Virginia Tech®home

IPG Newsletter January 2020

January 2020 Newsletter Header

Tidings: From the Director

A Reflection on Equality, Justice and U.S. Governance     

By Max Stephenson Jr
Max Stephenson

Our remit here at the Institute is wide as, in its charter, the University charged us with the challenge of examining United States policy-making and governance broadly understood. This has prompted us to be interested in America’s domestic and international policies and actions and has compelled us to inquire into the well-springs of those choices. As we have done so, I have become ever more convinced that governance decisions at all scales in the United States are rooted in the complexities of America’s historical evolution as a people, in its innate social heterogeneity and in the too rarely articulated demands made by democratic self-governance on human behavior. I have concluded that one must pay attention to the character and contours of these factors and how they shape our country’s collective policy and governance choices to follow our nation’s policy-making. Indeed, these underlying generative forces illustrate that policies are rarely, if ever, simply technical matters, our current neoliberal pretense to the contrary notwithstanding.

For example, in the face of overwhelming empirical and technical evidence that many states and localities—including Virginia and its seaside communities—confront daily, President Donald Trump and the GOP have chosen to deny climate change.  Likewise, the administration and Republican Party’s decision to attack the human and civil rights of immigrants, refugees and would-be asylees as well as its willingness to do the same regarding the voting rights of minorities and assistance to the poor, suggests that the existing formal policies designed to ensure such rights are simply that, and that they may be changed or undermined by the determined efforts of officials in power.

I have been reflecting on these realities as I have sought to understand why these specific GOP and Trump stances, among others, have gained traction with a portion of the voting public. My October 2019 Tidings commentary addressed the exploration by the Institute’s Community Change Collaborative of what one scholar has labeled the “Deep Story” as a critical element in understanding why patently discriminatory, unjust and anti-egalitarian policies have lately gained credibility with a portion of the American public.[i]  In that essay, I noted that a share of our citizens’ view of the world today is today fueled by a mixture of fear and anger brought on by the swift pace of economic and social change. In support of that argument, I cited a national study by Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University, that found that many rural inhabitants particularly, had adopted a narrative, predicated on that rage and anxiety, that the national government, understood narrowly as the Democratic Party, had allowed certain minority groups special advantages and those populations were undermining those residents’ way of life.[ii]

This argument closely tracked the findings of another recent longitudinal analysis of a Louisiana community by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild that found that citizens there believed that a “natural hierarchy” in their communities had been disrupted in recent decades by government action and along with it, their way of life and of knowing the world. This population, too, was persuaded that its economic and perceived social dislocation had occurred as a result of their national government unaccountably assisting undeserving individuals:

Along with blacks and immigrants, women were also ‘line cutters,’ although in men’s minds, women tended to divide into separate mental categories, daughters, … wives or partners, … and potential rivals at work. … So, race, class, national identity, religion, region, views of gender and sexual orientation - all these joined to reinforce a sense that outside of Louisiana, too, a precious way of life, like the nation itself, was being left behind.[iii]

This argument also suggests why some voters can be persuaded to loathe their most precious gift, their sovereignty, and permit its usurpation by a minority of powerful elites who promise to assuage their fears via scapegoating of minority groups. While I find these analyses compelling, they constitute only a part of the puzzle, albeit an important portion, of why the GOP today and many of its supporters are willing to abridge or deny the rights of other residents on the basis of their skin color, religion or economic status. I have lately been reading historians whose work deepens and further contextualizes Wuthnow and Hochschild’s efforts by suggesting that the current GOP-led assault on minorities’ voting rights and its support of misplaced moral hierarchies can be understood to be anchored in a deeper struggle for democracy and equality against the claims of racism and injustice throughout American history.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning Columbia University historian Eric Foner is often described as this nation’s most insightful interpreter of the Reconstruction era in American politics, a period usually marked as occurring between1865-1877. He recently published a new volume on the import of political and Constitutional developments during those years that makes clear that the present Republican Party’s decision to use race, racism and demagoguery as cudgels to polarize, demean and divide citizens to sustain its political power are not new. In fact, they have a long provenance in the struggle to define how the nation should view itself:  

