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Faulconer Gallery to Feature ‘En Voyage: Hybridity and Vodou in Haitian Art’

The Faulconer Gallery will open an exhibition titled “En Voyage: Hybridity and Vodou in Haitian Art” on Thursday, Jan. 25. Curated by nine Grinnell students as part of an art history seminar, this exhibition includes prominent works by Haitian American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié.

The renowned artist was an international visiting fellow last fall at Grinnell College, where he collaborated with students to create an original piece of art. The mixed-media installation, which explores ideas and images of freedom and abolition, will be displayed in the College’s Humanities and Social Studies Complex, which is under construction and scheduled to open in 2020.

Fredo Rivera ’06, assistant professor of art history, taught the Exhibition Seminar during the fall semester. Under his guidance, the student curators built an exhibition around four of Duval-Carrié’s paintings.

They focused on themes of hybridity and displacement, and how Haitian art and Vodou encapsulate African, European, and indigenous traditions. Vodou, also known as Voodoo, is a dominant religion in Haiti.

“In the United States, Vodou is often the subject of misunderstanding and stigmatization,” says Ellen Taylor ’19, who helped curate the exhibition. “Through an exhibition of diverse works of art across time and medium, we aspire to showcase the depth and complexity of this religious tradition.”

Duval-Carrié will attend several events marking the opening of the exhibition on Jan. 25.

  • At 11 a.m. Laurent Dubois, professor of romance studies and history at Duke University, will present the Scholars’ Convocation lecture titled “Democracy at the Roots: Culture and Sovereignty in Haiti.” The free, public lecture will start at 11 a.m. Joe Rosenfield ‘25 Center, Room 101.
  • At 4 p.m. Rivera and student curators will introduce their exhibition and discuss the themes and works on view at the Faulconer Gallery in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, 1108 Park St., Grinnell. An opening reception will follow at 5 p.m.

“This exhibition provides a unique look at the politics of migration and creative ingenuity within Haitian art,” Rivera says. “I hope viewers will not only learn about the incredible breadth and brilliance of Haitian art, but connect it more broadly to themes of displacement and creation evident throughout the humanities.

“As a teacher,” he adds, “the most exciting part for me has been observing the teamwork and initiative of the nine curators. The opportunity to travel together and have discussions with museum professionals across the nation has been amazing and greatly informed this endeavor.”

Student curators enrolled in the seminar traveled to Miami galleries and museums and to relevant museums throughout Iowa to explore Haitian art, thanks to an Innovation Fund Grant and funding from Institute for Global Engagement. They selected four major works by Duval-Carrié from his personal collection, a private collection in Miami, and the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. These form the core of the show.

The students then chose a diversity of Haitian works from the Waterloo Center for the Arts, which has the largest public collection of Haitian art in the world; the Grinnell College Art Collection, and the personal collection of Karen Lowell and David Campbell, Henry R. Luce Professor of Nations and the Global Environment and chair of environmental studies. The students’ catalog and related programs will place these works into a broader context and explore the themes central to the exhibition seminar. The students have been responsible for every part of the project from exhibition layout, to selection of speakers, to catalog contents.

Events

The following events in conjunction with the exhibition will take place in Faulconer Gallery:

Feb. 2, 11 a.m.
Professor Campbell will speak about works from his personal collection featured in “En Voyage: Hybridity and Vodou in Haitian Art.”
Feb. 20, 11 a.m.
Kesho Scott, associate professor American studies and sociology at Grinnell, will discuss the ways in which the Haitian Revolution affected the culture and population of modern Haiti.
Feb. 21, 4 p.m.
Screening: Of Men and Gods, a documentary about the daily life of several openly gay Haitian men who are also Vodou practitioners.
Feb. 22, 11 a.m.
Doug Hess, assistant professor of political science, will discuss selected works in the exhibition within the context of modern and historical Haitian society, as well as his experiences working with Haitians on human rights and pro-democracy projects in Haiti.
Feb. 24, 1:30-3 p.m.
Community Day offers opportunities for people of all ages to view two concurrent exhibitions: “En Voyage: Hybridity and Vodou in Haitian Art” and “Making Life Visible: Art, Biology and Visualization.” Hands-on activities will include making mermaids.
March 14, 4 p.m.
Artists@Grinnell featuring Erol Josué, a Haitian singer, dancer, and Vodou priest, who will give a performance lecture on Vodou traditions and religious music. Co-sponsored by the College’s music and religious studies departments.

