2010 Debating for Democracy National Conference

Volume 6, D4D Issue – May 2010

The Periclean Progress is a publication of Project Pericles, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include education for social responsibility and participatory citizenship as an essential part of their educational programs, in the classroom, on the campus, and in the community.

Project Pericles Hosts 2010 D4D National Conference: On April 8 and 9, 60 student leaders from 26 Periclean colleges and universities joined practitioners, activists, and experts in civic engagement for a conference that was hailed as "a great occasion" by the president of a major foundation. Hosted by Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New York, the conference provided a forum for students and practitioners to collaborate, discuss, and debate our society's most pressing public policy issues, including the collapse of the newspaper industry and its impact on democracy, the failure of schools to educate lower-income students, and environmental degradation. Throughout the conference, students were given advice on how to take concrete steps on the social causes they support, and return to their campus and advance civic engagement in higher education. The students were enthusiastically welcomed to New York by Jan R. Liss, Executive Director, Eugene M. Lang, Founder and Chair of Project Pericles, and Neil Gordon, Dean of Eugene Lang College.

The Road from Student to Social Activist: To kick off the conference, students were treated to a panel of leading social activists who shared their journeys -- some circuitous, some direct -- from their undergraduate days to their current civically-focused occupations. Following the panel, students met in small groups with the panelists to discuss their ideas for addressing the social issues that matter most to them. Project Pericles thanks our panelists and workshop leaders for sharing their expertise with students: Christopher Kush, CEO of Soapbox Consulting; Susan M. Liss, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; Mandara Meyers, National Director of Programs at the Center for Progressive Leadership; and Beth Coleman, a 2009 graduate of Berea College and leader of the team that won the 2008 D4D Legislative Hearing competition. The panelists all have spent a significant part of their careers helping people learn, express, act, and, most importantly, influence the key people in our society who make decisions on critical public policy issues.

During the workshops, the students met with Christopher Kush, Mandara Meyers, Beth Coleman, and Mimi Marziani, counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, to practice developing strategies for social action and to give each other feedback. In Mandara Meyers' workshop, students were given the opportunity to deepen the understanding of their values and practice communicating and framing their issues from their values. In Christopher Kush's workshop, students learned how to write a formal and "heartfelt" letter to an elected official. In discussing their experience in the workshops, one student commented, "I loved the group workshops because they gave us a chance to pick [the panelists'] brains, and they were extremely motivating."

Addressing the Education Achievement Gap in America: Students listened raptly as three education specialists discussed, and occasionally disagreed about, how to close the education achievement gap in the United States. Michael S. McPherson, President of the Spencer Foundation and author of several books on college access, discussed the findings from his 2009 book "Crossing the Finish Line," sharing that minority students have markedly lower graduation rates-and take longer to earn degrees-even taking variables such as income into account. Seth Andrew, Founder and Head of School of Democracy Prep Charter School, captivated the audience with his detailed account of founding a successful charter school in Harlem that prepares students for active citizenship - a school whose students' state test scores compare favorably with those from the most affluent districts in New York. Danielle Moss Lee, President and CEO of the Harlem Education Activities Fund, presented a different, non-charter model that her organization uses to help lower-income students attend college at rates far above their peers in the surrounding community. The panelists and audience members engaged in a vigorous debate on public schools and charter schools. Seth Andrew advocates for New York State to increase the number of charter schools so that more people will have access to successful charter schools, but Danielle Moss Lee argued that charter schools are not a cure-all and reminded the audience that many charter schools perform worse than public schools. The students praised the panelists for sharing "their insights and real, applicable knowledge." Our thanks to Leo Lambert, President of Elon University, for moderating the panel.

D4D Legislative Hearing - Students Present Their Public Policy Solutions:
A conference highlight, the "D4D Legislative Hearing," gave students a forum to articulate their solutions to some of today's most important public policy issues. The students presented original letters written to Members of Congress to a "legislative committee" consisting of former U.S. Senators Bob Kerrey and Harris Wofford. (Former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, slated to be the third legislator, was unable to attend when her flight was canceled due to bad weather. However, her questions and suggestions for the students were presented during the hearing.) The six teams who participated in the legislative hearing were selected by a panel of judges from a pool of 63 letters from 26 Periclean colleges and universities.