But even if we are unaware of it, Reconstruction remains part of our lives, or to put it another way, key issues confronting American society today are in some ways Reconstruction questions. Who is entitled to citizenship? Who should enjoy the right to vote? Should the laws protect the rights of aliens as well as citizens? [iv]

All of these questions are central to current Trump administration and GOP politics, with the President attacking citizenship as a birthright for targeted groups and with state legislatures controlled by his party purging minorities from voting lists and seeking to make it more difficult for such individuals to vote via identification requirements.[v] These concerns also appear in the administration’s ongoing attacks on the civil and human rights of minorities more generally, especially of asylees and refugees. Finally, Trump and his GOP have embraced individuals’ rights to discriminate against others, particularly gay and transgender individuals, based on personal religious beliefs, rather than overt state action. That is, the administration has sought not only to sanction, but also to encourage intolerant practices resting on a posited inequality among individuals based on the self-declared superior righteousness of one or another politically favored group’s view of human difference.[vi]

Analogously, during Reconstruction those who opposed former slaves obtaining full citizenship rights argued that slavery had been a benign paternalistic institution and that freed individuals had corrupted politics when they were allowed to become involved in it. As Foner has put this point:

This portrait of Reconstruction became part of the Lost Cause ideology that permeated southern culture in the first part of the twentieth century and was reflected in the proliferation of Confederate monuments that still dot the southern landscape and have lately become a source of strident debate.[vii]

(Click here to continue)

Project Updates

Roanoke Valley Connection to Care (C2C) Project

The Institute for Policy & Governance (IPG), with Mary Beth Dunkenberger as Principal Investigator (PI), helped secure nearly $300,000 in grant funding for the Roanoke Valley Connection to Care (C2C) project.  The proposal was developed and submitted in close collaboration with Co- PI Kim Horn, Research Scientist with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech (FBRI).

Connection to Care (C2C) is an inter-agency collaboration intended to provide crisis response and overdose prevention services to individuals in the Roanoke Valley, with the overarching goals of reducing overdose and connecting individuals to harm reduction and treatment services. The program concept emerged from the Roanoke Valley Collective Response (RVCR) to the Opioid and Addiction Crisis.  The Office of National Drug Control Policy, under the Combating Opioid Overdose through Community-Level Intervention FY19 grant (COOCLI) provided this funding.

In addition to IPG and FBRI, C2C project team partners include the Roanoke Valley Hope Initiative, a program of the Bradley Free Clinic (HOPE), the Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition (VHRC), the Center for Public Health Practice and Research and the Industrial Design Program at the School of Architecture + Design.  Collaborating partners include the Police and Fire-Emergency Medical Service units of Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Salem, VA, Carilion Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, and the Western Virginia Regional Jail.

Deliverables of the C2C project include: (1) the development of a referral resource inventory for harm reduction and treatment services; (2) the hiring of peer counselors to increase the response rate of the HOPE & VHRC Inter-Agency Crisis Prevention & Response Units; (3) the assembly of a stakeholder/advisory group to include representatives from the law enforcement, first responders, public health, and correction communities; (4) the distribution of backpacks that are meant to improve the “connection to care” services for the target market; and (5) outcome and process evaluation.

A key initial component of the pilot program is the distribution of C2C backpacks, supplied with items to reduce the odds of overdose among individuals who are at high risk and are homeless or housing insecure. These include a blanket, stocking cap, gloves, socks, personal hygiene items, cell phone power pack, naloxone and referral cards. IPG and its partners distributed the first one hundred (100) backpacks in December.  C2C is funded to provide an additional two hundred (200) backpacks.  IPG collaborated with students from the Virginia Tech's School of Architecture + Design Industrial Design Senior Studio regarding the development and manufacturing of a prototype backpack and connection to care kit to address the special needs of housing insecure individuals who are at risk of overdose.

