Blog post by: Sam Angell
For more than a decade, Dr. Sunil Dasgupta has been ready to have a chat. The Program Director for Political Science at UMBC-Shady Grove, Dr. Dasgupta started a program he titled Wednesday Wipeouts back in 2010, and has held an informal weekly gathering of members of the Shady Grove community ever since.
“The point of this from the beginning was that we were going to come together and provide a venue where people could feel free to discuss what was on their mind,” recalls Dasgupta after a recent Wipeout session. “That was the purpose in 2010, and that remains the purpose today. There isn’t another regular and open forum for students, staff, faculty, and even community members to gather on campus.”
The free-flowing conversations are billed as a current events open forum, where students and faculty members can drop formalities and share opinions, rationales, and observations about the political world around them. The discussions, which moved to a virtual format along with the rest of UMBC-Shady Grove back in March, drew particular interest during the fall election cycle, but the conversation can reach well beyond the headlines of a presidential election.
“What we discuss depends on who is there and who is participating,” said Dasgupta, who shares leadership roles in the group with History Program Director Dr. Andrew Nolan and Political Science professor Dr. Candace Groudine. “We’ve now gone through three administrations and three presidential election cycles bringing together opinions, calming anxieties, and looking forward to what’s coming next. But we have no set agenda.”
Open to any student, faculty, or staff member within the Universities at Shady Grove, Wednesday Wipeout sessions are held at noon on titular Wednesdays, running until 1 p.m. Dasgupta may be the organizer of the event, but he says he never has to prod the conversations in any particular direction. His only introductory speech as the participants log on is an inquisitive “What’s on your mind?” Things take off from there.
During one recent session, student participants joined the virtual roundtable with a goal of brainstorming events that the student council could run to promote engagement in the pandemic-necessitated remote learning environment. What started as a straightforward exchange of ideas led to an offhand mention of Dr. Dasgupta’s upcoming dental appointment, which segued into a lengthy aside about politicians who were also practicing medical doctors.
Later, the group turned its attention to the recent controversy surrounding GameStop stock trading. One student opened up about his experience as a casual day trader. That led not only to chatter about stock trading tactics and strategies, but also prompted one participant to mention the role of hedge fund manager and majority owner of the New York Mets, Steven Cohen. A brief foray into the dubious history of the Mets organization quickly ensued.
Some conversations are more serious and structured than others. Occasionally, Dr. Dasgupta or his fellow organizers will bring in a guest speaker to talk about career choices or to share life experiences. Generally, the rule is if someone shows up, they get to pick the topic.
“I have committed to being there every Wednesday at noon,” Dasgupta explained. “Sometimes we have a large group and sometimes, it’s just me and a couple of faculty members. If I can’t be here, Dr. Nolan or Dr. Groudine are. And on the rare occasion when there was no faculty member present, students have self-organized. When that happens, that’s the best. There’s never a shortage of discussion.”
To join the conversation, click here on Wednesdays at noon.