Educational C-SPAN bus program visits VC, highlights ‘First Ladies’

Students explore the C-SPAN bus, parked outside of Main. The program highlighted America’s First Ladies, as well as informed Vassar students about C-SPAN as a valuable news outlet. Photo By: Spencer Davis
Students explore the C-SPAN bus, parked outside of Main. The program highlighted America’s First Ladies, as well as informed Vassar students about C-SPAN as a valuable news outlet. Photo By: Spencer Davis
Students explore the C-SPAN bus, parked outside of Main. The program highlighted America’s
First Ladies, as well as informed Vassar students about C-SPAN as a valuable news outlet. Photo By: Spencer Davis

On Friday, September 13, the C-SPAN bus visited Vassar College. A traveling, interactive, informative bus program, the C-SPAN bus parked on Main Drive with the hope of opening up dialogue with community members and educating them about both historical topics and the functions and resources C-SPAN has to offer in general.

Founded in 1979 as a nonprofit American cable television network, C-SPAN has grown into a full-functioning history and news source that has been committed to fostering a more politically mindful public. The bus featured impressive technological resources like smart boards and touch screens that showcased C-SPAN’s relevance today.

This was repeated by member of political organization, Democracy Matters, Sophie Gonsalves-Brown ’16. As she said, “I was surprised at how technologically advanced the bus was.  It was very interactive, and there were a variety of televisions and touch screens providing both information and quizzes.”

Every year, the bus takes on a new theme that focuses on different historical figures or moments. This year’s theme is “The First Ladies”. Both the bus and C-SPAN in general are highlighting the lives and political influences that these women have had on the US. According to C-SPAN, the bus is visiting colleges and other institutions that are in some way relevant to one of the first ladies. Given Vassar’s connection and close proximity to the Eleanor Roosevelt Historical Site, it was a clear choice for the “First Ladies” program.

According to the C-SPAN bus’s website, the “First Ladies” project is a new feature in the program that is being produced across several media. As the website reads, “This project is the first of its kind — a comprehensive biography series on all of the First Ladies produced for television.” Those who missed the C-SPAN bus at Vassar can access the same information on C-SPAN’s website.

A representative for the C-SPAN bus who preferred to go unnamed echoed the excitement felt about this “First Ladies” project and spoke to the in-depth process through which the organization created the project. He said, “The program we are doing is unique because it focuses on the goals and influences on American culture and politics that each first lady has had. They are all given equal attention. There has not in the past been an in-depth series done on the first ladies. We’ve talked to authors, historians, and every historical source we could in order to put this together.”

Though the emphasis of the C-SPAN bus was on the specific “First Ladies” project, the bus also aimed to educate the Vassar community about the resources that C-SPAN offers as a comprehensive news source. As the same C-SPAN bus representative said, “C-SPAN provides live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the US House of Representatives. It offers a wide variety of public affairs programming, including congressional hearings, international coverage, and C-SPAN interviews.”

The C-SPAN staff argued for the kind of nonpartisan coverage of news that is sometimes difficult to find today. While many news sources betray obvious biases, C-SPAN makes the claim that they offer unbiased long-form news that leaves people to form their own opinions based on the facts. As the same unnamed representative argued, ““We are a totally non-partisan news source. We don’t edit and we don’t comment.”

Gonsalves-Brown echoed this sentiment, championing C-SPAN as an effective tool in politics. Speaking in relation to her organization, she said, “Democracy Matters was founded as an organization with a goal of working towards getting money out of politics and reforming elections to be about the interests of the people, not of corporations. Transparency, especially with regard to campaign finance, is a big part of this. C-SPAN has succeeded in bringing some transparency to the realm of formal Legislative action.”

Speaking in regards to transparency, the C-SPAN bus claimed that there is a growing desire today for people to have news, unfiltered. It separated itself from other news sources by  stating that they satisfy that desire. One C-SPAN bus representative spoke of the value of being able to turn on the TV and immediately be transported into Congress, to see deliberations firsthand, and to be able to form one’s own ideas for oneself.

Re-emphasizing the value of C-SPAN as a news source, Gonsalves-Brown continued. “C-SPAN is such a valuable resource for civic-minded people because it provides transparency about the inner workings of Congress.”

She continued, “For those with interest in American history or politics, it can be an uniquely unbiased source of information about the day-to-day workings of the government, as the live-stream of coverage it provides leaves no room for the editorializing and conscious framing of facts that define mainstream news.”

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