Packing backpacks for the C2C program
Packing backpacks for the C2C program

Piedmont Regional Opioid Addiction Treatment Pilot Program

The Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) recently secured grant funding to support planning and outreach for  a Regional Opioid Addiction Treatment Pilot Program for Piedmont Community Services (PCS).  The mission of PCS is to help individuals, families, and the community enhance their quality of life by providing a highly effective continuum of behavioral health services including prevention, treatment, education, and support within available resources.  This  project will help support PCS and other stakeholders in the establishment of a regional integrated continuum of care for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and polysubstance use treatment in Virginia’s Piedmont region. 

The Virginia Higher Education Opioid Consortium (VHEOC) provided the funding.  The VHEOC is a five-university consortium supported by the Virginai Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services whose objective is to support local community service boards (CSBs) in addressing the state’s opioid crisis.  VHEOC aims to do so by harnessing resources from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and combining those with the knowledge and  experience of university faculty in opioid prevention, treatment, and program development and capacity building.

Mary Beth Dunkenberger of IPG serves as Principal Investigator (PI) for this project and in collaboration with  Co-PIs Kathy Hosig and Sophie Wenzel of the Center for Public Health Practice and Research (CPHPR), Associate Professor Adrienne Ivory in the Department of Communications and Associate Professor Reed Kennedy in the Pamplin College.

In the first phase of the project, the team has worked with the regional planning team (representatives of Piedmont Community Services, Sovah Health and Virginia Tech) to create a messaging brief to summarize : (1)  the evidence base for integrated care in addressing OUD; (2) compiled population health indicators to support the pilot program in the Piedmont Region ; and 3) identified gaps and needed resources to enable an integrated continuum of services from detoxification services to recovery supports.

1.7x higher in West Piedmont Health District (Rate of unintentional drug overdose compared to Virginia in 2018)

Phase two of the project will involve the team: (1) facilitating regional engagement, for the planning and implementation of the integrated service continuum; (2) monitoring of developments that impact reimbursement for the continnum of OUD services; and (3) conducting and presenting a scenario analysis for a three-year plan to build and sustain the detox center. 

TAP's Book Donation Program Comes to Blacksburg

TAP's book donation program outside of 201 W Roanoke Street, Blacksburg
TAP's book donation program outside of 201 W Roanoke Street, Blacksburg

Have you heard? We are supporting the Total Action for Progress Donation Program with a new drop-off point outside of our office!  TAP's book donation program sells books online to support their mission, provides free books to people participating in their programs, and creates jobs in our community.

TAP Books accepts donations of various media, such as:


 Acknowledgements & Accomplishments

Alex Stubberfield

Congratulations to Alex Stubberfield, who successfully defended his dissertation in the ASPECT program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech on December 18, 2019! His effort is entitled: “The Greater Sage-Grouse in Wyoming: A Technonatural Study.” Dr. Mauro Caraccioli, Department of Political Science, Dr. Francois Debrix, ASPECT Program Director and Department of Political Science, and Dr. Nneka Logan, Department of Communication, served on his advisory committee. Dr. Tim Luke, Chair, Department of Political Science and Professor, School of Public and International Affairs, served as his Chair. Alex has been an active participant in the Institute’s Community Change Collaborative.

Kyunghee Kim

Congratulations to Kyunghee Kim, who successfully defended her dissertation in the Architecture and Design Research PhD program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech on December 16, 2019! Her effort is entitled: “The Role of Leadership for Community Building and Community Garden Programs.” Professors C.L. Bohannon, Landscape Architecture and Max Stephenson Jr., School of Public and International Affairs and Director, Institute for Policy and Governance, served on her advisory committee. Professors Terry L. Clements and Mintai Kim of Landscape Architecture served as her Co-Chairs. Kyunghee is the 34th PhD student closely associated with VTIPG to complete their work since the Institute’s founding in July of 2006.