(L-R) Former U.S. Senators Harris Wofford and Bob Kerrey, Jan Liss, Executive Director, and Eugene Lang, Founder and Chair of Project Pericles, congratulate the Berea College team of Matthew Callo, Amber Stanton, and Charles Badger, winners of the 2010 Debating for Democracy Legislative Hearing competition.

The six finalist teams were:

Berea College, "The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (HR 3204): Establishing Community Development Organizations in Economically Disadvantaged Urban Areas to Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-AL)"
Presented by Charles Badger, Matthew Callo, and Amber Stanton

This letter supports the passage of House Resolution 3204, which authorizes states and localities receiving assistance for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes to use those funds to renovate housing in their communities in need of repair, rather than sending the funds to the Treasury for debt reduction. The author lives in a community receiving this assistance.

Carleton College, "A Letter in Support of a Holistic Federal Surface Transportation Bill to Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)"
Presented by Dan Levy, Logan Nash, and Charlotte Turovsky

This letter outlines the authors' vision for improving federal surface transportation policy, especially providing more funding for environmentally-friendly public transit and light rail.

Chatham University, "A Letter Concerning Childcare Subsidies to Congressman Michael Doyle (D-PA)"
Presented by Jillian Myers, Amber Phillips, and Laura Reigle

This letter supports transferring the oversight of funding for childcare subsidies from the states to the federal government, in order to ensure that working parents continue to receive these subsidies.

Earlham College, "A Letter in Support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2009 to Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN)"
Presented by Conor Hall, Mary Jones, and Hannah Hale Leifheit

This letter urges passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2009, which would prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Elon University, "A Letter in Support of the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act to Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)"
Presented by Erin Mellett, Zachary Power, and Collin Watson

This letter supports the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act, which provides funding for the development and use of small modular nuclear reactors, a transportable form of nuclear power.

Swarthmore College, "A Letter in Support of the DREAM Act to Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA)"
Presented by Jovanna Hernandez, Katherine Lam, and Kimberly St. Julian

This letter urges Senator Specter to reintroduce the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented children of immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least four years and who graduate from high school to pay in-state tuition at a state college. The author has a sister who would qualify for this program.

Audience members were struck by students' poise and detailed knowledge as they responded to the Legislative Committee's challenging questions. One student commented that the "legislative hearings were the most valuable part of the conference because it gave each student the opportunity to evaluate the winning letters" and "to gain tips about how to draft a concise and effective letter." Congratulations to the winning team from Berea College! The Berea team will receive a $3,000 award to fund advocacy and education activities, including lobbying trips and education workshops, related to the issue presented in their letter. During the hearing, the Berea team discussed how their proposal to finance the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes would help revitalize the team leader's hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Amber Stanton, the team's leader, said that "the legislative hearing not only allowed me to advocate for my community, but also taught me the formalities of advocacy. I look forward to using the funding to lobby and help rebuild neglected low-income communities." The other five finalist teams will each receive $500 to fund advocacy and education activities related to their issue. Sincere thanks to Senators Kassebaum Baker, Kerrey, and Wofford for providing our students with such an incredible opportunity.

Day One of Conference Ends on a High Note: The conference's first day was capped off with a celebratory dinner for over 120 special guests, including students, Periclean Presidents, faculty, Project Pericles Board members and Project Pericles Advisory Board members. The gathering listened as Lourdes Rosado, Swarthmore College graduate and Associate Director of Philadelphia's Juvenile Law Center, and the Philadelphia Inquirer's 2009 "Citizen of the Year," delivered a keynote speech detailing her effort to have the convictions of approximately 6,500 juveniles vacated after it was alleged that two Luzerne County judges had received over $1.3 million each in kickbacks from a privately run juvenile detention center. Project Pericles was also proud to present Leo M. Lambert, the President of Elon University, with the 2010 Periclean Service Award in recognition of his nine years of leadership service to Project Pericles variously as the President of a founding Periclean University, a member of our Board of Directors, and inaugural Chair of our Presidents' Council. The award was presented to President Lambert by Eugene M. Lang.

