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Democracy Series, Spring 2021

Insights into the crisis and future of democracy from Montclair State University scholars and friends

The word unprecedented has been used nearly daily over the last twelve months. Whether the usage of the term unprecedented is historically accurate is subject to debate, it remains a throughline, as in

  • The unprecedented global pandemic and its concomitant economic, social, psychological, and educational consequences
  • The unprecedented civil action on diversity, equity, and inclusion prompted in large part by the Black Likes Matter (BLM) movement highlighting police treatment of black and brown people.
  • The unprecedented rioting and seizure of the capital after unfounded claims of election interference and wholesale fraud.
  • The unprecedented wildfires raging in the west, the cybersecurity attacks from foreign governments on our federal systems, the money raised and number of voters participating in the last presidential election, and on and on.

These happenings, unprecedented or not, raise questions about the institution of democracy: what it means to live in a democracy, and how people in a democracy inspire and initiate change. As a higher education institution, we teach, research, and provide service to our communities. We are able to tackle large issues and problems from multiple perspectives.

The series, This is What Democracy Looks Like? showcased the talents of our community in addressing these challenges to and opportunities for our democracy.

Banner image with flag that reads This is What Democracy Looks Like?


2021 Events Day & Time – Description Register (for active events)
Authoritarianism in America? Thursday, February 11 @ 7:00pm
In this first lecture of Spring 2021, the campus community is invited to listen to University scholars whose lifetime work enables them to speak to the American Uncivil war that presently threatens to erupt and which challenges American Democracy. Professor Harrison, a political science scholar specializing in American government, is a frequent commentator and analyst on contemporary national and New Jersey politics, known for her insider/outsider expertise on the American political process. Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Peter Kingstone, is the author of several books on Latin America political economy, focusing on the subject of democratization, economic reform, and most recently populism. Associate Dean Leslie Wilson teaches, lectures and writes on American history and African American studies. Recording available to MSU community in Faculty Resource – Public Google folder.
Access to recording-MSU only
Democracy and its Discontents: Reading 1/6/2021 Wednesday, Feb 17 @ 2:45 pm

The gathering, to which all are invited, arises from a felt need to offer some space to our students, faculty and staff, to be able to come together to express our thoughts and feelings on recent and ongoing events that affect us all. We hope our discussion will generate both catharsis and healing, encouraging critical reflection and engagement about the moment we are in.

This event, organized by the English Department at MSU, is envisioned as a teach and learn/in, roundtable-style, in which several of our faculty and students will share brief comments about how they are reading and responding, at both an affective and intellectual level, to the Jan 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill and all that it portends. Unchanged: This event, organized by the English Department at MSU, is envisioned as a teach and learn/in, roundtable-style, in which several of our faculty and students will share brief comments about how they are reading and responding, at both an affective and intellectual level, to the Jan 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill and all that it portends.

Antiracism and the Struggle for American Democracy Wednesday, March 10 @ 2:30 pm

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, will speak to the central question asked by our series: Is This What Democracy Looks Like? Speaking as a historian who writes frequently on the intersections of race, democracy, and inequality in American history, Muhammad is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness (Harvard) and is a frequent contributor to such periodicals as the Nation, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, among others. See Faculty Resources – Public for Democracy Series readings to access selected articles. This lecture considers the long history of freedom struggles among African Americans to achieve a multiracial democracy in search of meaningful patterns about what might come next. In light of the dramatic events of the past twelve years, with the historic election of the first Black president followed by Donald Trump, one of the most anti-democratic and pro-white supremacist Presidents since the end of slavery, what lessons should we draw from US history in consideration of the way forward as a nation.
Access to recording – MSU only
Economics and Democracy: A Balance of Planning and Improv Thursday, March 18 @ 7 – 8:30 pm

