Debating for Democracy (D4D) National Conference Issue, 2015

2015 Debating for Democracy (D4D)™ National Conference 

To come together with like-minded individuals to brainstorm about ways we can be the change to the problems we see ... was incredible. Thank you so much for making this amazing week a reality! - Bethune-Cookman University student

The most valuable part of the conference was the opportunity to hear the speakers discuss their work and how they got to their current roles. I ... appreciated the different paths that were discussed. I also really enjoyed the Legislative Hearing. I like hearing about everyone's issues and seeing the hard work and passion of other participants. - Carleton College student

The most valuable [part of the conference] was ... the networking and getting to know the other members of the Periclean campuses. It was really interesting to see each of their different topics that they worked on and were passionate about. I met a lot of interesting people from Chatham, Hampshire, and all over and [the conference] allowed us time to talk about our passions. - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student


Incarceration reform, veterans' health issues, gun control, and combating discrimination on college and university campuses were among the diverse issues tackled by 55 student leaders from Periclean colleges and universities as they met with public policy experts and activists at this year's Debating for Democracy (D4D) National Conference (Agenda). The two-day conference, an initiative of Project Pericles, was hosted by President David E. Van Zandt and Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts on March 19 and 20 in New York City.

Pitzer College Student, Hajar Hammado, shares her work with a fellow student at Thursday's reception.

Student activists eloquently shared their struggles, hopes, and aspirations for LGBTQ rights, an end to police brutality, and environmental justice The conference provided an opportunity to discuss their issues with student delegates from Periclean campuses from around  the country, to exchange insights, to make new friends, and to gain strength from solidarity with fellow activists and student leaders.

The conference featured two interactive workshops, panel discussions, student poster sessions, and a Legislative Hearing. We concluded with visits to five local non-profit organizations, Community Voices Heard, Friends of the High Line, Harlem Grown, Inside Out/College and Community Fellowship, and Museum at Eldridge Street/A Landmark Synagogue Story.

Representing the mission of Project Pericles in action - the conference provided a forum to share ideas and advocate for issues of critical social and political concern. Student leaders were joined by college presidents, faculty, staff, nonprofit activists, foundation, government, and community leaders, and members of the media.

Prior to the conference, all student attendees, in teams, wrote Letters to an Elected Official, on pressing policy issues that they care deeply about. Project Pericles designed the conference to provide students concrete steps they can take to move the issue they wrote about, and other issues, forward. Student are encouraged and expected to return to their campuses to advance civic and political engagement among their classmates.    

This year's D4D National Conference is dedicated to Eugene M. Lang, whose vision inspired this conference. Project Pericles thanks the Eugene M. Lang Foundation for its ongoing support.

Rhodes College Winning Team at The D4D Legislative Hearing. Pictured (from left): Thomas Downey, 

Samuel Holder, Alexandra Dileo, Carol Browner, Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, and Jan Liss.

Student Teams Take Home $5,000 to Work on Advocacy Campaigns on their Campuses and in their Communities  

The Debating for Democracy (D4D) Legislative Hearing is a highlight of the conference. Prior to the conference, a panel of judges with significant legislative experience selected five letters from more than 75 written by teams of students from Periclean campuses. The letters proposed innovative solutions to issues including education, immigration, and the environment; and were sent to elected officials across the United States The five teams of students responsible for the selected letters then presented at the Legislative Hearing  

Teams from Bates College, Carleton College, Macalester College, Occidental College, and Rhodes College discussed their public policy proposals with a panel of current and former government officials from all three branches of government: Carol Browner, Former EPA Administrator; former U.S. Congressman Thomas J. Downey (D-NY); and the Honorable Edwina Richardson-Mendelson. The teams faced stiff questioning from the judges about the pros and cons of their policy recommendations and did an exceptional job defending their positions.

The students were unbelievably impressive and were keeping the judges (also excellent) on their toes. - Loni Bordoloi Pazich, Program Officer, The Teagle Foundation  

The Rhodes College team of Alexandra Dileo and Samuel Holder won the hearing for their Letter in Support of Net Neutrality by Reclassifying Internet Service as a Public Utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which they sent to Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA). The pair urged Senator Isakson to safeguard net neutrality by supporting the reclassification of internet service as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Their letter was very timely and, subsequent to their writing, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did move to reclassify internet service.