    “En Voyage: Hybridity and Vodou in Haitian Art” will continue at the Faulconer Gallery through March 18. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week and admission is free.

    Grinnell College Honors Alumnus Who Co-founded Latino Political Network

    Robert X. Barron ’02, who co-founded the Latino Political Network, recently received the College’s Joseph F. Wall ’41 Alumni Service Award. Barron plans to hire a full-time staff member for LPN with the $30,000 award.

    A non-partisan organization, LPN strives to educate and empower Latinos to serve at all levels of elected office throughout Iowa. Iowa continues to become more diverse, but the elected leadership does not yet reflect this diversity. LPN is the only group in Iowa committed to the organization and civic empowerment of Latinos, Barron says. He brings extensive political expertise and experience to LPN after working for many years for former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a democrat from Iowa.

    The Des Moines Register describes LPN as a “refreshingly grassroots political interlude, focused on the most basic leadership roles that touch our everyday lives. … Instead of the big-picture bluster of the Iowa caucuses presidential horse race, this was a close-up view of its undercurrents: This effort hopes to generate enough momentum for a larger wave that eventually sweeps more Latinos into the Legislature and other higher offices.”

    “I am honored by Grinnell College’s faith in me and support of the work of the Latino Political Network,” Barron says. “This award gives the LPN a transformational boost for our work to educate and empower new leaders in Iowa. As a proud alumnus, I am thankful to the faculty, staff, and my fellow students for providing me with a learning environment that was both challenging and nurturing. My work since graduation is a testament to their impact on me.”

    In addition to co-founding LPN, Barron is special assistant for government and community relations to Grand View University President Kent Henning. In this role, Barron represents Grand View before elected officials and works to build relationships with the community on behalf of students, faculty and staff. A native and resident of Des Moines, Barron has served on the Des Moines School Board since 2013 and recently was elected to a new four-year term.

    As part of its sesquicentennial celebration in 1996, Grinnell College established the Wall Service Award as a tribute to the College’s 150-year tradition of social commitment. The award was named in honor of Joseph Wall ’41, who inspired his students to embrace the ideal of service through his work as a professor of history and longtime dean of the College.

    See We are Iowa's interview with Wayne Moyer and Rob Barron, Grinnell College recognizes Latino Political Network.

    Four Grinnell College Professors to Discuss Catalonia’s Bid for Independence

    Four Grinnell College professors will participate in a panel discussion titled “Catalonia’s Bid for Independence” on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. The free, public talk will begin at noon in the Forum Digital Arts Lab, 1119 Sixth Ave., Grinnell. Refreshments, including pizza, will be served.

    The push for independence in Catalonia and Spain’s reaction to it have occupied center stage in international news as of late. In the course of a month, Catalonia celebrated an unauthorized referendum and unilaterally declared its independence two weeks ago. Subsequently, Spain suspended Catalonia’s autonomous government and imprisoned the most prominent leaders of Catalan secessionism. By all accounts, Spain is undergoing its deepest constitutional crisis since democracy was reestablished 40 years ago.

    This panel aims to shed some light on the causes that precipitated Catalonia’s bid for independence and the shared and opposed mentalities that are driving this conflict. In addition, the panel will provide an opportunity to discuss what the future may hold.

    The four professors participating in the panel are:

    The Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations and Human Rights is sponsoring this event.

    What It’s Like to Participate in the Diversity Travel Opportunity Program

    This is a story about four young women who found each other and, ultimately, Grinnell College through the Diversity Travel Opportunity program.