Sarah Lyon-Hill

Congratulations to Sarah Lyon-Hill, who successfully defended her dissertation in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization program in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech on November 18, 2019. Her effort is entitled: “A New Institutionalist History of Appalshop: Exploring the Agential Dynamics of an Appalachian Community Cultural Development Organization.” Her research interests include community cultural development, arts organizations and Appalachia. Special thanks to Professor Robert Leonard, Theatre Department of the School of Performing Arts, Associate Professor Kim Niewolny, Department of Agricultural, Leadership and Community Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Scott Tate, Associate Director of the Virginia Tech Center for Economic Development for serving on her advisory committee.  Professor Max Stephenson Jr. served as her committee chair.  Sarah is the 33rd PhD student closely associated with VTIPG to complete her work since the Institute’s founding in July of 2006.

Beth Olberding

Beth Olberding (graduate from Virginia Tech with a Master of Urban and Regional Planning and a Master of Natural Resources) was recently promoted to Research Analyst at the World Resources Institute.  Beth graduated with her MURP and MNR degrees in 2018. She was also a United States Peace Corps - Master's International Program student in Costa Rica and she won two SPIA awards: Brenda Crawford Award for Exemplifying Values of Social Justice: UAP; Also UAP Marsha Ritzdorf  Outstanding Capstone Paper (Thesis). Congratulations, Beth!

 News & Events

Theater of Change Forum

Photo credit: Lee Wexler
Photo credit: Lee Wexler

Courtney Surmanek, Graduate Assistant for the Institute, co-organized and facilitated a 3-day Theater of Change Forum with the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. It took place at Columbia University Law School in New York City on October 18-20, 2019.

The program brought together artists, law and policy students and experts, and directly affected advocates within the criminal-legal space. Through the process, the participants collaborated as equal partners in the creation of arts-based performance pieces that have an engagement strategy to target specific policies.

During the forum, participants chose to participate in one of four workshop groups, each focusing on a different policy area: education equity, parole and re-entry, community/economic development, and political participation of formerly incarcerated people. Courtney co-led the group on community economic development. Their community partner was the nonprofit organization STRIVE in East Harlem.

More information on the forum can be found at

The Forum is the outgrowth of a winter-session course at Columbia University Law School in which Courtney participated last year called "Theater of Change: Artistry, Law, & Activism". The course framework is interesting in that law students take it for course credit. Artists and community advocates were compensated for their participation. 

Columbia University Law School professor Susan Sturm is on the Board of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition and also served as one of the lead faculty members for the above-mentioned course. Her research addresses the social functions of lawyers. More specifically, she is committed to building best practices around moral, cultural and educational experiences lawyers need to operate ethically and effectively in the social sector. 

Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation

The Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation Launch

By:  Allyssa Kindel

IPG Director Max Stephenson Jr. serves on the advisory board for the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. On September 16, 2019, the Center hosted its launch event on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, VA. The Center was established by a group of partners across Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, and the Commonwealth to explore partnership, solidarity, and possibility for social equity and sustainability in our food and farming systems. With explicit outreach and Extension goals, the Center also aligns its efforts to address engaged teaching and research aims. 

The launch event for the Center consisted of several parts. First, Dr. Kim Niewolny, director of the Center, addressed the Center’s background and aims. Next, Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Commissioner, offered welcoming remarks and set the stage before turning the program over to a guest panel. That group included Jenny Schwanke, coordinator of the Blacksburg Hale Community Garden; Carmen Young, a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education; and Eric Bendfeldt, VA Cooperative Extension specialist in community viability. They each discussed issues relating to food systems and transforming the community. The panel also discussed what they would like to see from university partnership, and how they conceived the new Center and its capacity to help address food issues in the community. 

The launch event concluded with featured keynote speaker, Dr. Alice Julier, Associate Professor of Food Studies at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. Dr. Julier spoke about the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food, and Transformation (CRAFT); a program she directs at Chatham. CRAFT seeks to educate the community about farming now and in the past, map regional food capacity, offer community workshops to teach culinary and other food production skills, as well as provide resources to help food entrepreneurs thrive through the Food and Agricultural Innovation Lab

Beginning in fall 2019, the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation here at Virginia Tech will employ Story Circles to provide an open space for community-university discussion around healthy food access, farm system viability, ecological sustainability, community engagement, and social equity in our food and farming systems. 

