Student Spotlight: To Save Democracy, You Need to Understand It First

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Shreyas Adicherla: ‘I plan to use the knowledge that I have learned in the Democracy Lab to approach issues surrounding democracy with more insight.’ Photo by Steven Rallens

It’s a question asked on just about every political media outlet since Jan. 6, 2021: Can American democracy be saved?

"I think that understanding democracy is more important than saving it,” said Shreyas Adicherla, a government and international politics student. “Saving democracy at the least would require one to understand the dynamics of it, which people massively misconstrue.”

In that case, Adicherla is in the right place: The freshman Schar School student from Little Rock, Ark., is one of the inaugural members of the Schar School’s Democracy Lab, a tight-knit community of first-year students who live together, study together, attended special speaker presentations, share field trips to Washington, D.C.’s institutions, and perform tandem research projects.

“Learning communities” such as the Democracy Lab allows students “to immediately have a network of peers and friends with common interests that can help them to feel a greater source of community,” said Peter Mandaville, Democracy Lab’s founding faculty director. “In some aspects, it makes a large university have the feel of a small liberal arts college.”

So far, the promises of Democracy Lab have lived up to expectations, Adicherla said.

“Learning Communities allow students to make meaningful relationships while having an invaluable learning experience,” he said. “I made a lot of new friends, and we hang out, whether it’s impromptu trips to Washington, [historic] Eastern Market [shopping center], or day trips to the Shenandoah Mountains.

“I thought adjusting to college would be pretty difficult, but George Mason has made it really easy…All the professors are incredible and easy to work with and talk to, especially in the Schar School,” he said. ”The Democracy Lab has allowed me to meet professors and have one-on-one discussions and thoroughly analyze topics that one wouldn't talk about elsewhere. When I was looking into universities, other schools didn't have the opportunities Mason offered, the Democracy Lab being one of them.

“I've only been here for a semester and a half, and I feel like I've grown as a person.”

As for “saving democracy,” what he’s learning now will enhance whatever contribution he makes.

"I plan to use the knowledge that I have learned in the Democracy Lab to approach issues surrounding democracy with more insight,” he said. “Democracy means ‘the will of the people’ and uplifting people who can't access the foundations of democracy—that would be the only way to save it."

Adicherla, who excelled at Little Rock Central High, chose Mason for its location near Washington—and it didn’t hurt that he was awarded a Schar Scholars scholarship.

“I'm extremely grateful,” he said of the scholarship, adding that the funding “is one of the biggest reasons I came to Mason. It's nice to be recognized for the work I put into high school. I took an obscene amount of AP classes, and it paid off.”