    In the summer of 2012, all four were rising high school seniors:

    • Glorianne Dorce was living an hour and a half north of Atlanta, where she attended public school.
    • Geneva Guadalupe attended a private Catholic high school in Orlando, Fla.
    • Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez went to public school in Titusville, Fla.
    • Karo Marquez-Gil, who has dual U.S. and Colombian citizenship, attended a large public high school near Miami.

    The Application Process

    Based on their strong test scores, they all received email invitations from Patty Amador-Lacson, coordinator of multicultural recruitment at Grinnell, to apply to the travel program. The process includes submitting test scores and transcripts.

    Guadalupe thought it was a lot to submit, but also that “it would be really cool to get your flight covered and have the opportunity to visit campus.”

    Dorce says, “The application process helped because it made me think about myself, and before [that] I mostly just focused on my grades. It helped me understand what it means to talk about yourself, and what it means to present about yourself in a different sort of way.”

    All four applied to the program and were accepted. Amador-Lacson gave them each other’s contact and flight information so they could meet up en route (she only does this if the students give permission). They ended up sitting together on one flight.

    “We just hit it off,” Dorce says. “It was great.”

    Exploring What Grinnell Has to Offer

    The four arrived on campus with about 20 other students. They met their host students — currently enrolled students with whom they stayed in the residence halls. They ate meals in the Dining Hall, attended a class, toured campus, checked out student clubs, and tried some of the nightlife.

    Marquez-Gil attended a meeting of the Student Organization of Latinx (SOL) with her host student and invited Dorce along. “It was super cool,” Marquez-Gil says. “I was like, ‘Oh, there are Latinos here.’” Dorce was happily surprised too.

    Many people are surprised at how diverse Grinnell’s student body is — 26% domestic students of color and 18% international students — given that the state of Iowa is about 91% white.

    “Everyone’s definition of what’s diverse is a lot different,” Guadalupe says. “For me [Grinnell] was more diverse in the sense that I was having more political diversity and religious diversity but also more ethnic diversity and probably socioeconomic diversity.”

    Deciding Whether Grinnell Fits

    Meeting current students was key for Hinchman-Dominguez. “I got to meet with the emcee for open mic night at Bob’s Underground and she promptly invited us over to her house,” says Hinchman-Dominguez. “My host also introduced me to all her friends, who I immediately clicked with. Maybe it was unconscious at the time, but I felt that a good community is key to being able to motivate yourself to stay through school, despite the obstacles.”

    Sometimes finding a good fit means making a change or two. For Marquez-Gil, who was used to hot, humid weather in Miami, the October chill in Iowa was surprising. “I hadn't been in any cold weather, so I felt like this was a nice change,” she says.

    Coming from a high school with 3,000 students, Marquez-Gil also liked the size of the student body. “I came here and I saw how everybody is friends with everyone. The professors knew the people in the class, and the classes were small. People knew you as a person and not as a number,” she says.

    For Guadalupe, the connections she made on the travel program helped her decide. “Knowing a few people was something that I felt was a good connection —  people not only with a similar background but from a similar geographic area. That is something that would be really helpful with the transition,” she says.  

    All four decided to apply. Three applied early decision and got in.

    Guadalupe wasn’t as sure about Grinnell as the others were. But one small thing helped make up her mind to apply.

    During her visit she was in another student’s room hanging out and left her iPod behind. The student wasn’t Guadalupe’s host, but she contacted Guadalupe to let her know she’d left her iPod there.

    “A couple days later in the mail I received my iPod from the Admission office,” Guadalupe says. “I was kind of in shock because I was not expecting them to send me this back. I thought ‘Wow, they really care about their applicants.’”

    Fast-Forward 4+ Years

    On a warm, sunny day in May 2017, all four young women walked across Grinnell’s Commencement stage. They stayed in touch throughout their four years at Grinnell. Marquez-Gil and Hinchman-Dominguez were first-year roommates. Guadalupe and Dorce attended church services together and took a couple of courses together. They were often in the same clubs, like SOL and the African Caribbean Student Union.

