IPG Newsletter July 2020
Reflections on a Deepening Governance Crisis
By Max Stephenson Jr
The United States fell into a still deeper political and social crisis recently when a video revealed a Minneapolis police officer murdering an unarmed black man, George Floyd, during a more than 8-1/2-minute-long strangulation as his police colleagues watched, and during which the assailant ignored the pleas of the individual he killed to relent. Floyd’s death followed the senseless killings by police of a number of other minority group members in recent months. Those added to the countless such deaths throughout the nation’s existence. Predictably and rightly, protesters soon filled the streets across this country and such demonstrations have now spread throughout the world. Sadly, if understandably, not all such events have been peaceful, but most have been and are (they continue as I write). President Donald Trump, however, chose not to respond to these difficult events with empathy or by invoking the grander values of our nation. Instead, he described the marchers as more loathsome than the horror to which they were reacting, labeled all of them “terrorists,” and called on the nation’s governors to “dominate” them so those executives would not appear “weak,” as if that were even a relevant criterion.
Matters became even darker when Trump asked Attorney General William Barr to arrange to clear a peaceful protest in Jackson Square near the White House so the president could walk across the street to a nearby church for a photo opportunity while wielding a Bible. Barr did so with mounted Park Police officers, individuals in unmarked uniforms from the Bureau of Prisons (contrary to U.S. practice) and tear gas, flash bombs and rubber bullets. Soon thereafter, Trump deepened this ignominy by turning the White House into a fortress with reinforced fencing, by seeking to militarize Washington, D.C. still more completely and by threatening to employ United States forces against American citizens in a broad gauged way. His actions were unconscionable and his threats and posturing a gesture to white anxiety and racism, and to a too long history of systemic discrimination of minorities in this nation. His choices not only continued to tear at the already rent fabric of the ties among Americans, it exacerbated those differences while also despoiling and mocking the nation’s dearest values. It was a despicable moment and a stain on the Presidency and country’s governance that history will mark and long remember.
This has come on the heels of the COVID-19 public health emergency and the deaths, illness and economic devastation it has wrought and continues to impose. That challenge has exposed afresh the bitter reality that Americans of color on average earn lower wages, enjoy less robust health, live in less healthful conditions and enjoy less access to government and social services, including medical care, than their white counterparts. Trump has chosen to ignore those facts, blame the victims for them and call on other citizens—read white citizens—to “dominate” such groups rather than accept them as their equals and pursue shared efforts to help change these shameful conditions. This scenario is morally outrageous and profoundly anti-democratic and it undermines efforts to ensure continued respect for equal application of the law and human and civil rights for all. Overall, Trump’s response to the coronavirus and the protests to date have corroded the rule of law, polarized rather than united the population, imposed unnecessary suffering on countless citizens and offered lies rather than paths forward.
This is all of moment to VTIPG, a university-based research center charged with pondering American governance for obvious reasons. The demagoguery, now on offer in Washington and beyond, including its constant assaults on truth and equality particularly, constitutes a real-time challenge to the survival of the American regime as a putative self-governing regime. It is incumbent on scholars and others studying governance at higher education institutions, therefore, to trace the arc of this malignancy, seek to understand it and why some would support it and share our analyses with other scholars and the broader public in a vital ongoing dialogue to develop and implement strategies to address these wicked problems. This is a time-honored and rightful civic role for scholars and for universities, but perhaps never more significant than in the present moment in which the rule of law and American values are being tested in ways not in evidence since the conflagration of the Civil War.
A Quarter of Change: Moving from Fear to a Collective Response
This past week I greeted a young neighbor couple and their new baby, inquiring, “Sophia has grown so much; she is now six months old?” to which they responded, “No, she is almost four months.” So, this is how the time has seemed since the week of March 9, when news of the spread of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 went from being a two–dimensional representation in the news to an intrusive three-dimensional reality in the way we conduct our learning, work and personal lives and how we interact with one another and our institutions. Some days and weeks creep by, while others are a blur of new routines, interactions and reactions.
