Blair community members who wanted to dive deep into the U.S. presidential race this fall came together online every Friday evening for the 2020 Election Seminar. Hosted by Head of School Chris Fortunato, the virtual sessions featured commentary from Blair’s scholar-in-residence, Harvard Kennedy School professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy, PhD, and insight from numerous guest speakers. Students, faculty and staff members logged on to discuss and debate a different topic each week.
“Throughout the fall, we’ve explored everything from the strategies, successes and missteps of each candidate’s campaign to the multitude of policy issues at play in the election,” Mr. Fortunato said. “The outcome of this election will be felt for generations to come, and we wanted everyone to participate in the discussion so that all voices and ideas were heard. Dialog across different backgrounds, ideologies, experiences and value systems makes learning and our community stronger.”
The seminar began on September 18 with a session devoted to framing the issues and exploring the stakes of the 2020 presidential election. This was followed on September 25 with “Pandemic Politics—Engaged Citizens & Healthy Publics,” during which participants took part in a conversation about voter registration and emergency medicine during the coronavirus pandemic. That evening’s guest speakers were Dr. Alister Martin and Aliya Bhatia, executive director and chief operating officer, respectively, of VotER, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose goal is “to provide patients the opportunity to register to vote because much of our healthcare system and healthcare experiences are determined by the policies our elected officials implement.”
The Election Seminar’s third installment, “Win Some & Lose Some—From the Grassroots to the White House,” brought three guest speakers into a wide-ranging conversation on political campaigns. Students and teachers discussed the topic with Steve Jarding, a communications expert, educator and political consultant to campaigns on both sides of the aisle, Richard Parker, a Harvard Kennedy School professor and senior fellow at the school’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and Robin Parker, a political consultant and organizer.
This was followed on October 9 with a conversation on voting rights, race and policing, and Black Lives Matter protests. LaTosha Brown, founder of Black Voters Matter, and Khalil Muhammad, a Harvard Kennedy School professor of history, race and public policy, joined Blair students, faculty and staff members that evening. On October 16, a discussion on “The Long Arc of History—Press and the Presidency” brought Harvard Shorenstein Center director and former Time magazine editor Nancy Gibbs and former secretary of state for the Commonwealth of Kentucky Trey Grayson to the virtual seminar. Mr. Grayson served as chair of the Republican Association of Secretaries of States and as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, and he is the former director the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
The final two pre-Election Day seminar sessions took place on October 23 and 30. The focus of the October 23 meeting was “Civil Rights, Communications and Culture Wars,” with Anurima Bhargava, former deputy in the Department of Justice civil rights division and president of Anthem of Us, and Karen Finney, former communications director for Democratic National Committee. Finally, on October 30, CNN contributor David Gergen joined Blair participants to talk about the election. Mr. Gergen served as an advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, and he is currently a professor of public leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Throughout the fall, Mr. Fortunato encouraged students, faculty and staff members to bring their authentic voices, perspectives and ideas to each conversation. “As a School, we are committed to engaging with one another and those outside the community to learn about and from each other, to discuss and debate, and to embrace the learning that comes from respectful disagreement and exchange of ideas,” he said. “The more we can tactfully and effectively create brave and smart spaces in which people can share their views, even and especially when they are different from our own, the better a learning community we and all schools will be.”