    • Glorianne Dorce ’17 majored in chemistry and did a concentration in policy studies. She’s taking a year to volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in New Jersey before pursuing graduate school. “My goal is to be a water chemist,” she says.
    • Geneva Guadalupe ’17 majored in political science. She hopes to attend law school and become an advocate for the voiceless.
    • Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez ’17 majored in computer science.
    • Karo Marquez-Gil ’17 majored in biological chemistry and sociology. She plans to start graduate school in the fall in forensic medicine. “I want to do forensic pathology,” she says.

    Seven Seniors and One Graduate Awarded Fulbright Grants

    Seven Grinnell College seniors and one graduate have been awarded Fulbright grants to support international study, research, and teaching.

    Since 2004, the U.S. Department of State has annually published a list of “top producing” Fulbright schools and Grinnell has consistently shown up on that list. For the 13th consecutive year, Grinnell College is on the U.S. Department of State's annual list of universities and colleges that produce the most Fulbright scholars and students each year.

    Grinnell has been named to this list every year since it was first issued in 2004. Seven Grinnell students won Fulbrights for 2016-17 — more recipients than at any other bachelor's institution in Iowa, according to the Department of State. Grinnell also ranked 15th among the 35 bachelor's colleges listed as top producers nationwide.

    “Grinnell students are an excellent fit for the Fulbright program," says Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life and Service at Grinnell. "Given the seriousness of the academic work here, the international connections we make inside and outside of the classroom, and how globally engaged our students are, it’s not surprising that so many of our seniors and alumni are selected by the Fulbright Commission to continue learning and working abroad. This year’s group of Fulbright scholars reflect Grinnell’s commitment to academic excellence and to preparing students to make a difference in the world."

    The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

    Each year the Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. Approximately 370,000 "Fulbrighters" have participated in the program since its inception in 1946. The Fulbright Program operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.

    The 2017 seniors and one Grinnell graduate who have received and accepted Fulbright awards, their areas of focus, and the Grinnell faculty and staff who supported their applications are:

    • Lilianna Bagnoli ’15, an independent major from Grinnell, Iowa, received a study/research grant to India. Her research will focus on studying public data systems and their impact on economic development efforts in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Faculty who supported her application are Leif Brottem (political science) and Patrick Inglis (sociology).
    • Mollie Jo Blahunka ’17, an English major from Lake Bluff, Illinois, received an English teaching assistantship to Argentina. Faculty and staff who supported her application are Jean Ketter (education) and Ashley Schaefer (Careers, Life, and Service).
    • Kieran Connolly  ’17, a Russian and political science major from St. Louis, Missouri, was awarded an English teaching assistantship to Russia. Faculty members who supported his application are Kelly Herold (Russian), Edward Cohn, and Pablo Silva (history).
    • Samantha Fitzsimmons Schoenberger  ’17, a psychology major and neuroscience concentration from Los Angeles, California, received a study/research grant to Malaysia. In collaboration with a professor from the University of Malaya, she will be pioneering a mixed-methods study investigating the determinants of HIV and substance-use-related stigma and its associations with heath care and health outcomes. Ann Ellis (psychology) is the faculty member who supported her application.
    • Stella Gatzke  ’17, a Russian and English major from Harper Woods, Michigan, received an English teaching assistantship to Russia. Faculty members who supported her application are Kelly Herold and Todd Armstrong (Russian).
    • Caleigh Ryan  ’17, a political science and English major with a concentration in policy studies from Oak Park, Illinois, received an English teaching assistantship to Malaysia. Staff member Schaefer (Careers, Life, and Service), supported her application.
    • Ian Stout  ’17, a German and political science major from Danville, California, received an English teaching assistantship to Germany. Faculty member Vance Byrd (German) supported his application.
    • Sophie Wright  ’17, a Chinese and English major from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received an English teaching assistantship to Taiwan. Faculty members who supported her application are Jin Feng (Chinese and Japanese) and Matthew Johnson (history).

