Democracy Lab

  • Launching Fall 2020, Democracy Lab is an experimental, non-partisan initiative aimed at fostering our community’s commitment to the project of American citizenship.

    These are anxious times for our nation. A global pandemic, mass unemployment, the eruption of long-simmering social and racial tensions, a hyper-partisan political landscape, and a highly contested national election are among the many challenges currently testing our commitment to the democratic project. 

    Yet these same circumstances also present us with important opportunities. The social restrictions imposed by COVID-19 and its fallout invite us to reflect on how interconnected we are and to appreciate our neighbors and loved ones. The wider unrest summons us to consider the current state of our society, assessing both its virtues and its shortcomings. By using this moment to take stock of what we value and where we wish to improve, we may begin taking concrete steps toward a more equitable, more civil, and less divisive future. 

    What Democracy Lab does 

    Through the deployment of skills-building workshops and facilitated discussions, the Lab aims to serve as a gathering place where students, staff and community members can assemble and engage with one another in the kind of candid and civil exchange of ideas that a healthy democracy requires.  

    This will be a place where participants can discuss their differences honestly, openly and without fear of being judged; where they can learn about and learn from others’ perspectives and experiences; and where they can begin building upon common ground where it exists. 

    Please join us! 

    Democracy Lab offerings are free of charge and open to all members of the Carroll community.

  • Schedule of Upcoming Events

  • There are no upcoming events for Democracy Lab. Future events will be published here.

  • Past Events

  • Democracy Lab Past Events

    September 2020

    COMMUNICATING ACROSS POLITICAL DIVIDES

    Thursday, September 17, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    Rarely in our nation’s history has it been so difficult—or so vital—to engage with people of different political commitments. Democracies depend not on people being able to agree, but on their being willing to speak honestly and listen to others with an open mind.

    In this skills-building workshop, participants will: 

    • Learn to reframe potentially contentious political exchanges in more constructive ways. 
    • Practice skills and techniques vital to constructive democratic exchange. 
    • Formulate a plan for deploying the skills and techniques presented in the workshop within their communities.  

    WHY DEMOCRACY?

    Thursday, September 24, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    As Americans, we are taught to believe that democracy is the best form of government, but we are not always encouraged to examine the bases for this belief. By exposing this idea to reconsideration, we open ourselves to a host of questions, many of which touch on some of our most deeply held values and beliefs.

    In this discussion, participants will work together to reflect on: 

    • What they expect from their government and why. 
    • Where our democracy is and is not succeeding in meeting the needs of its citizenry. 
    • How, as citizens, we might work to strengthen civil society and hold our government to account.

    HILL SCHOLARS COMMUNICATION COURSE (ACTIVE LISTENING)

    Tuesday, September 29, 4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)        

    Routinely cited by employers as a top 3 desired skill in prospective employees, an ability to communicate effectively carries important benefits in both one’s personal and professional life. As a skill, effective communication entails both the ability to convey one’s own positions and the ability to understand other people’s thinking. Critical to both these goals is the skill of active listening. Learn how to hone your active listening skills in this 90-minute seminar on effective dialogue and communication. (Reserved for students in the Hill Scholars Program.)

    OCTOBER 2020

    SKILLS FOR ONLINE COMMUNICATION ACROSS POLITICAL DIVIDES

    Thursday, October 15, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    As the elections approach and the rhetoric surrounding them grows increasingly acrimonious, it can be difficult for many of us not to follow suit. However, in the process we risk threatening longstanding relationships with friends and loved ones. Platforms such as email, Facebook and Twitter exacerbate this problem, presenting new and distinct challenges to the kinds of nuanced and constructive discussions that democratic citizenship demands.

    In this skills-building workshop, participants will:

    • Learn to reframe potentially contentious political exchanges in more constructive ways. 
    • Learn about online practices vital to responsible and constructive democratic exchange. 
    • Formulate a plan for deploying these practices within their online exchanges.  

