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Beyond the Noise: New Series Breaks Down Issues That Matter

The group at Session 1 of Challenge the Policy Series
Prof. Clark Ross speaks during session 1 of "Challenge the Policy" in the McKay Atrium of the Wall Center.

In a political era defined by echo chambers and fake news, Davidson professors joined forces to lend insight, lead discussion and—maybe—restore a measure of civility to political discourse.

A new series, "Challenge the Policy: Political-Economic Analyses of Trump-Era Proposals," provided fact-checked information, mental elbow room and time for discussion on two pressing national issues: inequality and immigration. Potential topics for next semester are gun violence, sexual assault and voting rights.

"Students, faculty, staff, and community members alike are hungry to learn relevant information to help them participate in civic life as informed citizens," said Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology Rebecca Ruhlen.

The series was inspired by the Davidson Teach-Ins held on campus last spring semester–Ruhlen won Davidson's Thomas Jefferson Award at fall convocation in part for her leadership of that effort.

The forum series was a natural next step, the "brainchild" of Frontis W. Johnston Professor of Economics Clark G. Ross, who worked with Ruhlen to design an offering with even more in-depth scholarly expertise and a substantial opportunity for reasoned civic discourse.

Each topic, first inequality then immigration, was split across two Wednesday sessions. The first session explored information from various disciplines and perspectives, the second focused on discussion of policy implications and solutions.

Below, a sampling of perspectives gleaned from the fall sessions:

"Today I'm talking about things that economists agree on, even if they don't like the outcome."
-Clark Ross, Frontis W. Johnston Professor of Economics

Audience at Challenge the Policy
The "Challenge the Policy" series was inspired by last semester's Teach-Ins.

"We [the U.S.] currently have the historically highest degrees of inequality since the 1920 income tax generated reliable data."
-Clark Ross, Frontis W. Johnston Professor of Economics

"Our policy on immigration that started in 1993 has resulted in 2,721 deaths in the desert."
-Matt Samson, associate professor of anthropology

"The ‘lump of labor fallacy' says that the total number of jobs is fixed. The reality is that immigrants take up jobs, yes, but they also create jobs."
-Shyam Gouri Suresh, associate professor of economics

"We [the U.S.] are home to 20 percent of the world's immigrants. By 2065, we will have increased to 441 million in population, with 18 percent foreign-born, Latinos (both U.S. and foreign-born) as the largest ethnic minority and white people at 46 percent of the total, according to the Pew Research Center."
-Matt Samson, associate professor of anthropology

"What actually shapes public opinion? If we can understand that, we can predict what people are going to ask for from their leaders.... When people feel threatened by immigration, they change information-seeking habits, they begin to trust different groups, and they change their opinions."
-Melody Crowder-Meyer, assistant professor of political science

"Education is not something the feds are primarily responsible for. It's decentralized, and that gives rise to variation by wealth."
-Melinda Adnot, visiting assistant professor of educational studies

"Equality is about distribution. Equity is what generates policy debates."
-Clark Ross, Frontis W. Johnston Professor of Economics

"American government works best in pragmatic, incremental policymaking."
-Melody Crowder-Meyer, assistant professor of political science

"Incarceration is racialized and genderized, including all the lost assets, lost income, lost labor market viability, lost voting rights, lost families, lost generations and lost dignity."
-Natalie Delia Deckard, assistant professor of sociology

"The wealth gap is a health gap.... (The correlation) exists across the entire system, and it's on a gradient, not a binary. Everyone is implicated somewhere. It's not just about poverty. It cannot be masked by a national average."
-Patrick Barron, assistant professor of health and human values

"What we're talking about is class, the elephant in the room. How does it replicate itself? And what does it do to a society when we have this amount of inequality? The answer is a lot."
-Natalie Delia Deckard, assistant professor of sociology

"Test scores are a proxy for critical thinking and the ability to engage productively in a democratic society."
-Melinda Adnot, visiting assistant professor of educational studies

The spring sessions will be open to the public, and information will be posted on the college website.

John Syme
josyme@davidson.edu
704-894-2523