In the future, the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation also aims to partner with community and university organizations to develop new and foster existing food system facilitation praxis, research opportunities, co-learning initiatives, guest speakers, and social equity training. 

To learn more about the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation, or for more information about the September 16th launch event, visit or contact Professor Kim Niewolny at  

To learn more about the CRAFT project, visit

Liz Allen Featured in The Center for Communicating Science Article


Liz Allen, IPG Assistant Business Manager and Program Research Associate, was recently highlighted in an article by The Center for Communicating Science at Virginia Tech.  In the article, Liz explained the importance of mindfullness in gathering data and presenting it in understandable and accessible ways.  Through the use of a few tips, including pivot tables, information from large, detailed data sets can be easily communicated.  Read the article here.   

Annual IPG Holiday Luncheon

Associate Dean for Research Robert Schubert, IPG Director Max Stephenson, IPG Associate Director Mary Beth Dunkenberger, IPG Affiliated Student Neda Moayerian and CAUS Dean Richard Blythe
Left to Right: Associate Dean for Research Robert Schubert, IPG Director Max Stephenson, IPG Associate Director Mary Beth Dunkenberger, IPG Affiliated Student Neda Moayerian and CAUS Dean Richard Blythe

Thank you to everyone who was able to stop by and help make our Annual Holiday Luncheon at the Alexander Black House on Friday, December 6th a success.  Wishing you a happy and healthy 2020!

 Conference & Print Representation

CCC Facilitates a Workforce Development Business Solutions Team Retreat in Roanoke

Community Change Collaborative (CCC) members Courtney Surmanek, Lara Nagle, and Cassandra Hockman designed and facilitated a retreat for the Western Virginia Workforce Development Board’s Regional Business Solutions Team (BST). The invitation to facilitate came from Brad Stephens, a former CCC member and the current Communications and Business Solutions Coordinator for Virginia Career Works – Blue Ridge. The meeting was held on December 2, 2019 at the Gainsboro Branch of the Roanoke City Public Library.

The goal of Virginia's workforce development system is for “every business to have access to a qualified, job-ready workforce” and for every Virginian to have “the skills needed to connect with meaningful employment and advance in a career.” To help achieve this vision, the Virginia Board of Workforce Development (VBWD) is “committed to increasing business engagement and delivering value to [its] business customers.” The goal of the BST, broadly, is to “more effectively identify opportunities to better partner with business in a strategic manner based upon career pathways and sector strategies.”

The retreat on December 2nd allowed approximately fifteen organizational representatives of the BST to share how their program missions align within the larger workforce development system, what the next 6-12 months might look like as the BST defines its upcoming goals, and to brainstorm other stakeholders to invite to the table. During the four-hour workshop, the CCC facilitators utilized arts-based engagement methods to encourage open dialogue and transparency among the BST members, as well as provide activities for participants to assess the BST’s performance, prioritize future goals via small group discussion, and initiate a logic model to help flesh out an action plan leading to accomplishment of top priority goals. Participants shared highlights from the workshop, including their appreciation for the small group discussions and the ability to get to know other members better; having an action plan to move forward; and their excitement for regional growth, what is coming and how the BST will contribute.

Some photos from the retreat appear below:

Workforce Development Business Solutions Team Retreat in Roanoke 1
Workforce Development Business Solutions Team Retreat in Roanoke 2
Workforce Development Business Solutions Team Retreat in Roanoke 3

 Faculty Spotlight

Kim Niewolny

Dr. Kim Niewolny is an associate professor of community education and development in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education (ALCE). This year marks a decade at Virginia Tech where Kim has held a teaching, research, and extension appointment that holistically reflects the land-grant mission. Together, her work centers on the role of power and equity in community education and development with special interests in ontological-epistemological politics, action research; participatory and cultural community development; critical pedagogy; and the political praxis of community food work.  She holds research experience in critical discourse analysis and narrative inquiry drawing upon the fields of education and cultural studies. Her funded initiatives emphasize several critical issues that are rooted in participatory and critical praxis, including Appalachian community food security; new farmer sustainability; farmworker disability; and food justice.  