    ELECTIONS CHECK-IN

    Thursday, October 29, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    As we approach the end of one of the most taxing election cycles in living memory, this discussion will provide a forum for community members to give voice to their election experience. 

    Participants in this discussion will be invited to:

    • Explore the hopes and concerns elicited in them by this election cycle.
    • Identify potential obstacles to producing a decisive winner on election night and reflect on their implications.
    • Work together to develop strategies for approaching the election and dealing constructively with what is likely to be a difficult aftermath.

    NOVEMBER 2020

    Part 1 – WMTN POST-ELECTION DISCUSSION 1 

    Tuesday, November 17, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    Has the election left you feeling distressed and angry? Perhaps you were repulsed by both major parties’ visions for America. Perhaps you fear that the will of the people has not been properly enacted and that the election may have been unlawfully stolen from Donald Trump. This discussion is the first of a two-part series aimed at exploring the damaging effects of extreme polarization and at rediscovering a common purpose. The follow-up discussion will take place on Thursday, December 10. 

    In this discussion, participants will: 

    • Explore their fears and concerns for the nation given the election results. 
    • Examine the potential ramifications of allowing these feelings of anger and dismay to contribute to the worsening of political divisions within the country. 
    • Work together to develop strategies for mitigating some of the more harmful effects of these and other similarly strong emotions. 

    Part 1 – WMTN POST-ELECTION DISCUSSION 2

    Thursday, November 19, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    Has the election of Joe Biden left you feeling vindicated and triumphant? Perhaps you are newly hopeful that, under a Biden administration, democratic norms will be restored and Trump officials will be held accountable for their malfeasance. This discussion is the first of a two-part series aimed at exploring the damaging effects of extreme polarization and at rediscovering a common purpose. The follow-up discussion will take place on Thursday, December 10. 

    In this discussion, participants will: 

    • Explore their hopes and ambitions for the nation given the election results.
    • Examine the potential ramifications of allowing their feelings of triumph and elation to contribute to the worsening of political divisions within the country. 
    • Work together to develop strategies for mitigating some of the more harmful effects of these and other similarly strong emotions.    

    Part 2 – WMTN POST-ELECTION JOINT DISCUSSION 3

    Thursday, December 10, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    In this discussion, participants from the WMTN 1 and 2 discussions will be brought together to hear from one another and learn from each other’s experience with the aim of fostering mutual understanding, respect and a willingness to work together for the common good. 

    In this discussion, participants will: 

    • Learn about one another’s hopes and fears for the nation. 
    • Work together to identify shared values and points of common interest. 
    • Explore prospects for bipartisan coalition building.  

    February 2021

    COMMUNICATING ACROSS POLITICAL DIVIDES

    Thursday, February 11, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    As recent events have vividly demonstrated, we are at a moment when it can be difficult—but vitally important—to engage civilly with people of different political commitments. A democracy depends not on its citizens being able to agree, but on their being committed, despite their disagreements, to gather peacefully, speak honestly and listen to others with an open mind. Join us as we explore techniques for engaging in constructive dialogue with people from across the political spectrum.

    In this skills-building workshop, participants will: 

    • Learn to reframe potentially contentious political exchanges in more constructive ways. 
    • Practice skills and techniques vital to constructive democratic exchange. 
    • Formulate a plan for deploying the skills and techniques presented in the workshop within their communities.  

    LESSONS FROM A BIRMINGHAM JAIL

    Thursday, February 25, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    In the Spring of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned one of the most important texts of the American civil rights movement, his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In it, King offers a soaring defense of the idea that civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws is not only necessary, but also deeply patriotic. He also presents a template for dissent that ensures that its expression will be constructive. Join us as we commemorate Black History Month with a timely reading of this timeless writing.
    In this discussion, participants will be invited to:

    • Reflect on King’s message of patriotic dissent in light of recent examples of American protest on both the left and the right.
    • Study King’s principles of responsible resistance and their underlying rationale.
    • Consider how they might deploy the essay’s teachings on behalf of their own political commitments.