Most will recall that initial period of sudden uncertainty, the shock of personal impacts from a global pandemic—risk to ourselves, our families, friends, communities and jobs. For me, those first weeks were reminiscent of September 11 and April 16, dates that for Americans and our extended Blacksburg community stand alone as demarcations of profound trauma and fear. Fear is a shared human emotion, for the most part coming to us in personal and isolated ways—the fear of loss, of illness, of failure. But at times fear comes collectively to communities and globally, to nation states in a way that puts the safety, well-being and conceivably our very existence in peril. At times collective fear gives way to shared empathy and response, serving to unite our societies, to overcome differences and to prompt responses that serve the common good. These global collective incidents have been rare, different in magnitude and have occurred over time to give humanity opportunity to react, adapt and progress (e.g. the Polio Epidemic, Great Depression, World War II).
While the COVID-19 crisis certainly is ongoing, we now have four months of profound experience and learning and there is therefore now time for reflection on fear, empathy and response. That first week we hit the life as normal pause button and many rushed into reflexive panic mode. As the weeks progressed, videos emerged of besieged grocery stores bereft of bottled water and toilet paper that had been purchased on the basis of fears of possible shortages. At the same time, local and state actions to restrict individual movement to stop the spread of the disease and to give our health systems time to prepare and secure personal protective materials and lifesaving equipment, such as respirators, were received as responsible measures by most, but were also met with criticism by some. Withal, it now seems clear that COVID-19 has indisputably highlighted dramatic socio-economic and political divides in the U.S. and globally. More deeply, this crisis has highlighted the challenge of how to ensure that our nation’s citizenry is equipped to separate truth from untruth in an age of information ubiquity and manipulation.
Just as some states and localities were loosening restrictions and reopening businesses in late May, our country was hit by a second shockwave when on May 25, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by a city police officer. Floyd is one of too many persons of color who have died at the hands of police officers and citizen vigilantes during our nation’s long history of social and legal injustice toward African-Americans and other minorities. The tragic killing of Mr. Floyd, brought to the surface the constant and abiding fear that many racial and ethnic minorities have lived with for generations—a persistent fear that many of us born to relative social and economic privilege, are not able readily to comprehend or even to imagine. One hopeful impact of the collective fear experienced during this COVID-19 pandemic and today’s renewed awareness of the grave social injustices that remain at play in our society, is a new sense of empathy among those who do not have to worry daily about their safety, due to their skin color or perceived difference, toward those who do live in perpetual fear of loss of life, livelihood and liberty.
In the spirit of hope elevated by the national and international outcry for justice during these last few weeks, I challenge my community, my colleagues and myself to inspire a sense of collective empathy to drive facts, knowledge, dialogue, action and forward movement as we confront ongoing challenges to our shared goals for justice and well-being for all of our nation’s residents. There will always be those who view our political economy as a zero-sum game, in which, if one group gains, another loses. But they can be overcome if we work together with thoughtfulness and compassion. I believe that the work of the Institute and the deep dedication of our staff, faculty and affiliated students serves this higher purpose.
While some aspects or our work have been curtailed by this ongoing period of crisis, in most ways our efforts have continued to touch the populations and communities we serve in positive ways. I am deeply grateful to my colleagues who, during this very difficult time, have demonstrated adaptability, resolve and fortitude and who have held to the truth, demonstrated empathy and sought to realize a shared vision of helping build a better society through their work and actions.
The Federal Reimbursement Unit (FRU)
VTIPG’s Federal Reimbursement Unit (FRU) continues to provide effective fiscal and programmatic support to the Fairfax County, VA Foster Care and Adoptions and Fairfax/Falls Church Children’s Service’s Act (CSA) programs, even with staff members working from home, and doing so in a region of the state hit hard by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The FRU Team looks forward to continuing their engagement with these important social service programs in one of the nation’s largest urban counties in FY2021.
Connection to Care (C2C)
The C2C project works to connect individuals at high risk of drug overdose to relevant harm reduction and treatment services. Primary interventions include peer recovery specialist services through community partners including, the HOPE Initiative and the Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition and the distribution of backpacks stocked with essential items and information concerning how to connect to services. The backpacks target individuals that are housing insecure and at risk of overdose. In April, the project team was able to distribute 140 backpacks to community partners for distribution to individuals requiring them and in May, the group made great strides in facilitating access to Naloxone for most of its partner organizations. COVID-19 has curtailed the team’s outreach efforts to emergency medical services (EMS) for active drug users and some project research activities, but the effort nevertheless continues to assist this very vulnerable population in this direct way.
