UPDATE: In a July 13 column he wrote for The Fresno Bee, Dr. Bradley Hart, a professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department, expanded upon his views on the United Kingdom’s recent “Brexit” vote. You can read Hart’s Fresno Bee column here:

Fresno State students learn lessons from Brexit

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Here is our original article, from June 30: It is an amazing opportunity for students when “field trips” coincide with history in the making.

Dr. Bradley Hart, a professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department, directed this summer’s Study Abroad in London program, just ahead of the United Kingdom’s historic referendum on June 24 on whether or not to retain membership in the European Union.

The results of that vote – to leave – caught many off guard.

The Study Abroad in London program is a three-week course that exposes Fresno State students to British culture, politics and society. It includes field trips around London and surrounding areas, along with classroom instruction and coursework. It has been running in some incarnation for about 30 years.

This summer’s group of 14 students and Hart were there to study Britain’s changing role in the world (areas of study can vary, depending on who is leading the group). Classroom lectures were an overview of British history, with special reference to the sites the group would visit, combined with cultural aspects of British identity – art, theater, etc.

Paul Schlesinger, 25, took part in the trip. This was the first trip to the United Kingdom for Schlesinger, who is specializing in multimedia with the MCJ Department. He knew about the impassioned campaigns on both sides of the issue and he understood the implications of a vote to leave the European Union.

While in London, the Fresno State students had an opportunity to hear from guest lecturer Dr. Richard Carr, of the Anglia Ruskin University.

“Dr. Carr talked about the possible political implications of Brexit,” Schlesinger said, “and also talked about what could possibly happen to Northern Ireland and Scotland – both countries that strongly support staying in the EU.”

IMG_7537We caught up with Hart, who is still in the United Kingdom, working on research for his next book. Why should we, in the Fresno community and the broader U.S., care about this vote? What does it mean for us?

Hart: “This vote has already had a major impact on the broader world economy, namely through eroding the value of the pound and driving down stock markets worldwide, which affects everyone to some extent.”

“It also has particular impact in the Central Valley because of the agricultural sector. Britain and Europe are major importers of agricultural products from the Valley. A weakening pound could easily erode the buying power of British consumers and therefore lead to a decline in the quantity of products being purchased here, meaning that the companies producing those products will also be hurt. … The consequences of this vote could have a very real economic impact in the Central Valley.”

Hart said it’s too soon to know if this vote will result in a break-up of the EU.

“If Britain does exit [the European Union], it would almost certainly mean that other countries will try to do so as well, but that’s a long way off,” Hart said. “The referendum is only the first step. The decision now has to be ratified by Parliament, which is in political disarray now.”

“This will play out over the next several years at a minimum, so there could be all sorts of unexpected twists and turns along the way. The economic impact will be felt much more quickly.”

Hart offered some thoughts on how he has seen those around him react since the June 24 vote:

“I have observed that many people here are deeply concerned about the effects this vote might have on the British economy and on world economic conditions generally. Some who voted to leave appear to now regret that, thinking that their vote was a protest against the political establishment rather than anything binding, or they assumed that the Remain vote would win at the end of the day and that their vote would not count.

“Young people seem particularly concerned because this may well affect their ability to live and work in Europe, which many had taken for granted. The moral of the story, perhaps, is the old adage that every vote does count!”

Schlesinger said that after experiencing relics of the history of civilization at the British Museum, enjoying theater productions in London’s West End and tasting the culture through traditional meat pies and British Indian food, he has fallen in love with London.

And being there just prior to such a critical moment in the nation’s current history, Schlesinger now feels a personal tie to this nation across the Atlantic. He even sees a connection to events occurring here, in this presidential year.

“We saw a rise in populist feelings over the Brexit vote, which has been happening all over the world and the U.S.” he said. “These feelings have been more nationalist and anti-globalization as citizens have been feeling short-changed over the policies of the last 20-plus years. This vote could have a big impact on who gets into the White House this year.”

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, lboyles@csufresno.edu