Life.

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