Virginia Higher Education Opioid Consortium (VHEOC)
The Institute and it faculty and students are supporting three Virginia Higher Education Opioid Consortium (VHEOC)-funded projects to support and build regional programs addressing the area’s opioid and addiction crises. We highlight the Piedmont Community Services PACE program below.
PACE for Recovery Partnership with Piedmont Community Services, Sovah Health – Martinsville, and Carilion Franklin
VTIPG researchers Mary Beth Dunkenberger and Lara Nagle, along with Reed Kennedy, VT Pamplin College of Business, and Carlin Rafie, VT Dept. of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, have assisted with program messaging and project management for the development of a continuum of care initiative for people with substance use disorders (SUDs) from Sovah Health – Martinsville and Carilion Franklin Memorial hospitals. The continuum of care approach is modeled after a successful initiative called the Bridge to Treatment, previously undertaken by Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, and is an effort to link emergency department (ED) patients with SUDs to longer-term treatment and supports more effectively. Peer recovery specialists play a unique role in liaising across healthcare providers and their efforts to provide leadership and education concerning medication assisted treatment (MAT) and the biology of addiction to ED practitioners has contributed to the program’s initial success. Indeed, preliminary analysis of the Bridge model suggests it is resulting in high treatment and retention rates in the greater Martinsville region.
Additional VTIPG VHEOC-Sponsored Projects Include
- New River Valley Community Services - In collaboration with the VT Office of Economic Development and Center for Public Health Practice and Research, VTIPG is conducting an evaluation of the region’s adult drug court programs.
- Blue Ridge Behavioral Health - In collaboration with Nneka Login of the Department of Communications, VTIPG faculty and graduate student researchers are developing educational and training materials for conducting medication assisted treatments for the addicted in the detention center and drug court setting.
Certified Community Behavioral Health Center (CCBHC) Grants
In collaboration with the Center for Public Health Practice and Research Institute faculty and graduate assistants are serving as evaluators of the recently awarded national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMSHA) 2020 CCBHC grants awarded to New River and Mount Rogers Community Services.
Additional projects completed or continuing during this past quarter include an evaluation of Roanoke’s Total Action for Progress’ (TAP) SwiftStart Program, and an evaluation of Fairfax County’s Move to Work (MTW) housing program.
Great news! United States Department of Labor funding for VTIPG’s partnership with TAP and New River Community Action to run the SwiftStart program--which is a four-year grant that was scheduled to end in June--has been extended another year because of the great success of the program. It will now run until June 2021! This means our partnership will be able to help more parents obtain careers in healthcare, information technology or advanced manufacturing and offer them tuition and child care assistance while attending class.
A special note of recognition and appreciation to Summer Bork (Master of Urban and Regional Planning, 2020) and Samantha Seay (Master of Public Health, 2020) who recently graduated and are now embarked on new professional challenges. During their time at VTIPG, they served on the National Outcome Measures (NOM) data collection and analysis team, supervised by Liz Allen. We wish them the very best in their future endeavors.
Professor Max Stephenson Jr. and Professor Laura Zanotti's article, "Tacit knowledge, cultural values and agential possibility in rural Haiti", was recently published in The Community Development Journal. This article recounts the efforts of a group of subsistence farmers in a mountainous rural part of Haiti who, working with a young social entrepreneur from their community, have self-organized to develop more economic opportunities by improving their farming practices communally. Congratulations, Max and Laura!
Jake Keyel, Ph.D. has a new published Qualitative Research article entitled, "Encountering and processing secondary traumatic stress during qualitative interviews with displaced Iraqis: a research note." Jake also received the 2019 Richard E. Zody Award for Outstanding Dissertation in Planning, Governance, and Globalization, for his work “Silent Refuge: A Critical Democratic Exploration of Voice and Authorship among Resettled Iraqis in the United States.” Congratulations, Jake! Jake is now serving as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate in the Honors College and was an editor of the Institute-sponsored Community Change Journal. Dr. Stephenson served as his dissertation advisory committee chair.
