Students Get West Point Experience, For a Weekend

Skipping out on half a week of classes, four undergraduates traveled to West Point, N.Y. last week to rub elbows with top military brass and discuss United States foreign policy with college students from around the world—and still managed to make Saturday’s Harvard-Yale game.

The two juniors and two seniors who attended the four-day Student Conference for United States Affairs (SCUSA) were selected through an open application process run by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Delegates at the event, who came from 116 colleges and 27 countries, lived with cadets and participated in discussion groups with regional or thematic foci, such as “Homeland Security” and “Democratization.” By the end of the conference, groups developed foreign policy recommendations for their specific topics.

Students and administrators involved in the conference said that the discussions were especially compelling in light of the current state of world affairs.

“The US is engaged in warfare—it raises the energy level a bit,” said Col. Russell Howard, head of the Social Sciences Department at United States Military Academy and a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government.

In addition to the structured activities of the conference, delegates identified the opportunity for civilian students to interact with cadets as an invaluable experience.

Students who had previously had little contact with military personnel said they found many of their preconceptions were incorrect, especially with regard to cadets’ political affiliations.

“One might assume the cadets at West Point are uniformly conservative, are behind the President and would vote behind the President,” Christine A. Telyan ’04 said, recalling an especially compelling conversation with a cadet who supports General Wesley Clark in the 2004 presidential election. “There’s a grand mythology...just kind of aligning the military with the right.”

Students were especially impressed with the rigorous lifestyle of cadets, who are held to high standards in the military and physical spheres in addition to the academic one.

“They put us all to shame,” Francisco Aguilar ’05 said. “Harvard kids think they’re so great, but they wouldn’t last a day at West Point.”

—Staff writer Jannie S. Tsuei can be reached at tsuei@fas.harvard.edu.