Students Examine Government Regulations

Megan McDonie ‘13 (left) and Katie Sutton ‘13 debate the pros and cons of food regulation.

Regulating Bodies: Food, Sex, Drugs and the Economy, a course taught by Professor of Anthropology Shari Jacobson, does what so many classes aim to accomplish— break down students’ preconceived notions and put their newfound knowledge into action. In the case of Regulating Bodies, students learn about, then debate, the pros and cons of government regulations.

“Government is the only institution to regulate impartially,” stated Megan McDonie ’13 during one such debate, held in the meeting rooms of the Charles B. Degenstein Campus Center last fall.

Students tackled whether or not government regulation of food, sex, drugs and the economy is necessary for society. During the debate on food regulation, proponents claimed it was essential and gaining efficiency thanks to President Barack Obama’s changes to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Opponents asserted that government regulation is unneeded and harmful to industry and consumers. They portrayed the interference as paternalistic and suggested that the government can misidentify what’s good for society.

The affirmative side debating the regulation of sex argued for the effectiveness of government regulation, especially in combating sexual slavery and assault, while the negative team echoed sentiments from the prior debate about paternalism. They asserted that sexual morality is contingent upon cultural mores, and therefore, regulation often leads to a “tyranny of the majority.”

Harry Strine, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Communications, judged the negative side as winners of the food debate. For the debate on regulation of sex, Michael Smyth, assistant professor of sociology and director of the Arlin M. Adams Center for Law and Society, decided in favor of the affirmative side. The debates on regulation of the economy and drugs ended in affirmative victories.

While the students challenged each other in debate, the course challenged each student’s preconceptions. To do so, it drew from various disciplines, such as political philosophy, anthropology and literature.

“People complain that we have too much interference in our lives from our government, but they have little knowledge of what a lot of government interference actually looks like,” Jacobson says. “Similarly, they don’t really know what it is like to live in a state where the government does nothing.”

“I don’t think that it is possible for me to express or explain everything that I have learned in this class,” says Lauren Van Derzee ’12. “The class was cumulative and allowed us to look at our government in a different way, which I found fascinating.”

“I think we have all arrived at a more robust understanding of how complex our society is and the myriad challenges that government regulation both faces and has the potential to resolve,” Jacobson adds. “It should appeal to anyone who takes his or her citizenship seriously.”

Contributing writers to People & Places are Audrey Carroll ‘12, Megan McDermott ‘14 and Karen Jones, assistant director of media relations


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