Nada Berrada's paper, "Tournament of Youth Narratives in the MENA Region: Consequences and New Alter-Narratives," has won the 2020 Association of Middle East Children's and Youth Studies graduate student paper prize. Nada is a Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program (Alliance for Social Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought). Nada was also accepted to present a paper on "Contextualizing agential possibilities in the work space: Young Moroccan's accounts of their everyday realities" at the Middle East Studies Association Annual Conference that will take place on October 10-13 at Washington, D.C. She is an active member of the Institute’s Community Change Collaborative. Dr. Stephenson is serving as her doctoral advisory committee chair. Well done, Nada!
Max Stephenson Jr.'s Tidings commentary series turns 12 with this issue - it first appeared in July 2008. Max has also had two other articles published recently in the International Encyclopedia of Civil Society (2nd ed.) entitled, "Corporatism." and “NGOs in International Humanitarian Relief,” Regina A. List, Helmut K. Anheier and Stefan Toepler (eds.) Way to stay busy, Max!
Dr. Yannis A. Stivachtis, VTIPG affiliated faculty and Associate Chair of the Department of Political Science, is now Professor of Political Science. Congratulations on your promotion, Dr. Stivachtis! Dr. Stivachtis is also now serving as the Jean Monet Chair of the European Studies Center at Virginia Tech, a prestigious appointment conferred by the European Union. Congratulations on this accomplishment too, Dr. Stivachtis!
Congratulations to Planning, Governance and Globalization PhD program graduate Allison Miller who recently successfully defended her dissertation entitled, “Preventing Community Violence: A Case Study of Metro Detroit and Interfaith Activism.” Special thanks to her committee co-chairs, Professor Tim Luke and Priya Dixit of the Department of Political Science, and to Professor James Hawdon of the Department of Sociology and Professor Max Stephenson Jr., of the School of Public and international Affairs and VTIPG. Well done Dr. Miller!
Life does not stop during a global pandemic. So, on May 14th, VTIPG Executive Assistant Heather Parrish donated her left kidney (affectionately named Aunt Lydia) to Brian Huddleston, a Support Technician with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s IT team. Heather learned of Brian’s kidney disorder while they worked together in that College, and immediately looked into testing when she was informed that he was in the final stages of renal failure. The surgery went smoothly and recovery is going well for both donor and recipient. Brian and Heather both plan to use their experience to advocate for Kidney Disease and Organ Donor Awareness. Did you know, for example, that like many other employers nationwide, Virginia Tech offers paid leave under its Bone Marrow/Organ Donor (BMOD) policy? This policy allowed Heather to take four weeks off with full pay without using Annual or Sick Leave. Combined with the full support of her boss, coworkers and family, this leave made it possible for her to help a friend in need. You do not have to be extraordinary to be a living donor. You just have to be willing and able! Please feel free to send Heather questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find more information on the website for the National Kidney Foundation.
A Virginia Tech News article recently featured two Community Change Collaborative members, Vanessa Guerra and Neda Moayerian, and how each employed the online platform Zoom in the final defense of their dissertations.
Congratulations to Professor Max Stephenson Jr. (31 years) and Mary Beth Dunkenberger (15 years) for their Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs Service Awards.
Dr. Lyusyena Kirakosyan, Senior Project Associate at VTIPG, recently published an article entitled, "The Educational Legacy of the Rio 2016 Games: Lessons for Youth Engagement" in Societies, an international peer-reviewed, open access journal of sociology. Excellent work, Dr. Kirakosyan!
Professor Max Stephenson Jr., Beng Abella-Lipsey, Lara Nagle and Neda Moayerian recently published an article entitled "Community Social Polarization and Change: Evidence from Three Recent Studies" in World. The article arose directly from their work with the Community Change Collaborative. Well done, team!
Elizabeth LaPrelle appears in the new independent film “The Mountain Minor”
Renowned old time music singer and balladeer Elizabeth LaPrelle, a recent VTIPG/Community Change Collaborative visiting speaker and guest performer, appears as a mother and musician in the new film, “The Mountain Minor.” The movie’s plot revolves around one man’s nostalgia for his childhood home in the mountains of Kentucky and the story benefits from accomplished musicians (instead of actors) performing traditional folk music for its soundtrack. Elizabeth, a new mother in real life, mentioned during her interview with CCC members during her November 2019 visit to Virginia Tech that, “what’s important for me about connecting with the past and with traditions […] is pure imagination, story-telling and nostalgia.” That orientation and her character in this film seem well suited. You can read the Roanoke Times' June 6, 2020 lovely story about Elizabeth's first movie role at this link.
