Liberal Arts in Action: Wittenberg Faculty Lead Discussion on Sochi Olympics

If you entered Founders Pub last Monday, you would have seen a familiar scene: pizza, television, and members of the Wittenberg community. What made that night special, however, was the fact that faculty and students alike came together to discuss the cultural, sociological, and political impacts of the Olympic Games.

On Feb. 10, professor of sociology Jerry Pankhurst and professor of health, fitness, and sport Steven Dawson led a discussion among a handful of Wittenberg students concerning the current Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Pankhurst began the discussion by talking about the geopolitics of specifically the Sochi games. “Having the Olympics so near Chechnya and Dagestan only brought attention to the issues in this part of Russia,” said Pankhurst.

One of these issues included alleged terrorist threats that occurred in the region days before the opening ceremony. Some Republican congressional leaders raised concerns about the games – specifically the location.

In late January, Representative Mike McCaul from Texas said, “What poses the greatest threat, in my opinion, is the proximity and the location of where these games are being held.”

However, as of a week into the games, no attacks had been documented.

Pankhurst mentioned that Russia has spent over $50 billion on the games, and that much of this money has gone towards security.

While Pankhurst talked in-depth specifically about the Olympics in Russia, Dawson discussed the history of the Olympics and sports culture in Russia.

“Russia’s history with the Olympics truly began in 1952 when the Soviet Union first joined the Olympic Games,” said Dawson.

Dawson made a point to mention that in the first Olympics the Soviet Union participated in, the country took home 22 gold medals. Twenty-four years later, in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, the Soviet Union took home 49 gold medals. The country’s involvement in the Olympic Games grew exponentially over the years.

When the Soviet Union politically transitioned to post-Soviet states, Russia’s culture on sports and the Olympic Games also transitioned. However, Russia kept a similar attitude about the importance of sports – and success – after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Dawson also mentioned that the Soviet Union emphasized fitness because they desired citizens who could defend the country and its ideals physically.

Students who attended were given a packet of information regarding the Soviet Union – and later Russia’s – involvement in the Games. The packet included the history of the Soviet Union in the Olympics, as well as its progression of success in regards to medal count.

Members of the Wittenberg community attended the talk for multiple reasons.

“I went because watching the Olympics is one of my favorite things to do,” said junior Valerie McCandlish. “I thought it was really cool to talk about both the political and athletic aspects of the games, especially since they are held in Sochi this year.”

Athletic coaches, as well as students interested in the region, were listening with open minds and numerous questions. The Olympic Games were also aired on the projector behind Pankhurst and Dawson as the discussion occurred.

“The best part though, was the mix of students, professors, and coaches that came to the discussion,” continued McCandlish. “It was wonderful having engaging conversation about the implications of the Olympics on the world.”

This discussion was not a required colloquium or a mandatory event for classes, but simply a casual discussion among interested members of the Wittenberg community, proving that the liberal arts extends far outside the classroom.

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