This panel of economists, working both inside and outside of academia, will focus on the tensions between long-range planning and the frequent need to improvise choices given the vagaries of life. Broadly, they ask, how does the economy and democracy work toward and against each other? Jim Leitner, President of Falcon Management, and Scott Axelrod, Director of Research at Falcon Management, from the vantage point of the private sector, will speak about the V-Dem Project democracy indicators and market behavior. “Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) is a new approach to conceptualizing and measuring democracy. We provide a multidimensional and disaggregated dataset that reflects the complexity of the concept of democracy as a system of rule that goes beyond the simple presence of elections. The V-Dem project distinguishes between five high-level principles of democracy: electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian, and collects data to measure these principles.” (V-Dem). David Axelrod, Department of Economics, will speak on his analysis of the role of time and spirit in economics and decision-making. Luis Portes, Department of Economics, will speak on democracy and the distinction between a market economy and capitalism. Collectively the panelists will engage audiences that often consider democracy and the market as distinct and separate spheres of social choice. The panel will be moderated by Vidya Atal, also of the Economics department.
Access to recording – MSU only
Elect Her Friday, March 19, 1 – 4 pm
Elect Her is a one-day nonpartisan training for women on how to run for student government & political office. While women make up 50% of the population but less than 1 in 4 elected leaders are women. When women run, they win at the same rates as men- the problem is that not enough women run. Research shows that engaging women early is key to increasing the number of women in public office. While the workshop focuses on women, all are welcome and encouraged to participate. Elect Her focuses on women’s leadership and welcomes all students. Sponsored by the Center for Student Involvement.
From Trump to Biden: International Views of the U.S. from Political Scientists Thursday, March 25 @ 5:30 – 6:45pm
What is the view in Europe, China and Latin American of the U.S. global role in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th? In this panel, three of our international political science faculty will draw on their years of analysis of different areas of the globe to draw portraits of the view of the U.S. from several international vantage points. Dr. Nyiri is a political scientist and polling expert who directed the Gallup World Poll-Europe and Transatlantic Trends, two annual large-scale surveys of public opinion in Europe and the U.S. His current research focuses on transatlantic relations, European politics, and public diplomacy. Dr. Wishnick, an expert on China and Russia and author of the blog, is working on her second book on Chinese foreign policy thanks to a Fulbright award. Mr. Carnevali, is a former Venezuelan diplomat who coordinated his country’s team in the United Nations Security Council and facilitated negotiations on disarmament, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. His research has focused on Latin American regional organizations and US-Latin American relations. The panel will be moderated by Tony Spanakos, department chair and professor of political science.
Access to recording – MSU only
Transgenerational Transmissions, Chosen Trauma, and Entitlement Ideologies in the Context of World Diplomacy Thursday, March 25 @ 7:00 pm

The presentation by psychiatrist Dr. Vamik Volkan will start with the story of a very rich man who would machinegun a herd of deer from a helicopter when facing an anxiety-provoking event. How the task of becoming an animal killer was transmitted to him during his childhood from a stepfather will be illustrated. The presentation will focus on large groups, thousands or millions of people who share the same ethnic, national, religious, or ideological identity and sentiments. Each large group has its own language, nursery rhymes, history and cultural symbols. “Chosen trauma” as a large-group identity marker will be described. This term refers to the shared mental image of an event in a large group’s history in which the group suffered a catastrophic loss, humiliation, and helplessness at the hands of enemies or opponents. The chosen trauma is transmitted from one generation to the next one throughout many decades even centuries. Some political and social leaders may inflame a chosen trauma in order to fuel an entitlement ideology; a shared sense of entitlement to recover what was lost in reality and fantasy during the ancestors’ collective trauma and during other shared traumas. Such inflammations create problems in world diplomacy as well as in peaceful co-existence between divided sections within the same country. Co-sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Cultures and the Program in Medical Humanities.

Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DFLAPA, FACPsa, is a Turkish Cypriot psychiatrist, internationally known for his 40 years of work bringing together conflictual groups for dialogue and mutual understanding. Among his many other honors, he is the president emeritus of the International Dialogue Initiative, among many other honors.