    What Trump Still Doesn’t Get After 100 Days in Office by Barbara Trish

    Barbara Trish, Professor and Chair of the Political Science department, wrote a review of the first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency for Fortune:

    "At the 100-day mark, it’s clear that the president shows little penchant for self-correction. When he has adjusted his policy, it’s mostly been in the international realm, such as taking a more friendly attitude toward China and NATO, and a more aggressive posture toward Russia. But in these instances, it seems as if he’s stumbled into his new positions accidentally."

    Continue reading "What Trump Still Doesn’t Get After 100 Days in Office."

     

     

    Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity

    Jackson Katz, an internationally renowned scholar on issues of race, gender, and violence, will present a multimedia lecture at Grinnell College on at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13, 2017 in the Harris Center Cinema. A question-and-answer session will follow.

    The free, public lecture is titled "Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity," which is also the title of Katz' latest book.

    Katz, who holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies and education from UCLA, is an educator, author, filmmaker, and cultural theorist in the areas of race, gender, and violence. He is a top masculinity scholar and has been a leader in bringing men into the movement for gender equality. He also has produced the documentaries Tough Guise 1 and 2 and The Mask You Live In, both of which examine masculinity in the United States.

    "I have followed Katz’s work on masculinity for over 20 years and have used many of his documentaries in my teaching," says Susan Ferguson, professor and chair of sociology. "When I learned of his recent book, I thought this talk on the gendered discourse of the 2016 election would be incredibly timely for the campus and town communities."

    Katz also is co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, one of the longest-running and most widely influential gender violence prevention programs in North America. He is the author of another book, titled The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How all Men Can Help. He has published academic articles on topics as far-ranging as Eminem, the gender politics of conservative talk radio, violent white masculinity in advertising, juvenile detention, pornography, and sports metaphors in presidential politics.

    Katz's visit is sponsored by Sociology; Political Science; The Wilson Center; American Studies; Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies; Athletics; Intercultural Affairs; Student Government Association; Title IX office; and Wellness and Prevention.

    Grinnell College welcomes the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to Susan Ferguson.

    A Book Talk with Professor Danielle Lussier, Political Science

    Drawing from her recently-published book, Constraining Elites in Russia and Indonesia: Constraining Elites in Russia and Indonesia: Political Participation and Regime Survival Political Participation and Regime Survival (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Professor Danielle Lussier will share a thought-provoking analysis on why democracy succeeds in some countries but not others, comparing the post-transition experiences of two cases of contemporary democratization: Russia and Indonesia.

    Danielle Lussier is an assistant professor in political science  and department chair of Russian, Central, and East European Studies at Grinnell College. Her research focuses on democratization, public opinion and political participation, and religion and politics, with a particular emphasis on Eurasia and Indonesia.

    For this book, Professor Lussier conducted field research in Moscow, Kazan, and Krasnoyarsk, Russia and Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, and Medan, Indonesia. Co-sponsored by the Russian, Central and East European Studies concentration and the Grinnell College Libraries.

    Refreshments will be served.

    Grinnell College welcomes the participation of people with disabilities. If you plan to attend this event and need accommodation, please contact Burling Library as soon as possible to make your request.

     

    Why Research Matters

    Meet Strahinja Matejić ’17, or “Strax.” He is a political science and German double major with a European studies concentration. His adviser is Gemma Sala, associate professor of political science. They joined us for a conversation about how Strax’s first classes and personal interests inspired his Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) this fall. Strax’s MAP exemplifies faculty-directed scholarly research that integrates knowledge and skills gained through the student’s course of study leading up to it. Our questions and their answers follow:

    How, specifically, did your previous course of study lead to this MAP?