Kim’s most recent community-based research effort is the “Stories of Community Food Work in Appalachia” project that uses a narrative inquiry frame to illustrate the lived experiences and praxis frameworks of activists and practitioners who are connected to the broader issues of social justice and food systems change in the Appalachian region. She collaborating with Max Stephenson and IPG to publish a book of narratives exemplifying the role of community food work stories as generative spaces for transformative possibilities and political agency. 

In partnership with the College of Engineering, Kim serves as co-principal investigator of two National Science Foundation grant projects that are focused on the politics of technology, sustainability, and human-centered design to promote health, accessibility, and sustainability within vulnerable farmscapes. Relatedly, she serves as Director of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition and Director of the Virginia AgrAbility Program, which are both network-based and capacity building Cooperative Extension programs.  She also serves on the Virginia Food Systems Council as a representative of Virginia Tech. 

Kim’s study abroad course on food sovereignty and cultural resiliency in Cuba.
Kim’s study abroad course on food sovereignty and cultural resiliency in Cuba.

Kim is excited to be leading the newly formed Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation at Virginia Tech.  The center aims to create community-university opportunities to better create the conditions for equity, justice, and health in our food and farming systems. This includes developing co-learning partnerships across Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth for improved collaboration among a diversity of stakeholders addressing the complexity of food system issues with emphasis on the emancipatory potential for socially just food systems; launching community-based research initiatives that addresses historical and emergent issues from a values-centric and systems-approach; and leveraging service-based curriculum in food, farming, and community transformation. Max Stephenson and the Community Change Collaborative of IPG serve as central partners to promote the work of the Center.  

Always an educator, Kim teaches a number of graduate courses and provides teaching leadership in Virginia Tech’s undergraduate minor in Civic Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS).  While her work is closely integrated across the land-grant mission, Kim believes teaching and mentoring students is one of her most important and fulfilling responsibilities.

She identifies as a first-generation college graduate who completed her M.S. and Ph. D from Cornell University in the Department of Development Sociology and Department of Education, respectively.  

 Student Spotlight

 Randell Dauda

Randell Dauda is a Ph.D. student in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization program in the School of Public and International Affairs. She serves as a Graduate Assistant for Outreach in the Global Education, Engagement and Research (GEER) office in the School of Engineering. In this role, she supports the Global Ambassadors Program and uses communication strategies to increase global engagement across the College, drawing upon her experience having worked in the Global Services Office and cultural centers at her alma mater, Northeastern University. Randell studied Psychology and Cultural Anthropology at Northeastern University and stayed to complete her Masters in Higher Education as a Martin Luther King (MLK), Jr Fellow. Randell also attended the Summer Institute for Public Health at John Hopkins where she completed training in violence and injury prevention and basic psychological first aid and post-traumatic stress management.

Randell is a student affairs professional who enjoys working with youth and students to increase global awareness and promote international education. Before joining Virginia Tech in 2019, Randell worked with First Generation college students as a member of the Academic Resource Team at Ferrum College in Virginia.  Additionally, while completing her Master’s, she worked with inner-city youth in Mattapan and Dorchester, MA, as a member of the Injury and Violence Prevention and Outreach Team at the prestigious Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). At BWH, Randell worked with hospital community partners to train and lead discussions for students at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Dorchester, MA. In 2015, Randell returned to Liberia where she earlier escaped civil wars as a teenager; and worked in the rural areas recruiting students for Tubman University (TU), one of only two government universities in Liberia.  At TU, she worked with others in the remedial Access to College program to help prepare high school students for college and to increase enrollment of girls. The lack of funding and other challenges led Randell to establish collaborations with local and international NGOs to support scholarship programs at TU. She was also heavily involved with youth in the communities surrounding TU to support initiatives to start an art program with an all-girls dance team.

