Many of Carleton’s visiting speakers are leaders in fields that intersect directly with civic engagement. Carleton students have a rich opportunity to make vital connections between these speakers’ insights, their civic engagement coursework and collaborations, and their own lives.

We want to support the extraordinary work ACE faculty are already doing to facilitate these connections, and in that spirit we offer these discussion questions around the work of visiting community-engaged speakers. Please let us know if you have any suggestions for how we could make this offering more useful to you and your students!

Sharon Washington Risher (February 12, 2021)

Minister and gun control activist Sharon Washington Risher will deliver a convocation address on Friday, February 12, from 12:30 to 1: 30 p.m.

  1. Gun violence and gun control reforms are topics that are often hard to discuss in the United States. What aspects of U.S. history do you think contribute to this, and where in U.S. history can you identify the prospect of change?
  2. Risher is a reverend, and faith and forgiveness are central to her gun-control advocacy. How do you think these religious underpinnings affect the efficacy of her message, in either positive or negative ways? Generally speaking, does community organizing benefit from a shared identity? Why or why not?
  3. During Attorney-General William Barr’s confirmation, Risher testified: “As a member of the Everytown Survivor Network, I share my story to put a human face on our nation’s gun violence crisis.” Risher’s emphasis on a “human face” points to the importance of engendering empathy in effecting change. What is the role of empathy in activism, and what should it be? Are there any dangers or limits to using empathy as a tool?
  4. In her testimony at Attorney-General William Barr’s confirmation hearing, Risher named the nine individuals who were killed in the Charleston shooting so that her audience would “feel empowered to help bring about change.” How could you personally empower others to become involved in your community and bring about change, and what change would you seek to bring about?
  5. Risher is involved with the organization Everytown for Gun Safety, which describes itself as “a movement of nearly 6 million mayors, teachers, survivors, gun owners, students, and everyday Americans.” What messages does the wording of this statement send to its audiences? What could be its potential benefits and drawbacks?
  6. What did you learn about how Risher’s individual life experience contributed to her academic learning experience, or vice versa?
  7. What skills or capacities does Risher suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  8. What is the desired future that Risher envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Dylan Miner (November 6, 2020)

Artist and art historian Miner will deliver a convocation address on Friday, November 6 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

  1. Miner argues that “when we think about contemporary art, we need to think of it as not always reproducing the dominant way of being in the world.” Do you agree that art either reproduces or counters the dominant way of being in the world? If so, is all art political? Why or why not?
  2. Activism has been extremely visible in the media and communities across the world throughout COVID-19. Existing movements against police brutality and structural racism have found new support and spaces, and new movements have also been created. Has art made similar strides during this time of pandemic, and how does this intersect with activism?
  3. Miner is quoted as saying, “We have to reclaim those small spaces, our stories, and use them to create [a] better and more just world.” What does it mean to reclaim a story, and how could it be used to create a better and more just world? 
  4. Miner is described as “finding a wider audience as he moves from street art and Indigenous cultural centers to art galleries,” and has spoken about wanting to “engage with radical politics … within the confines of the museum or the gallery.” How might working with a museum or gallery change how an artist engages with radical politics? How might viewing an artwork in a gallery as opposed to on the street change how it is perceived, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
  5. Miner is quoted in this article as saying, “A lot of my work is about reclamation and understanding history. It’s not as something in the past … it’s understanding our own situatedness, our own being here in this time and space as integrally connected with history, but also understanding that history is not somehow removed from the future.” What do you think it means for an artist to understand their own situatedness? Do all artists understand this? How do you understand your own situatedness?
  6. What did you learn about how Miner’s individual life experience contributed to his academic learning experience?
  7. What skills or capacities does Miner suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  8. What is the desired future that Miner envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Helen Forsythe (October 30, 2020)

Northfield activist and organizer Helen Forsythe will deliver a convocation address on Friday, October 30 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

