Miami University’s new virtual event series, “Dialogues Concerning Democracy,” began on Feb. 22 with a lecture on the roots of the Jim Crow era.
The series, sponsored by the Menard Family Center for Democracy, is focused on helping members of the Miami community and beyond learn more about the history of American social and political issues as well as how to discuss these issues with others that may have different beliefs.
John Forren, associate professor and chair of the department of justice and community and the executive director of the Menard Family Center for Democracy, said the institution was created to foster political participation and facilitate important conversation.
“The main focus of the center is to find ways to increase civic and political engagement and understanding in the Miami community,” Forren said. “We sponsor programs and courses to find ways to make people that disagree with each other talk to one another and find common goodwill to help solve community problems.”
The “Dialogues Concerning Democracy” series is one such program, with speakers discussing different civic and political issues each Monday at 7:00 p.m. from Feb. 22 through April 19. It features professors from Columbia and Stanford University, authors and a former chair of the Federal Election Commission.
“Each talk, every week is talking about some issue or some problem we have in contemporary American governments,” Forren said. “It brings experts and thought leaders to campus and lets people interact with them, and helps inform our community and the broader community in southwest Ohio about these issues.”
The first lecture – about Jim Crow – was given by Richard Paschal, a practicing attorney and adjunct professor at Campbell University in North Carolina.
Paschal’s lecture focused on the laws behind Jim Crow in North Carolina and how they were designed to oppress Black people.
“Jim Crow consisted of vagrancy and apprenticeship laws, segregation of institutions and voter disenfranchisement for Black people and American Indians,” Paschal said. “It was a type of slavery but under a different guise.”
Paschal ended the lecture with an open Q&A session, answering queries from some of the 120 people that attended the event. He eventually ended by talking about the importance of recognizing the ugly parts of America’s past.
“We can’t deny our history, or it puts us into a deeper hole and it puts us into the hole that we are in today,” Paschal said. “Race is not an American dilemma, it is the American dilemma, and to not acknowledge what has happened shows a lack or understanding of our history and how we got here.”
First-year Thu Vo is double majoring in political science and psychology. She had to attend the lecture for a class but gained a lot of value from the experience. She described the unique value that the lecture offered to her as a student from Vietnam.
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“I don’t know much about American history or the history of racism, and recently it has become a hot topic even in my country,” Vosaid said. “This was a great opportunity to learn about this topic and to understand why people had to fight for justice the way that they did.”
Vo also felt that it was important to talk about all aspects of America’s history.
“The reason why we should not ignore painful events is because it gives us a full understanding of America, its legacy and its progress,” Vo said. “If we focus less on those problems and ignore the oppression that has been going on, that is like lying to people, a half truth, a pseudo history.”
The series is open to anyone interested in engaging with both past and contemporary issues that are affecting America’s democracy. While the events are virtual, they have very real implications for face-to-face conversations about America’s internal issues.
“Understanding the complex, sometimes difficult history of these issues is crucial,” Forren said.
The Dialogues on Democracy series lecture schedule can be found on the upcoming events page on the Menard Center’s website.