By Andy Devine, Contributing Writer
As October drew to a close UMF history professor Michael Schoeppner concluded this fall’s Public Classroom Series with his talk, “Moral Contagion,” understood as an effort, or act, to exclude groups of people from a population who possess opposing ideas to that of the population. Schoeppner, first introduced to the idea of moral contagion during his time in graduate school, has since made it the topic of his first book, expected to be released soon through Oxford University Press.
Schoeppner stated in his presentation that he was intellectually drawn to the idea of moral contagion based on his experience moving around the country nearly twenty times before starting graduate school. Simply being from a different state than all of his other classmates, and the recognition of it from these classmates, throughout grade-school put him in the position of feeling different.
The presentation covered moral contagion’s appearance throughout U.S. history, including views on free people of color prior to the prohibition of slavery, Chinese immigrants prior to 1900 and Eastern European immigrants throughout the 1900s.
“The logic of moral contagion spans all of American history, it doesn’t really go away,” said Schoeppner after the presentation. “It takes on different characterizations, it’s used in different context, but the idea of painting outsiders as dangerous has not disappeared from our political discourse.”
President Katherine Foster was in attendance, and weighed in following the talk. “The topic was timely and, even though the speaker did not talk about contemporary times, it was clear that the implications of what he was saying was so telling, so important for contemporary issues.”
Recent headlines may prove them right as just two days prior to the presentation, the front page of the New York Times hosted an article with the headline, ‘They Took In One Refugee Family, But Families Don’t Have Borders,’ in reference to the contemporary issue of the United States allowing temporary to full residence and citizenship to refugees fleeing from Syria and the ongoing civil war taking place there. Many U.S. citizens have opposed Syrian migrants seeking refuge in the United States. Furthermore, a number of state governors, including Maine’s own Gov. Paul LePage, have stated an opposition to taking in Syrian refugees.
This topic also comes into current events is immigration into the United States from our southern neighbor, Mexico. One of the main political positions of the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is for the United States to build a wall strengthening the separation between the United States and Mexico. More specifically, on Trump’s campaign website, under “Immigration” in the “Positions” tab, the first bullet in his ten-point plan states, “1. Begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one. Mexico will pay for the wall.”
While moral contagion is discernable at a low level such as classmates identifying a new student as from a different state, it is also present in larger scale actions, such as building a wall to keep out immigrants from another country. Schoeppner hopes for anyone introduced to the idea of moral contagion to research it on their own and find how it affects peoples all around the world.