We the people: An election series
This fall, the University of Dayton School of Law and the Human Rights Center hosted political experts and officeholders as they discussed all things related to civic engagement and democracy. The 2020 Election Speaker Series began in mid-September and ended a week before Election Day.
Over the course of eight virtual sessions, everything from voter participation to race and gender to final thoughts before Election Day were discussed by speakers and panelists. Attendees helped guide the conversations by submitting questions in real time.
“I think [the series is] very much a reflection of the mission of the University to not only give people that knowledge and access to that knowledge but also make the point that we’re responsible for our own civic engagement and for the impact that our choices have on others,” said Shelley Inglis, executive director of the Human Rights Center and research professor of human rights and law.
Inglis and Adam Todd, associate professor at the School of Law, curated the series.
Some of the keynote speakers included Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Rep. Charles Booker of Kentucky, former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.
“It’s an all-star cast and an invaluable public service that University is providing not only to the UD community but to the broader Dayton community, and I really I think it is of national stature,” said Taft, distinguished research associate at UD.
As a career politician and a current lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Taft helped connect many of his UD colleagues to officeholders who participated in the series. Given his experience as former Ohio secretary of state and chief elections officer, he also moderated a session focused on voter suppression and participation.
Brown spoke at the session titled Expectations, Emergent Issues and Breaking News. In Brown’s opening remarks, he noted how he and Taft have been friends for a long time even though they have different political views and affiliations. The two politicians recently teamed up to film a PSA that promoted bipartisanship and encouraged young people to work as poll workers on Election Day.
Inglis emphasized the importance of hearing from a variety of political experts and officeholders with different backgrounds and ideologies, and she and her colleagues kept this in mind while curating the event. The hope was not to offer views on every issue from every standpoint but rather to allow multiple perspectives to be shared on the selected topics.
“The University is a platform that is nonpolitical and where everyone benefits for having diverse perspectives available to them on the issues. It is really important to hear views from many perspectives,” said Inglis. “We made an effort in terms of the political representation … to have different party representatives available.”
Closing keynote speaker Buttigieg, former presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination, discussed the importance of shared spaces, like universities, at this divided moment in the country’s history.
“One of the most important things about universities is that, at their best, they force people into encounters with ideas or people that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Buttigieg said. “The more our circles of belonging that we’re in overlap, the better.”
Student groups and organizations contributed to the diversity of ideas. UDayton Votes, Black Action Through Unity, Commission on Women, Black Law Students Association, Law School Democrats and the Republican Law Society had representatives featured in sessions.
Inglis noted how, at a Catholic, Marianist University, conversations about voting and civic engagement directly correlate to faith and the common good.
“I think the responsibility to be civically engaged in your community is very reflective of an understanding of the common good. My responsibility is not just to myself. It’s to maintain my democracy for others as well,” Inglis said.
“We are responsible for our own democracy in the sense that if we don’t participate in it … if we’re not civically engaged in the democratic process, then we won’t have a democracy, because that’s what democracy depends on — individual citizen engagement, participation and knowledge.”
To watch the recorded sessions or learn more about the 2020 Election Speaker Series, visit the series website.