Rioting for Resurrection: Masculinity, White Supremacy, and Religion at the US Capitol Insurrection Wednesday, March 31 @ 7 – 8:30 pm

The Capitol insurrection was awash in religious imagery. A giant wooden processional cross, people kneeling in prayer, religious t-shirts, and banners declaring “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President” were among the ubiquitous religious symbols marking the violent crowd gathered in Washington, DC, on January 6. Even so, popular media coverage paid precious little attention to the religious factors fueling the deadly Capitol riot. “Rioting for Resurrection” takes a hard look at the role that religion played in this dark chapter of US history, giving special attention to the links between white supremacy, Christian nationalism, and distinctly Evangelical notions of masculinity.

Presenters: Dr. Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Calvin University; Dr. Stephen C. Finley, Louisiana State University; Dr. Bradley Onishi, Skidmore College. Moderated by Dr. John Soboslai, Religion Department.

Sponsored by the Religion Department

Voter Friendly Campus Coalition Meeting Tuesday, April 1 @ 10:00 am

The Office of Civic & Voter Engagement hosts a monthly Montclair State Votes Coalition Meeting. The Montclair State Votes Coalition is composed of representatives from offices, academic departments, student organizations, and individuals. The coalition seeks to raise awareness while providing centralized communication about civic and voter engagement issues and initiatives.

Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Era Wednesday, April 7 @ 11:30 am

The founders of American democracy believed it could not survive without an “informed citizenry”. What does an informed citizenry look like in today’s world? And what role do we have as educators and students to support it? First, we look at the significant challenges to institutional and media legitimacy that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, which rightfully called attention to the ways longstanding Western knowledge practices excluded marginalized communities and silenced important histories. We ask about the status of norms and mores in the aftermath of this challenge, in an era often called “post-truth.” Second, we consider the challenges of teaching information literacy. To the extent that we teach it at all, how have our instructions to “do the research” and “avoid fake news” failed? We invite instructors to interrogate their own information literacy practices (which are typically invisible); and to understand, empathize with, and value students’ information literacy practices. Jeffery Gonzalez, Assistant Professor of English, teaches courses on 20th and 21st century American literature. His research and writing explore how literary forms and narratives relate to economic, political, and social concerns. He has published essays in the academic journals Critique, Mosaic, and College Literature, among others. Catherine Baird, Online and Outreach Librarian, teaches and studies information literacy, and her recent publications examine MSU faculty and students. She and collaborator Jonathan Howell, Associate Professor of Linguistics, have written and presented on librarian-faculty collaboration. Their current book project, Teaching Information Literacy, offers faculty an accessible and practical introduction to recent research in the learning and information sciences.
Access to recording – MSU only
The Second Symposium on Racial Justice and Media, presented by the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University Thursday, April 15 @ 7:30 pm

This conversation, moderated by Montclair State assistant professor and social justice media scholar Dr. Tara Conley, will feature luminary professionals from across the media landscape. From hashtag movements to news coverage of racial protests to activism through film and television, this event will look at how media is both a tool and a frame towards a more just society.
Speakers Include:
Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr.: James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies, Princeton University; MSNBC Contributor; Columnist, Time Magazine
Anthony Smith: Senior Producer of Cause Initiatives, NFL; Director, Fritz Pollard: A Forgotten Man; Producer and Director, Game Changer (documentary highlighting Black quarterbacks in the NFL)
Vickie Burns: Transformational News Executive and Media Strategist; Leadership positions include NBC, Tribune Media, and ScrippsAll are invited to join this important conversation at this critical moment in American history. For more information, contact Debra Daitchman at

Watch the recorded event on their YouTube Channel
[FILM SCREENING/PANEL] Half-Mile, Upwind, on Foot: Faith, Race, and Pipeline Resistance in the Wake of Standing Rock Tuesday, April 20 @ 7 – 9:00 pm