    Strax: It’s actually a continuation of a project I’ve been working on since my first year. I got interested in comparative politics through Introduction to Political Science and a nationalism class in my second year, as well as courses on ethnic conflict and peacebuilding. My third year I did off-campus study in Germany. It is all culminating in this MAP that explores international alliances through the process of democratization.

    Is it accurate to say that this a student-initiated MAP, rather than one that builds on a faculty member’s research interest?

    Gemma: Yes, he (Strax) brought it forth. He was the one who said, “Look, I have this paper and I would like to continue to work on it.” The reason I said yes is that it’s not a MAP that starts out of the blue, but rather is built from previous research that he’d already done. He didn’t have to go from zero to 100 in one semester.

    In your experience, is that a common path for students at Grinnell or is this different?

    Gemma: I’ve had it done before, and these have been the most successful for me. The MAPs in which students jump in are generally not as productive because those students have to learn everything in 14 weeks — a very short amount of time — and they end up having to spend more time making themselves acquainted with the case and the relevant literature before they have a chance to develop original arguments. To me, the most productive MAPs have been with students who come with a previous, already solidified interest, a defined interest, a proven interest. Something that they have been thinking and writing about for a while and now they want to capitalize on.

    This MAP brings up a lot of things Strax has done in his four years here. There are issues of democratization, which were key in discussing politics in his major, and issues of international relations, about which he’s written several papers. He comes from former Yugoslavia, so of course he’s trying to understand the path taken by former communist countries. That’s also something he’s explored in several papers. So he’s building off research he’s done in class.

    Strax: The focus on eastern Europe connects with my personal background and my geographical origin. Definitely, I am re-examining my attitudes and expectations on this topic.

    What are you finding most challenging about the research process?

    Strax: I think it would be isolating the single factor I want to examine, taking into account the numerous variables that cannot easily be measured quantitatively. Rather, certain qualitative theoretical political discussions need to come first, revolving around variables such as international alignments.  

    Gemma: There’s an obvious contrast in the European versus American political science perspectives on how to write a paper. While in Germany, Strax was asked to write something describing the facts and histories of these places. I’m asking him to do something a lot more deductive and theory driven. Using different models of inquiry to address a very similar question is proving to be quite interesting, and he’s learning a lot from that, I think.

    Regardless of what a student chooses to do after graduation, what are the practical benefits of the MAP experience?

    Gemma: First, if students are thinking of discarding the idea of going to graduate school they should know why. Having a research opportunity allows for an informed decision about whether they’re good at it or interested in it. Beyond that, everybody does research even if it’s not driven for publication. It is about learning to assess the extent of your claims and learning to substantiate claims with evidence. You’re going to need that in any field of work. You’re going to have arguments for which you need relevant evidence. You need to know how to get it, what evidence is honest and what evidence isn’t. If you work for a policy think tank or if you are a lawyer, absolutely you need to know how the argument matches the evidence.

    Ultimately, you need to have had the experience of research in order to make grounded arguments, well-founded arguments. It is something you are going to need in life.

    Strax: Just now, I’m not thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. However, I am interested in graduate level study after my undergraduate education. The MAP will allow me to gain the experience required. I will have a significant writing sample that I can present as proof of my interest and of my knowledge in merging areas of political science. I’m not expecting this MAP to reverse any course for me. Rather, I’m expecting it to solidify my interest in democratization processes and international affairs.

    What should prospective students expect to know about the process of graduate-level research, the challenges they’ll face, and what makes it fun?

    Gemma: I’m not sure that the process of research is “fun” all along. Part of research is finding that you are wrong sometimes. Most times, in fact. Part of it is realizing you don’t have the evidence for something, or that you can’t make a conclusive argument for lack of data. But in every student research experience I’ve had, we go deeper in the directions that the data allow us to go. Once you get deep into a topic, you get the satisfaction of having knowledge that you wouldn’t have been able to grasp just by taking classes or delving 14 weeks into general topics.