Randell prides herself on being a community organizer and loves working with diverse populations to collaborate on efforts to secure social change. In 2014, during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and neighboring countries, Randell organized a community collaborative effort between diaspora Africans, churches, hospitals and other community groups to collect and ship medical supplies to affected areas in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The Ebola BE Gone campaign successfully shipped more than $15,000 worth of supplies within 3 months and brought awareness through a social and digital movement with youth in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Minneapolis. Randell is passionate about community outreach and education and looks forward to being involved with the work of the Community Change Collaborative (CCC).

Randell’s research interest centers on race and power structures in international programs, specifically study abroad, service-learning and other short-term programs in sub-Saharan Africa. Her advisor is Dr. Max Stephenson, Director of The Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance. Randell is engaged to Johnny, a fellow Hokie and Ph.D student. She goes by the name Zuleka and is proud of her African heritage. She spends some of her free time writing stories to counter the narrative of a “helpless” Africa. When she is not doing that, she’s creating something from Pinterest. Randell is a self-proclaimed headwrap enthusiast, fufu connoisseur, and colorful storyteller. She enjoys reading, traveling, playing mas in Caribbean carnivals and being an aunt to a spoiled Maltese.

 Max Stephenson's Tidings (continued)

Many so-called conservatives and Republicans have embraced this ideology, which was and remains a grotesque and baseless justification of an indefensible practice. While some Party leaders, including President Trump and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, have supported variations of these claims concerning the “proper place” of non-white individuals and the character of slavery respectively, their manifestation in today’s GOP is most often revealed in a paradoxical view of minorities as simultaneously “threats” and “less than,” as in the Deep Story narrative.[8] At least since the late 1960s, the Republican Party has systematically depicted individuals who suffer poverty as minority schemers and ne’er-do-wells whose receipt of public support represents a waste of government funds. When applied to immigrants and refugees, this narrative suggests these individuals are threats because they cleverly gain unmerited support while “stealing Real Americans’” jobs.

This combined narrative mythologizes a virulently racist period in American history on the basis of false contentions. It also suggests that certain groups are in principle less-than others, and therefore unworthy of rights and dignification. It follows for people who choose to believe this argument that these “less-than others” can be blamed for whatever concerns those citizens may have. These premises capture two central planks of today’s GOP political strategy. In addition, however, current Republicans have coupled this story with an ongoing attempt to redistribute income upward within society to a relatively small group, who, echoing racist whites during Reconstruction, believe themselves the only class worthy to govern.

As Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson has recently argued in terms consonant both with Foner’s analysis of the enduring import of Reconstruction and the “Deep Story” outlined above:

Former Confederates loathed the idea of black men voting almost as much as they hated the idea of equal rights. They insisted that such programs were simply a redistribution of wealth from hardworking white people to blacks who wanted a handout, since they would cost tax dollars and white people were the only ones with property in the Reconstruction South. This idea that it was dangerous for working men to participate in government caught on in the North as immigrants moved into growing cities to work in the burgeoning factories. Like their counterparts in the South, they voted for roads and schools, and men of wealth insisted these programs meant a redistribution of wealth through tax dollars. They got more concerned still when a majority of Americans began to call for regulation to keep businessmen from gouging consumers, polluting the environment, and poisoning the food supply (the reason you needed to worry about strangers and candy in this era was that candy was often painted with lead paint). Any attempt to regulate business would impinge on a man's liberty, wealthy men argued, and would cost tax dollars and thus was a redistribution of wealth.[9]

Richardson concluded, “The powerful formula linking racism to the idea of an active government and arguing that a government that promotes infrastructure, provides a basic social safety net and regulates business is socialism has shaped American history since Reconstruction.”[10]