This event, sponsored by the Department of Religion, explores the role of non-violent mass action in a democracy increasingly beholden to corporate interests. Half-Mile, Upwind, On Foot (2019; 57 min.) is a documentary film examining grassroots resistance against two fracked-gas pipeline projects in Pennsylvania. The event will give special attention to the role of religion & race in these predominantly white, Christian movements, particularly with respect to law enforcement’s response in contrast to pervasive police violence at Standing Rock and BLM protests.Presenters: Brian McDermott, Film Director/Producer (DeSales University), Sister Bernice Klostermann, Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an international order of Catholic women; featured in the film for her role in an outdoor Chapel blockade, site of 29 arrests; Rev. Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck, featured in the film as a co-founder of Lancaster Against Pipelines that organized 20 non-violent mass actions leading to more than 50 arrests; Lee Smithey (Swarthmore College). Moderated by Mark Clatterbuck, Department of Religion.
Democracy Perspectives from Computer Science: Challenges and Opportunities Thursday, April 29 @ 7:00 pm –
In this panel, faculty from the Computer Science department at Montclair State University will discuss the state of cybersecurity with respect to democracy and elections, drawing on a data-informed perspective. For computing professionals, the animating questions focus on the capacity and availability of tools for interfering and protecting democracy. The emphasis is on uncovering and revealing challenges and opportunities with respect to technologies and democracy. Several brief case studies involving social media, electronic voting, or data mining, will be discussed.Panelists: Constantine Coutras, chair and professor, conducts research in the areas of Computer Networking (performance evaluation of data communication protocols) and Digital Filter Design. He is also interested in Computer and Network Security. Boxiang Dong, assistant professor, has research interests that fall into the intersection of cybersecurity and big data analytics. Chris Leberknight, associate professor, specializes in Digital democracy (online censorship), Cyber Security, Modeling and Analysis of Technological and Social Networks. Stefan Robila, professor and Director of the Computational Sensing Laboratory, has research interests in computational sensing, including development and implementation of computationally efficient feature extraction algorithms that use high performance computing. In addition he has also worked on greening the computing infrastructure and cybersecurity. Bharath Kumar Samanthula, assistant professor, has research interests that span across Applied Cryptography, Information Security, Data Mining, and Big Data. His current work centers around privacy-enhanced techniques for various distributed data management and analysis tasks in the fields of Online Social Networks, Cloud Computing, Wireless Sensor Networks and Smart Grids. Omar Alkhalili, a MSU graduate student, has worked in application support and quality assurance testing at various tech companies in the New York metropolitan area. He is interested in automation, cyber security and social media misinformation.
Register via Zoom
The Languages and Cultures of Indigenous Communities Thursday, May 6 @ 7:00 pm

Chief Vincent Mann is the Turtle Clan Chief of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, which encompasses Passaic County NJ, Warwick, and surrounding areas in New York. Chief Mann has held the title of Turtle Clan Chief for approximately twelve years. For the past five years, he has worked with the NYU Environmental Studies Department. In that time, he participated in the construction and implementation of a community health survey focused on identifying and addressing health concerns within his community. To honor Chief Mann’s efforts to shed light on his community’s efforts to fight back after the Ford toxic dumping, he was awarded the Russ Berry Foundations highest award of Unsung Hero. Chief Mann has been at the forefront of the New Jersey environmental justice movement, where he has worked to protect the water supply of 4 million people and advocated for the community living in close proximity to the Ringwood mines superfund site. Sponsored by the departments of World Languages and Cultures, Linguistics, Religion and Anthropology
Register via Zoom
Battling the Old and New “Jelly Bean” Test: A History of African American Disenfranchisement Thursday, May 6 @6:00 – 7:30 pm
This panel brings together academic and on-the-ground experts on voting rights and African American disenfranchisement with particular attention to New Jersey. Christopher Matthews, curator of “The Black Freedom Struggle in Northern New Jersey (1613-1860),” will address the struggle for voting rights in 19th-century New Jersey. James E. Harris will speak to the efforts of the Montclair Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to advance voting rights. Andra Gillespie, author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America (2012), will review the history of voter suppression in the United States–including the recent Georgia Senate Bill 202. .Speakers:

  • James E. Harris, 1st Vice President, Montclair Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — involvement of NAACP in voting rights struggle; local, grassroots efforts in general and specifically in Montclair
  • Christopher Matthews, Professor of Anthropology, Montclair State University — African Americans’ struggle for voting rights in the 19th century in New Jersey
  • Andra Gillespie, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute, Emory University — civil rights era and current struggles, especially SB 202; national and NJ politics; author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial American (2012).