Tiny Home Feasibility Study Conducted for Pennington Gap, VA
To support an ongoing partnership between Pennington Gap, VA and VTIPG and its Community Change Collaborative, the Institute partnered with Dr. Maria Saxton, NANO - Tiny Life Innovators, Environmental Planner and Housing Expert at Hill Studio, and recent graduate of the Environmental Design and Planning Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech, to conduct a feasibility study and to create a business plan for a tiny home development associated with the Town’s Leeman Field Park. This study was driven by local government and resident interest in developing more short-term lodging options for overnight visitors engaging in family reunions, town events and outdoor recreation. Dr. Saxton, who has research experience investigating tiny home design concepts, worked with Town officials to explore Pennington Gap’s potential for a tiny house development. Tiny homes are part of a fast-paced, innovative, and evolving industry in housing and hospitality, offering an opportunity for environmentally-conscious design options, a lower environmental impact and resilient, flexible lodging for both short-and long-term stays.
The final report detailed goals for a prospective tiny home business, described the target market, highlighted major considerations for development, including zoning and construction factors, outlined site management and occupancy concerns and presented cost projections/return on investment (ROI) based on several variables and scenarios. Based on the preliminary financial model, both the Town and project investors would likely experience a positive 5-year Return On Investment (ROI), indicating promise for a successful project. In most scenarios Dr. Saxton provided, the Town needed only to provide minimal investment, leading to a 5-year ROI of more than 400%. For investors, financial prospects are based on additional factors too, including tiny home type and occupancy rates. Both of the tiny home types showcased in the report would experience 5-year ROIs of approximately 70% - 115%, with a conservative occupancy rate estimate of 45%.
A summary of the findings from the 100-page report were presented at the Pennington Gap Town Council meeting in February by Dr. Saxton who joined remotely, facilitated by Max Stephenson, Jr., Lara Nagle, Neda Moayerian, and Courtney Surmanek who attended the meeting in person. The visit also included a walking tour with Council members of the proposed site for the tiny home development. Council members engaged in discussion following the presentation and will determine how to move forward with the proposed development concept dependent on the commitment of a local investor and in consideration of other housing opportunities.
Thank You Andy Morikawa!
VTIPG and the Community Change Collaborative (CCC) would like to recognize the years of dedicated effort by Andrew Morikawa, Senior Fellow at the Institute, to produce an exceptional archive for the CCC-Trustees Without Borders (TWB) podcast program that he hosts. TWB has captured vibrant exchanges with numerous CCC (formerly Community Voices) speakers including, practitioners and scholars. CCC members have interacted with these guests in formal interviews, roundtable discussions, and in via their public presentations for more than a decade. This past academic year was no exception, which resulted in nearly 20 high quality recordings with a variety of guests, both in-person and virtually. We thank Andy for his enthusiasm, expertise, commitment and time devoted to this exceptional interview/podcast program. Years of experience suggests that this speaker/interview and roundtable series provides the structure for meaningful exchanges for everyone involved. Thank you, Andy!
Featured Trustees Without Borders (TWB) Podcast: Brandi and Carlton Turner
CCC members Sarah Lyon-Hill, Courtney Surmanek, and Neda Moayerian conducted a podcast interview with Brandi and Carlton Turner as part of CCC’s co-sponsorship of the Turners’ (virtual) speaking engagement with the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts Colloquium series in April. The Turners are “the leadership team for the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Sipp Culture). Assistant Director and Program Manager of Sipp Culture, Brandi Turner is also Co-Owner and Managing Director of TWA Consulting, a firm that provides services in creative consulting for organizations looking to strengthen their work in arts and culture. Founding Director of Sipp Culture, Carlton Turner is a performing artist, arts advocate, policy shaper, lecturer, consultant, and facilitator. He is also co-founder and co-artistic director, along with his brother Maurice Turner, of the group M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction), a Mississippi-based performing arts group that blends of jazz, hip-hop, spoken word poetry and soul music together with non-traditional storytelling.”
