Guest Column: Exploring and Engaging With Democracy

U-M Professor Angela Dillard provides details on the Democracy & Debate theme semester.
By Angela D. Dillard

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On June 23, the University announced it would no longer host the second of three presidential debates due to the pandemic. However, many members of the U-M community will provide engagement opportunities on campus and beyond with the Democracy & Debate theme semester. U-M Professor Angela Dillard (at right in photo) provides details.

The Democracy & Debate semester includes more than 100 courses across the University as well as events and public initiatives. It provides a forum for exploration and discussion on a range of 2020 election issues, from structural racism and immigration to climate change and voting rights. Nearly every school and college has participated, and, thanks to Michigan Online, broader audiences like members of the Alumni Association can take part in an array of virtual events.

Themed semesters have long been at the forefront of efforts to unite classroom instruction with associated academic events and public engagement opportunities. LSA has been home to dozens of such semesters, tackling themes like sports, race, language and translation, the significance of China, the Great Lakes, and the University’s bicentennial.

A cross-campus academic advisory committee and a larger core team have done much of the planning. Beyond the schools and colleges, the core team — led by Ford School of Public Policy
Dean Michael Barr and Vice President for Government Relations Cynthia Wilbanks — includes representatives from the Center for Academic Innovation, the Ginsberg Center, and other
Student Life units as well as facilities, marketing, and communications staff.

Visit the Democracy & Debate website, speakactvote.umich.edu, to learn more about the following events and future events and take part in the theme semester:

We Hold These Truths: Living Up to Our Declaration

Recorded on July 3, this discussion between Danielle Allen, a political science professor at Harvard University, and Lynette Clemetson, director of U-M’s Wallace House, is part of the Democracy Café initiative. The initiative provides resources for the U-M community to organize conversations in public spaces and cyberspaces around topics in this year’s presidential election. Each discussion includes a toolkit of documents and texts, supplemental resources, and activities.

Covering the Campaign: A Conversation With National Political Reporters

Paula Lantz, associate dean of the Ford School of Public Policy, will moderate an online conversation on Oct. 12 at 11:30 a.m. ET between senior reporters Jane Coaston, ’09, of Vox and Daniel Strauss, ’10, of The Guardian. The panelists will discuss the key political and policy issues at play in the upcoming presidential election.

Democracy and Debate/Decision 2020: Dialogues in Democracy

This recently launched feature from Michigan Publishing includes Reading the 2020 Presidential Election, an interdisciplinary collection of 25 books that explore the core tensions in American political culture. The collection highlights podcast interviews with authors, faculty and author profiles, videos, and images. All titles are free through December 2020 as part of the University of Michigan Press Ebook Collection on the Fulcrum platform.


Angela D. Dillard is a professor of Afroamerican & African Studies and chair of the Democracy & Debate Academic Advisory Committee.

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