    Finding yourself being driven by facts and by data is fascinating because ultimately you find yourself making intricate questions that come from you. It’s that moment in which students find they have just broken the shell — when they know the relevant questions to ask — that makes them a little bit hooked into research, and what makes it fun for them.

    I don’t think that students have to come here wanting to do research. They just need to come here and find out what research does for them, because it’s our job to generate that experience and to generate that thrill.

    Strahinja Matejić ’17 is from Belgrade, Serbia.

    Fired Up and Ready to Vote

    Michael Porter ’17, an economics major, never considered himself to be a political junkie.

    Michael PorterThat is, until he discovered a passion for politics while studying abroad for a semester in Denmark. Back in Grinnell, Porter enrolled in a class with Barbara Trish, professor of political science, and the rest is history (making). On Trish’s recommendation, he applied to and was selected to participate in College Debate 2016, a national, non-partisan initiative designed to activate young voters through social media engagement. The fledgling program was created and sponsored by Dominican University, a voter education partner for the Commission on Presidential Debates.

    Democracy in Action

    In early June, 117 students from 86 colleges across all 50 states travelled to Dominican’s California campus for two days of delegate training. There, they learned how to organize issue-focused political events at their schools. Throughout the summer, they used the hashtag #collegedebate16 to facilitate conversations over social media about the issues that matter most to youth voters.

    By the time the students returned to Dominican for the College Convention in September, they were educated on their demographic and inspired to take action. The entire process was a lesson in democracy:

    • First, delegates used Facebook data to generate a list of youth voter concerns.
    • They then identified their top five issues through a caucus-style elimination process. The winners? Education, immigration, foreign policy, social justice, and the economy.
    • Groups of delegates circulated through all five issues, turning topics into questions. Each group helped to develop a different stage, brainstorming subtopics for one, drafting questions for another, and so on.

     “I took a lot away about how the structure, the way you set things up, is going to result in different questions,” says Porter.

    He also worked to ensure that the questions themselves were democratic. “My self-assumed role was to push to make sure we were asking non-partisan questions. And that was hard for us to do, because most people were left-leaning,” Porter explains.

    At the culminating event, a town hall, delegates voted to send a finalized list of six questions to the moderators of the presidential debates. Although none of these questions were used in the first debate, moderator Lester Holt raised issues that echoed many of the delegates’ concerns.

    Unfortunately, laments Porter, the presidential candidates seemed to spend more time insulting each other than engaging with the issues.

    “Instead of learning about what the candidates were saying, it became a slug-fest, and almost an artificial venue,” he says. “When is [a president] ever going to be in a situation where their job is to out-insult their opponent?”

    Energizing the Millennial Electorate

    While the maturing Millennial population (b. 1981-1997) composes roughly 31% of the general electorate, less than 40% of 18-24 year olds currently vote.

    “It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Porter. “Because voters don’t vote, political parties don’t pay attention to young voters.”

    Unsurprisingly, this dismissal is mutual.

    “For many college students, the incentives to get involved are being outweighed by our immediate concerns,” he explains. “It’s a feeling of, what am I going to do? Start a voter drive, or study for my econ exam?”

    But at College Debate 2016, Porter glimpsed a path beyond apathy. With excitement in his voice, he describes his experience as an exercise in communal empowerment:

    “When we got all these kids [together] from across the country, the level of enthusiasm was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Everyone could connect on a common cause, and that opened doors to talking to people very easily. This is cool, let’s activate, let’s be political.”

    Unplug to Engage

    While College Debate focused on engagement through social media, Porter maintains that face-to-face connections yield the highest return on voter engagement. “I was able to see how political activism can gain traction once you create a community where getting involved becomes a social expectation. That’s how I think politics happens: you and your friends,” he explains.

    And to Millennials who are still skeptical about getting engaged, Porter offers this advice: “Give it a chance! You never know when you’re going to stumble across someone that you have a really awesome conversation with, and that enthusiasm can trickle around. Those are the types of conversations that are missing among young voters.”