You can listen to the CCC interview here.
You can listen to the Turners’ public presentation here.
Dr. Neda Moayerian is presently serving as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy (VTIPG) and Governance and the Office of Economic Development (OED). She began serving in her role in June 2020 and has been involved in a several research projects already. Her research interests are international development, community development, education and human agency She is currently conducting interviews for a collaborative project between VTIPG and OED, an evaluation of the area drug courts’ impact in the Southwest Virginia region. She is also involved in research teams for two projects in Latin America and another in Haiti. Aside from these efforts, Neda helps with the organization of scholarly meetings and events at the Institute.
Prior to embarking on this role, Neda was a Ph.D. student in the Planning, Governance and Globalization (PGG) program of Virginia Tech's School of Public and International Affairs. In her doctoral dissertation, defended in March of 2020, with Dr. Max Stephenson as her adviser and mentor, she explored the connections between community cultural development and the sustainability of tourism in an economically ailing coal town located in Central Appalachia.
She has been an avid member of Community Change Collaborative since she joined the PGG program in Fall 2015. During her Ph.D. studies, she participated in CCC’s weekly meetings and scholarly forums along with interviewing some of the guest speakers. Her involvement with CCC’s community-based research projects in Southwest Virginia and West Virginia provided her hands-on experience of community facilitation, collective strategic planning and real-world examples of collaborative governance processes.
Neda holds a Bachelor of Science in Urban Planning from the Art University of Tehran (2011) and a Master’s degree in Urban Management from the University of Tehran (2014). She enjoys traveling, hiking, cooking and watching movies in her free time.
Molly Todd is a third-year ASPECT Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech working with Professors Max Stephenson, Jr. and Laura Zanotti as co-chairs of her advisory committee. Before entering the ASPECT program, Molly completed an interdisciplinary Master’s in her home state at the University of Colorado Denver, combining U.S.-Mexico border politics and critical theory. Her work was driven and inspired by her own experiences learning about other cultures and studying Spanish, most notably her residency in Ecuador and Spain. Molly became deeply interested in the cultural, political, and social differences across communities, as captured in the lives and the stories of the people she met. She became curious as to how and why ideas about these differences are embedded in both language and material spaces.
Molly believes that part of learning is experiential, and that research and pedagogy should follow a critical praxis as part of the ethics of knowledge production. She values engagement with the community and developing deep interpersonal relationships. She has found this solidarity with her ASPECT colleagues, in the Community Change Collaborative (CCC) and at her yoga studio. Her current project with CCC is a collaborative study of COVID-19’s impact in Rio’s favelas, where she and her colleagues are exploring the ways in which counter-narratives are developed and communicated through community-based strategies. She is particularly interested in the critical potential of creative practice to challenge dominant imaginaries of space, knowledge and being.
Molly believes that although we often think of the world and people as divided by borders, that there are possibilities to imagine it otherwise. Her current work explores these possibilities in border art, using decolonial and transnational feminisms as her framework. Molly has always been shaped and touched by and connected to the world through expression, art and music. She believes that creative expression can be very powerful. Most recently, she was moved by David Garza’s and Paulina Reza’s rendition of “Besame Mucho” at the U.S.-Mexico border, with its evocation of the impact of family separation. Molly hopes that through her research she is able to lift up and amplify such work.
When Molly is not reading or writing, you can find her in her kayak, hiking on a mountain trail or in her kitchen!