    King’s Letter can be accessed here

    Participants are asked to read it in advance of our meeting.

    MARCH 2021

    CITIZENSHIP IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

    Thursday, March 11, 7 p.m. – 9p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    Social media is reshaping the ways in which we live our lives. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram enable us to keep in touch with loved ones, make it possible for businesses and customers to connect more efficiently, and have democratized the collection and dissemination of information to an almost inconceivable degree. However, these technologies also present a dark side that we are only just beginning to understand. Join us for a discussion focused on this topic as presented in the highly acclaimed Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma”.

    In this discussion, participants will work together to understand: 

    • How social media platforms function to establish an “attention economy”.
    • How this attention economy operates to manipulate us, introducing changes in our perception, our behavior and, ultimately, our sense of reality.
    • What changes they might introduce to their own social media practice to help protect themselves.   

    FINDING TRUTH IN THE ERA OF MISINFORMATION

    Thursday, March 18, 7 p.m. – 9p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    A healthy democracy requires a well-informed populace. Without reliable sources of information, the ability of citizens to engage responsibly in civic life is impaired and the well-being of our society is threatened. While misinformation itself is nothing new, novel technologies have led to an explosion in recent years in the forms that misinformation can take. In this new media landscape, it is especially vital that we develop skills to distinguish credible information from sensationalism, wishful thinking, conspiracy theories, outright lies, “fake news”, propaganda and other varieties of misinformation.

    In this skills-building workshop, participants will be invited to:

    • Learn to identify various forms of misinformation.
    • Develop strategies to mitigate and overcome its effects.
    • Explore reputable fact-checking resources.

    APRIL

    CONSPIRACY THEORIES (PART 1)

    Thursday, April 15, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    The United States has always been fertile ground for conspiracy theories. Recently, however, various conspiracy theories have penetrated the mainstream (on both the right and the left) to a previously unprecedented degree. This discussion is the first of a two-part series aimed at exploring this important phenomenon. In it, we will look at two conspiracy theories, we will consider what it is that sets conspiracy theories apart from other kinds of thinking, and we will attempt to understand the potent hold of such systems of thought on the nation’s imagination at this particular moment in time.

    In this discussion, participants will work together to: 

    • Identify some of the features that distinguish conspiracy theories from other kinds of thought.
    • Consider the nature of conspiracy theories’ allure and their ability to resist correction.
    • Understand some of the reasons for the current pervasiveness of conspiratorial thinking.

    CONSPIRACY THEORIES (PART 2)

    Thursday, April 29, 7 p.m. – 9p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    Building off our previous discussion, in this second of our two-part series aimed at exploring conspiracy theories, our considerations will take a more pragmatic turn. Join us as we unpack the unique dangers posed by this sort of thinking and explore strategies for protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and the wider republic against their corrosive effects.

    In this workshop, participants will be invited to: 

    • Reflect on some of the corrosive effects of conspiracy theories.
    • Examine strategies for identifying and resisting conspiratorial tendencies in their own thought practices.
    • Explore strategies for helping friends and loved ones caught up in conspiratorial thinking.

    MAY

    TO SERVE AND PROTECT: EXPLORING THE STATE OF COMMUNITY/POLICE RELATIONS

    Thursday, May 13, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    Healthy relationships between law enforcement officials and the people they are tasked with serving are at the heart of every safe community. In recent years, these relationships have been tested on the community side by numerous high-profile incidents and allegations of police misconduct and on the police side by an ever-evolving landscape of threats from high-capacity weapons to doxing. Join us as we consider the implications of these developments for community/police relations across the nation and right here in Carroll County. 

    In this discussion, participants will be invited to:  

    • Reflect on the current state of community/police relations both nationally and in Carroll County. 
    • Examine some of the factors contributing to the escalating tensions between police and the communities they serve both locally and across the country. 
    • Identify some of the measures needed to foster more constructive relationships between communities and their law enforcement officials. 

     

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