  1. Forsythe is one of the founding members of Northfield Curbside Composting, which describes itself as “a locally run collection service with an emphasis on employing young people at living wage standards and empowering them through team decision making and management.” By benefiting both the community and the collective’s employees, this is an example of reciprocal community engagement. What criteria can we use to ensure that our projects are advantageous for both the organizers and the community when it might not always be clear?
  2. In what ways is youth activism unique? Consider what only youth can bring to the table, as well as any potential challenges of working with young people.
  3. Considering the ways in which Forsythe organizes youth activism and community engagement and the ways in which Carleton and its students organize activism and civic engagement, do Carleton students engage with their communities and activism in different ways than non–college students of similar ages? 
  4. Forsythe started this gofundme page with the call to action “Help Minneapolis high school students in Young People’s Action Coalition replace police in our schools with real community alternatives and transform the education system towards racial justice!” The page has raised over $35,000 as of October 1st, 2020 for this cause. What are the advantages and limitations of platforms like gofundme as they apply to community organizing? 
  5. In the age of social media, platforms like this gofundme page Forsythe created have the ability to be shared and to go viral. Are they a supplement or a substitution to traditional fundraising methods for community engagement organizations (or neither)?
  6.  Forsythe is also a member of the Young People’s Action Coalition, which describes itself here as “a democratically run youth organization founded by students in 2013 to build an intersectional (social and environmental justice) youth movement in MN.” What place does intersectionality have in community involvement? What are the pros and cons of simultaneous activism in multiple areas?
  7. What did you learn about how Forsythe’s individual life experience contributed to her academic learning experience?
  8. What skills or capacities does Forsythe suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  9. What is the desired future that Forsythe envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (October 23, 2020)

Grassroots organizer and scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore delivered a convocation address on Friday, October 23.

  1. In this interview, Gilmore explains that “abolition seeks to undo the way of thinking and doing things that sees prison and punishment as solutions for all kinds of social, economic, political, behavioral, and interpersonal problems. Abolition, though, is not simply decarceration—put everybody out on the street—it is reorganizing how we live our lives together in the world.” What is your relationship to the idea that punishment is a solution to social problems? How would we need to reorganize the way we live together in the world to truly dismantle this way of thinking?
  2. In the short documentary about Gilmore’s theories, Geographies of Racial Capitalism, Gilmore argues that “capitalism requires inequality and racism enshrines it.” How do you interpret the phrase “capitalism requires inequality”? Can it be applied to our current government, economy, and society in America? How does racism enshrine capitalism? 
  3. COVID-19 is more prevalent in prison populations than in the general population. In this interview, Gilmore talks about the fact that “America has 1 in 4 prisoners in the world and 1 in 4 cases of COVID-19.” What are the potential implications of these two facts? What does this statistic suggest about the prison system or the systems that govern it?
  4. Critics of Gilmore contend that getting rid of the incarceration system would lead to disorganization. In this video interview, Gilmore addresses this concern, explaining that abolition “requires persistent organizing for what we need, organizing that’s already present in the efforts people cobble together to achieve access to schools, health care and housing, art and meaningful work, and freedom from violence and want.” What is the relationship between organization and disorganization as it is presented here? How do you see it play out in our present and our potential futures?
  5. Gilmore uses the term abolition interchangeably with ending the prison system. In the past, abolition has been used to refer to ending slavery in America. What do you think the significance of this terminology is? How does abolition extend to prisons? How would you define abolition based on Gilmore’s presentation?
  6. What did you learn about how Gilmore’s individual life experience contributed to her academic learning experience?
  7. What skills or capacities does Gilmore suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  8. What is the desired future that Gilmore envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Additional reading: Gilmore recommends her recent works Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence and Beyond Bratton (p. 105, with Craig Gilmore).

Mindy Romero (October 16, 2020)

The political sociologist Mindy Romero delivered a convocation address on Friday, October 16.