Four Social Entrepreneurs Who Turned Their Ideas Into Reality: How can a student turn his/her social action idea into a successful organization? To kick off day two of the conference, four highly accomplished social entrepreneurs shared their experiences starting non-profits, discussing the source of their inspiration and the challenges and rewards that they encountered along the way. Many thanks to our panelists: Adam Green, Founder and Executive Director of Rocking the Boat; Rebecca Onie, Founder and CEO of Project HEALTH; David del Ser, Founder of Frogtek; and Dorothy Stoneman, Founder and President of YouthBuild USA. During the panel discussion, David del Ser told students how his travels in Latin America convinced him to start a company that creates cellphone software for shopkeepers in Columbia that helps them better manage their inventory and improve their profits. David del Ser and the other panelists urged students to travel to different parts of the world so that they can better understand the poverty that impacts people around the globe. During the workshops that followed the panel, students had a chance to hear more about the panelists and get constructive advice on starting a non-profit. Students in Adam Green's workshop said that they appreciated his "real world advice" and said that his comments were very helpful for their stage of social entrepreneurship. Reflecting on her interactions with these social entrepreneurs, one student commented that "the most valuable part of the conference was learning how many of these amazing projects, which seem like huge ideas, got their beginnings. By seeing how naturally these projects started, it was easier for me to see how we can bring the tools we developed back to our campuses."

Does the Current State of Journalism Threaten Our Democracy? During the conference's final panel, three professional journalists addressed the major threats to the field of journalism, and the related negative consequences for our democracy. We thank our panelists: Lisa Anderson, an Encore Fellow at the Columbia Journalism Review and the former bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune; Susan Robinson King, Vice President, External Affairs and Program Director, Journalism Initiative, Special Initiatives and Strategy, at the Carnegie Corporation of New York; and Maria Hinojosa, President of The Futuro Media Group and host of NPR's Latino USA; and moderator Grant Cornwell, President of The College of Wooster, our newest Periclean. During a key moment in the session, Maria Hinojosa asserted that one reason profits are failing for television news networks like CNN is because they "don't cater to Hispanics," the fastest growing demographic in the United States. At the end of the session, a student asked the panel if blogs were a possible replacement for newspapers. Lisa Anderson argued that blogs can't replace newspapers because blogs "don't have to be fact-checked before they are published." All three of the panelists agreed that blogs supplement newspapers, but are not a solution for the current crisis impacting newspapers. Possible solutions to these concerns were discussed, including government funding and university-based news gathering. One student cited the journalism and democracy panel as "exactly the kind of conversation we should be having about democracy."

Youth and Commitment: A Truly Renewable Energy Source: The conference concluded with a lunchtime keynote, "On Youth and Commitment: The Only Truly Renewable Energy Source" delivered by Peter Harnik, Director of the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land. Students were regaled with tales that spanned the history of the modern environmental movement, including a first-hand account of the launch of Earth Day.

Final Thoughts: When asked to sum up her thoughts about the conference, a student from Earlham College said, "It was very beneficial, educational, and inspiring to speak to and get to know people like Harris Wofford, Eugene Lang, and many, many others, as well as my peers who are involved in such wonderful ways." A foundation officer noted, "D4D is an impressive program that gets at the heart of liberal education, and the conference was a genuine pleasure."

Project Pericles thanks the many people who helped us make this conference such a success. We especially want to thank the students, who exhibited an infectious enthusiasm throughout the conference; the Program Directors, who advised and supported their students over the year; the Eugene M. Lang Foundation for providing the financial support to make the conference a reality; and Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts and its Dean, Neil Gordon, and Project Pericles Program Director, Ella Turenne, for hosting the conference.



The Periclean Progress is issued each month during the academic year and is posted on the Project Pericles website.

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Periclean Colleges & Universities
Allegheny College • Bates College • Berea College • Bethune-Cookman University
Carleton College • Chatham University • Dillard University • Drew University
Earlham College • Elon University • Hampshire College • Hendrix College
Macalester College • New England College • The New School • Occidental College
Pace University • Pitzer College • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute • Rhodes College
St. Mary's College of Maryland • Spelman College • Swarthmore College
Ursinus College • Wagner College • Widener University • The College of Wooster

National Office
Executive Director: Jan R. Liss

Board of Directors
Chair: Eugene M. Lang

Presidents' Council
Chair: Brian Rosenberg, Macalester College

National Board of Advisors
Co-Chairs: Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker & Hon. Kurt L. Schmoke

The title "Project Pericles ®," and its embodiment in the Logo, are registered service marks of Project Pericles, Inc. All rights reserved.