In sum, the modern Republican Party has endorsed and sought systematically to appeal to fear and racism to mobilize voters as a tool or instrument to ensure de facto rule by a few individuals rather than the democratic majority. The GOP has aggressively supported the argument that targeted groups may appropriately be blamed for social and economic changes that trouble affected citizens and it has extended that scapegoating claim to the concept of self-governance as well. That is, the Party has embraced a bankrupt and thoroughly discredited version of American history and the racism that attended it, even as it has persistently told citizens that government, in concert with minorities, is responsible for their perceived woes. It has employed this anti-democratic agenda to undermine popular support for governance and to offer a limited group in society—akin to the South’s resistant white landowners during Reconstruction who concocted the myth of the Lost Cause—nearly unfettered capacity to do as they wish irrespective of any public accountability or consequences for their actions.

All of this is to say that the United States today faces a democratic crisis of deep proportions. The question confronting our citizenry is whether the Republican Party will succeed in remaining in power by deploying the mythology of those who opposed Reconstruction to deepen injustice and inequality by systematically denying civil and human rights to groups in a society nominally dedicated to their furtherance. The Party has similarly scapegoated governance rather than act in reasoned ways to address the nation’s challenges, so as to empower a small group to secure additional wealth, irrespective of the social, environmental and democratic costs entailed in their doing so. If the current course is sanctioned by the 2020 national election, the U.S. will no longer be able to declare democracy, justice or equality as central animating principles, as these will have been displaced successfully by the quest among a few individuals, who have employed a mobilization strategy, rooted in our nation’s tortured racial history, to use human difference and fear to undermine equality and justice to pursue their privatized ends. The Institute will continue to follow and document these trends as all who are charged with responsibilities to American democratic governance and freedom must.


[1] Stephenson, Max Jr., “The Enduring Power and Danger of the ‘Deep Story,’” Tidings, October 7, 2019,, Accessed January 4, 2020.

[2] Wuthnow, Robert. The Left Behind: Decline and rage in rural America. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.

[3] Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in their own land. New York: The New Press, 2018, pp. 258-259.

[4] Foner, Eric. The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2019, p xxi.

[5] Truax, Chris. “There are a few (dozen?) glitches in that Donald Trump plan to end birthright citizenship,” USA Today, August 27, 2019, Accessed January 4, 2020; Hakin, Danny and Michael Wines, “‘They don’t really want us to vote:’ How Republicans Made it Harder,

 The New York Times, November 3, 2018,, Accessed January 3, 2020.

[6] The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, “Trump Administration Civil and Human Rights Rollbacks,”, December 2019, Accessed January 4, 2020; Holden, Dominic, “Trump’s Latest proposal Would Let Businesses Discriminate Based on LGBTQ Status, Race, Religion and More,” Buzz Feed, August 14, 2019,, Accessed January 2, 2020.

[7] Foner, The Second Founding, p. xxii.

[8] Davis, Julie Hirschfield, “Trump Calls Some Unauthorized Immigrants ‘Animals’ in Rant,” The New York Times, May 16, 2018,, Accessed January 5, 2020; Kilgore, Ed, “Rand Paul and His Confederate Friends,” Washington Monthly, July 16, 2013,, Accessed January 5, 2020.  

[9] Richardson, Heather Cox. Letters from an American, November 9, 2019,  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[10] Richardson, Heather Cox. Letters from an American, November 9, 2019.

 Commentaries & Essays


A commentary series authored by VTIPG Director Max Stephenson

December 16:  A Clear and Present Danger

December 3:  Counting the Costs of Partyism

November 18:  Decolonizing Social Imagination

October 21:  Noise, Quiet and Democratic Deliberation


Online essay series hosted by VTIPG and edited by Professor Max Stephenson Jr., written by graduate students across the University to reflect on their ongoing work in governance and policy related concerns.

November 21:  Reflections on the Future of Community Cultural Development

November 7:  What is ‘Smart’ in Smart Cities (in the making) in India?

November 1:  The Art of the Commute*

October 24:  Nature and Sustainability in Transportation Infrastructure Development