  1. In this interview, Romero proposes a novel idea: integrating voting education into the American education system. What do you think Romero means by this, and what could be the impacts of such a program, on both voting and US politics in general? Do you think there would be political resistance to such a proposition, and why?
  2. Romero argues that the American education system should play a role in aiding voter turnout. What are some ways you can think of integrating voting into the education system?
  3. Romero is quoted in this article as predicting in 2020 “high turnout from young people in California and throughout the United States,” and saying that “because of the political context that we’re in … we’re seeing a lot of young people kind of galvanized, interested, following politics.” Do you agree with her prediction? What would you attribute this galvanization to?
  4. In these working papers, Romero and her fellow researchers found that, in early April 2020, a significant portion of the American population wanted to move to mail-in-ballots given the COVID-19 crisis. How would this change affect populations that are underrepresented in in-person voting, or people who are unfamiliar with voting by mail? Do you think public opinion has moved on this question since April, and why?
  5. In this interview with NBC, Romero discusses data that shows a dramatic increase in overall turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, as well as increases in the youth, Latinx, and Asian-American population turnouts. She asserts that this is partially or completely due to “homegrown mobilization efforts.” What do you think “homegrown mobilization efforts” look like, and how does this fit into the electoral process as you understand it? 
  6. What did you learn about how Romero’s individual life experience contributed to her academic learning experience?
  7. What skills or capacities does Romero suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  8. What is the desired future that Romero envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Kevin Escudero (October 13, 2020)

Brown University Assistant Professor Kevin Escudero will deliver a guest lecture on Tuesday, October 13 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. The title of his presentation is “Organizing While Undocumented: Immigrant Youth’s Political Activism under the Law.”

  1. In this interview, Escudero describes the “legal and political barriers to organizing, namely the threat of deportation” that undocumented immigrant activists overcome in their social movement activism. Do you think these barriers have become more or less surmountable in the time of COVID-19, and why?
  2. In this Latinx Talk interview, Escudero conveys one of the main contexts in which his book functions: “given the fact that Latinx Studies and the broader fields of Ethnic Studies emerged from social movement struggle, this book underscores the continued importance of praxis, or connecting our scholarship to political action.” In your mind, how is scholarship connected to political action, and how should it be?
  3. Escudero has led several workshops with his students at the Providence Community Library. One of these workshops was a screening and discussion of Precious Knowledge, a 2011 documentary that follows the debate of whether Ethnic Studies should be taught at Tucson High School. Do you agree with the film’s tagline that Ethnic Studies are a “revolutionary education”? Are any of your courses at Carleton a “revolutionary education;” why or why not?
  4. What do you understand to be the challenges of organizing social movements among undocumented groups? Do Carleton social movements share any of these challenges?
  5. What did you learn about how Escudero’s individual life experience contributed to his academic learning experience?
  6. What skills or capacities does Escudero suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  7. What is the desired future that Escudero envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Robin Wall Kimmerer (October 9, 2020)

Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer delivered the Frank G. and Jean M. Chesley Lecture in Environmental Studies on Friday, October 9. The title of her presentation is “The Honorable Harvest: Indigenous Knowledge for Sustainability.”

Where not marked otherwise, these questions refer to Kimmerer’s essay “Learning the Grammar of Animacy,” which is found in her book Braiding Sweetgrass and available online through the Gould Library.