In light of that fact, I wanted to highlight a “canary in the coal mine” argument that has applied to a major share of our work here at the Institute throughout our 14 years of existence. Historically, miners carried caged canaries into the mines with them and used them as sentinels: The birds would succumb to any dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide or other gases before humans did and their demise would signal the need for a rapid exit. We have long worked here at the Institute with and on behalf of vulnerable populations whose treatment and situations are analogous to the role of the canaries in the mines for our democracy. Whether refugees or immigrants, those suffering mental illness of all sorts, those with disabilities, those battling addictions of various types, those who belong to under-represented minority populations or those who were poor, all have suffered grave injustices in our policies and governance in the past and today. Across our history, we have undertaken a range of scholarship, developed policy analyses and program evaluations, helped to create assistance strategies and investigated programmatic interventions, all with the aim of securing more just outcomes for these people, both within the United States and internationally. In short, we have sought to pay special heed to these groups and the individuals who comprise them as a lens into the relative health of our Republic and as something of a leading indicator of the sorts of policies necessary to address inequalities and abridgements of civil and human rights of various sorts. Overall, how our polity treats these populations speaks volumes about our collective willingness truly to pursue the values enshrined in our nation’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
If studying the policies affecting these groups can reveal the effects of democratic politics, especially mobilization politics, that are often rooted in very human foibles, these are also very good places to examine how individuals exercise agency in the face of all manner of unjust treatment and irrespective of the constraints imposed by political, social or economic choices. Indeed, we have been struck repeatedly over the years in our various projects and scholarship by how profoundly individuals wish first and foremost to be accorded dignity and to be judged as individuals of worth and purpose. These are hardly intemperate desires; any theory of self-governance begins with just such a proposition. And yet, our history is littered with efforts to deny specific groups their human and civil rights under our Constitution. In fact, the present governance crisis was foreshadowed in a malevolent way with Trump declaring, as he announced his campaign for the presidency in 2015, that immigrants were “rapists and murderers” in order to scapegoat them for the anxieties of a share of the country’s voters. More recently, as noted above, the president referred to individuals protesting across the nation as “terrorists” and “thugs.” What today’s protests against police brutality and sustained systemic racism signify in terms of agential possibility, despite Trump’s malicious and ignorant claims, is that notwithstanding hundreds of years of discrimination, despite current GOP efforts to prevent many citizens from voting, despite rhetorical and policy efforts to dehumanize too many of these individuals, these vulnerable individuals not only have maintained their sense of efficacy, but have also proven willing to act on it to demand the rights to which they are entitled as human beings.
As scholars of politics broadly defined, I know my colleagues take a measure of hope, as I do, from the fact that so many continue to fight for the rights they deserve despite the efforts of too many American officials to usurp and deny them. We take heart, as well, that so many citizens who have not personally experienced such injustice are joining the struggle as well. These are treacherous times for our nation and I can pledge that the Institute and its faculty will do all we can to examine our governance situation as painstakingly and honestly as we can, and when we find abridgments of law or rights, as so obvious in the present situation, we will call those out and to the extent we can, also suggest paths forward. No other course could be said to serve the ideals of scholarship and of the university nor, indeed, those of democratic self-governance. Finally, no other path could be said to be true to efforts to support the moral course of the American people and nation.
 Hill, Evan, Ainara Tiefenthäler, Drew Jordan, Harley Willis and Robin Stein. “8 minutes and 46 Seconds: How George Floyd was Killed in Policy Custody,” The New York Times, May 31, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html, Accessed June 3, 2020.
 Costa, Robert, Seung Ming Kim and Josh Dawsey. “Trump calls governors ‘weak,’ urges them to use force against unruly protests,” The Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-governors-george-floyd-protests/2020/06/01/430a6226-a421-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html, Accessed June 1, 2020.
 National Public Radio, “Peaceful Protesters Tear Gassed To Clear Way for Trump Church Photo-Op,” https://www.npr.org/2020/06/01/867532070/trumps-unannounced-church-visit-angers-church-officials, June 1, 2020, Accessed June 1, 2020; Rogers, Katie, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman. “As Trump Calls Protesters ‘Terrorists,’ Tear Gas Clears a Path for his Walk to a Church,” The New York Times, June 1, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/us/politics/trump-governors.html, Accessed June 1, 2020.
 Scott, Eugene. “Trump’s most insulting—and violent—language is often reserved for immigrants,” The Washington Post, October 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/02/trumps-most-insulting-violent-language-is-often-reserved-immigrants/, Accessed June 3, 2020.
 Associated Press, “Trump Calls Floyd Death ‘Shocking,’ Call Protesters ‘Thugs,’” May 29, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/usa/trump-calls-floyd-death-shocking-calls-protesters-thugs, Accessed June 3, 2020.
A commentary series authored by VTIPG Director Max Stephenson
June 8: Harbingers of A Riven Nation