Moderator: Leslie Wilson, Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Montclair State University

Accessible event: ASL and Live Transcription available

Sponsored by: African American Caucus, Disability Resource Center, Office for Faculty Advancement, Sprague Library, Disability Caucus, and E3 (Educate, Equip, Empower) Student Coalition

Register via zoom
Law, Democracy and Society in Times of Illiberalism Tuesday, May 11 @ 8:15 pm to 9:45 pm
This roundtable brings together regional law and society scholars to explore the strength of the rule of law and the role of lawyers in guarding democratic institutions and norms against the encroachment of authoritarian tendencies. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and past experience, participants address these issues from a global perspective, including the erosion of democratic norms and responses to it in Central and Eastern Europe, India, the Middle East and North Africa region, and here at home in the US. Sponsored by the OFA and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.Panelists: Arnaud Kurze, Department of Justice Studies, MSU; Francesca Laguardia, Department of Justice Studies, MSU; Jinee Lakaneeta, Drew University; Mihaela Serban, Ramapo College of New Jersey.
Register via zoom
Populism: Post-Trump and Post-COVID Thursday, May 13 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Join us for an interview with Dr. Cas Mudde that will contextualize the global tide of “populism” and the “far right,” their complicated relationship with “democracy,” and includes the possible scenarios of populism in a post-Trump and post-COVID world. His book Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2007) won the SteinRokkan Award for Comparative Social Science Research in 2008. His recent books include (with Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser) Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2017); The Far Right Today (Polity, 2019), (with Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler); and The Israeli Settler Movement: Assessing and Explaining Social Movement Success (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Dr. Mudde is also a columnist for GuardianUS, a regular contributor to VoxEurope, and host of the podcast RADIKAAL. He tweets at @casmudde. Part of the Office for Faculty Advancement This is What Democracy Looks Like? Series. Sponsored by RIGS: Research on Interdisciplinary Global StudiesInterviewers: Dr. Zsolt Nyiri, Associate Professor of Political Science and Law, Montclair State University and Dr. Kate E. Temoney, Assistant Professor of Religion, Montclair State University
Register via zoom
Student Voices: This is what democracy looks like in my world Monday, May 17 @ 7:00 pm
“This is what democracy looks like in my world” combines a student meme contest based on this prompt with a panel dedicated to the results, selected by public vote. Students will engage directly in the conversation about democracy, bringing into focus the need for participation and the responsibility of being an informed and active participant. The contest will focus on the importance and power of voice and representation in a democratic practice.Student prize winners Julie Henskens, Parham Mousa Elie, and Mari Zuniga will collectively contextualize and reflect on the process as a whole, along with faculty panelists Dr. Antoinette Pole (Department of Political Science) and Dr. Pablo Tinio (Dept. of Educational Foundations). Co-sponsored by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Research on Interdisciplinary Global Studies Program (RIGS). Moderated by Elizabeth Emery, World Languages and Cultures, and Christopher Kacmarek, Art and Design.
Register via zoom
“You’re Cancelled! Hard Times for Public Figures in a Landscape of Shifting Norms” – Simone Gubler Thursday, May 27 @ 5:30 pm
This talk is an apologetic for what many would take to be unsavory features of our present political discourse and practice. In it, I do two things. First, I establish that we, the public, may justifiably impose asymmetric and highly demanding normative standards on public figures – even in light of plausible charges of unfairness and hypocrisy. Second, I argue that where those standards are breached, we may be justified in cancelling public figures – in engaging in the public expression of outrage with the goal of the public figure’s removal from their position as a public figure. In making my case, I offer an ameliorative account of cancel culture. Addressed as a response to norm violations by public figures, I argue that cancelling has a legitimate, even admirable, social function in a democratic context. It is a function, moreover, that need not connote blame or punition – it need not be understood as a penalty, and need not be scrutinized in moral terms. There is no right to public status – public figures are there at the gift and on the terms of the public, which is equally empowered to instate and remove them.
Speaker: Simone Gubler (University of Nevada, Reno)
Join via Zoom


Additional Resources

As our project evolves and with the contribution of campus and visiting experts, we will build and share a variety of resources for our community to use for research, teaching and learning, and community engagement.



Updated 7.28.2021