  1. In the essay “A Mother’s Work,” Kimmerer says, “The pond built my muscles, wove my baskets, mulched my garden, made my tea, and trellised my morning glories. Our lives became entwined in ways both material and spiritual. It’s been a balanced exchange: I worked on the pond and the pond worked on me, and together we made a good home.” How can we apply this account of reciprocity with nature to our relationships with community partners?
  2. Kimmerer says that “to be native to a place we must learn to speak its language,” and calls the sounds of nature her first language, after her mother’s heartbeat. According to Kimmerer, what is the difference between hearing the sounds of “the shhh of wind in needles, water trickling over rock,” and speaking the language of that place?
  3. Kimmerer talks about the need to “be bilingual between the lexicon of science and the grammar of animacy.” What assumptions do you think each of these languages might contain, and how might they be in conflict?
  4. The English language, Kimmerer says, “doesn’t give us many tools for incorporating respect for animacy. In English, you are either a human or a thing.” Kimmerer makes this point in the context of describing plants and animals, but how do you think this feature of the English language might connect to England’s history of colonization? 
  5. Kimmerer explains how using the pronoun “it” for animate beings like plants encourages us to see ourselves as separate and superior, and helps us justify our destruction of the natural world. In this article, she suggests we adopt the pronoun “ki” instead. How do you think our language conventions shape how we view and treat the world? What is our responsibility to the world in how we use language?
  6. What did you learn about how Kimmerer’s individual life experience contributed to her academic learning experience?
  7. What skills or capacities does Kimmerer suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  8. What is the desired future that Kimmerer envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Alexander Heffner (October 2, 2020)

The journalist Alexander Heffner delivered a convocation address on Friday, October 2. The title of his presentation was “Civil Discourse in an Uncivil Age: The Quest for a Post-Partisan Citizenship.”

  1. Mr. Heffner’s work focuses substantially on the roles of social media and technology in civil discussion. How have these roles changed in recent years and in the time of COVID-19, and how has civil discussion changed as a result? 
  2. Heffner has spoken at length about how the age of virality has altered  how information is produced and consumed. In 2020, anyone can create content, but only a small portion of this content reaches the general population, often due to how many times it is shared and reposted.  What responsibility do we as individuals and as a community have to make sure that we are engaging with and contributing to reputable content from a variety of viewpoints? How, practically, can we do so?
  3. In this March 2016 interview, Heffner talks about how democracy has moved online and how the steps to involve young people in democracy have changed, such as the best ways to communicate with young people and the ideas young voters are passionate about. Are these issues still relevant today? Have they become more or less relevant in the past four years? 
  4. Consider Heffner’s main platform, The Open Mind, which has been called [a] radical approach to TV talk because of its focus on low-key, in-depth conversations. Why would this be considered radical, and what are the pros and cons of this approach?
  5. In this September 2020 interview, Heffner talks with University of Washington biologist Carl Bergstrom about how data has become politicized. How can data be politically convenient or inconvenient? How can scientists, politicians, and news consumers work together to maintain the integrity of data? 
  6. In the globalization of the 20th and 21st centuries, and in the time of COVID, does any country’s civil discourse and political atmosphere stay contained within national  borders?
  7. What did you learn about how Heffner’s individual life experience contributed to his academic learning experience?
  8. What skills or capacities does Heffner suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  9. What is the desired future that Heffner envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?

Stacey Abrams (September 14, 2020)

The political leader, nonprofit CEO, and author Stacey Abrams delivered the opening convocation address on September 14.

  1. Abrams is a very intentional communicator across lines of difference. What tactics does she use, and how effective are they?
  2. How does Abrams respond to the polarization of political discourse in the United States? Does she seek to perpetuate or remedy it?
  3. In this profile, Abrams suggests that the political polarization in the United States is an effect of media polarization. What lessons can be taken from her convocation address about how citizens should respond to each of these issues?
  4. In this profile, published in May 2019, Abrams suggests reparations for African Americans and Native Americans is becoming a more credible possibility because people are now willing to have conversations about it. What does this suggest about the role community action plays in public discourse, and how do you think this discourse has changed in the past year?
  5. In this interview, Abrams describes how, since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, access to voting has been increasingly restricted, particularly among poor communities and communities of color, and that voter suppression works both by blocking access and by making people feel defeated. Abrams started Fair Fight to help combat this. What progress has Fair Fight made, and what are its limits?
  6. What did you learn about how Abrams’ individual life experience contributed to her academic learning experience?
  7. What skills or capacities does Abrams suggest are needed to create a more just society? Do you share any of those skills or capacities?
  8. What is the desired future that Abrams envisions? In what ways is it similar or different to the future you envision?