We asked David Luchs ’16 to tell us about his experience at the 67th Annual Student Conference on US Affairs (SCUSA).
I recently had the privilege of attending the 67th annual SCUSA conference, titled “Confronting Inequality: Wealth, Rights, and Power”. Held annually by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. This four-day conference brings military cadets and civilian students together in a series of round tables intended to facilitate discussion on the challenges facing the United States. My round table – “Common Defense, Disjointed Security: Exploring European Threat, Defense Policy, and Capacity Inequalities” was charged with drafting a policy paper outlining potential U.S. responses to security imbalances in Europe.
We focused on the different realities of security in Western Europe, where nations like France are only begrudgingly halting the sale of arms and material to Russia, but are deeply concerned with the challenges posed by the refugee crisis, and in Eastern Europe, where countries like Latvia are seeing officially-sanctioned distribution of Russian invasion survival guides. Given the deep institutional ties between these regions through organizations such as NATO and the EU, these differing realities are as crucial as they are difficult, to address. Guided by our co-chairs – a history professor and an ambassador – and a special visit to our table from keynote speaker Madeleine Albright, we spent four days in discussion and debate over the problems facing Europe and their solutions.
Perhaps the most unique part of the SCUSA conference was the opportunity to spend four days living in the barracks alongside West Point cadets. Using communal showers was definitely a step out of my comfort zone, and sleeping on an army cot did not make for a restful conference, but seeing what cadet life is like firsthand was absolutely worth it! Although I had heard that the popular image of West Point as an austere place full of serious and strict people was exaggerated, I was still left surprised by the extremely warm welcome we received as SCUSA delegates. The cadets were just as friendly and relaxed as students at a civilian institution, and even those who had nothing to do with the conference (which, it bears mentioning, was entirely cadet-run) were always happy to assist us in any way.
Moreover, West Point’s location in the Hudson River Valley and bold, cathedral-style architecture were a (sometimes welcome!) distraction from the rhythm of drafting and redrafting that occupied so much of our time. However, we also had the chance to take in a slice of life at West Point, with social mixers, a campus tour, and even an athletics and weapons demonstration! That’s not to say that everything was loose and casual – since West Point is a military facility, we needed to be accompanied by uniformed cadets at all times, and the conference dress code was both formal and rigorously adhered to. SCUSA was both an exciting chance to discuss major events and an opportunity to make friends in the civilian and military worlds.