Rhodes will receive a $3,000 award to develop an advocacy campaign and we are looking forward to working with them on issues related to internet access. The four finalist teams will each receive a $500 award also to be used to develop an advocacy campaign to move their issue forward. This is the first time that Occidental College and Rhodes College were represented in the finals (Continued)


Engaging with Public Policy Experts and Leading Activists 

To kick off the conference, students were treated to a panel of four leading social activists from innovative organizations: Sarah Andes from Generation Citizen, Catherine Diamond from Building Wellness, part of "I Have a Dream" ® New York, Madeline Kerner, co-founder of Matriculate, and Naomi Long from Wellstone Action. The panelists all work to promote social change by empowering individuals with the knowledge and skills to advocate for themselves.  They shared their personal narratives about formative experiences and how they came to their current positions. Jan R. Liss, Project Pericles Executive Director, moderated the panel, which examined methods of promoting social action at both personal and systemic levels.   

Following the discussion, the students met in small groups for a workshop with one of the panelists. The students learned to develop their "public narrative," a powerful tool for connecting with people and mobilizing support for an issue or cause. They explored the essential elements of effective narrative, which can be used in many advocacy settings.   


This conference tremendously helped me articulate my personal mission statement and articulate my leadership goals for the nonprofit sector. - Occidental College student      

Thursday also featured a panel discussion on Media and Millennials. Insights about the evolution of reporting in the digital age, the importance of the press in a democratic society, and the power of social media were some of the topics discussed. Stephanie P. Browner, Dean, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, moderated the panel, which included Emily Badger, Staff Writer, The Washington PostJanos Dev Marton, Former Special Counsel, Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption; and Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed.

Smith noted that news coverage was one important way to get public officials' attention. All the panelists commented on how technology is providing advocates with greater access to the media and increasing dialogue between reporters and informed readers. These changes are allowing media savvy activists to draw attention to their policy issues.

The Thursday reception, award ceremony, and poster session had welcoming remarks from Project Pericles Board Chair Neil R. Grabois and Judy Pryor-Ramirez, Director of Civic Engagement and Social Justice at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts. Student presenters shared information about campaigns they are working on. Received enthusiastically, presentations sparked many connections and ideas that conversations were continued over dinner.
Three students Karen Louviere and Sade Swift of Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts and Hajar Hammado from Pitzer College presented on initiatives to end police brutality and mass incarceration. Given recent events around the country, many students expressed interest in starting campaigns on their own campuses.

Pitzer College student Eli Erlick, who was a finalist in the 2014 Letters to an Elected Official, discussed work to stop violence against queer and trans people. In 2014, Erlick used the D4D award money to put on workshops for queer and trans youth and their parents. 

Occidental College students Somer Greene and Soumya Kadukuri and Ursinus College students Olivia Keithley and Sophia Rice presented on civic engagement initiatives taking place on their campuses including efforts to get out the vote, utilizing new software to increase awareness of civic engagement opportunities, and innovative curricula to incorporate engagement into individualized courses of study. 

Friday started with an interactive workshop on messaging led by John Gilbert from Enroll America, an organization developed to maximize the number of Americans enrolled in and retaining health coverage. Gilbert was one of the trainers for this year's Debating for Democracy (D4D)™ on the Road workshops that Project Pericles runs on Periclean campuses. Participants had the opportunity to work in small groups with their fellow students to practice crafting a message for their topic from their Letters to an Elected Official.   

Friday also featured a panel on climate change with representatives of two of the groups behind the People's Climate March in New York City, Phil Aroneanu, co-founder of, and Iain Keith, Campaign Director for Avaaz. The panel was moderated by Joel Towers, Executive Dean, Parsons The New School for Design, who was joined by Erin Barnes, co-founder of ioby; and Rodolpho Valente, Humanitarian Affairs Officer, Policy Analysis and Innovation Section, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

It was an excellent idea to combine policy-oriented activists with business founders that have facilitated innovation. Having both of these on the same panel allowed for a diversity of experience and opinion. - Drew University Student


The panel discussed the state of the environmental movement in the wake of the climate march and what students can do to help make progress on this pressing issue. Barnes, who started ioby, a crowd-resourcing platform for citizen-led neighbor-funded projects, talked about some of the ways in which technological innovation is empowering individuals and leading to new solutions to climate change and other environmental problems. Valente, whose work for the U.N. has taken him around the globe, spoke compellingly about the pressing problems being caused by climate change and severe weather events. He emphasized that his office is dealing with the detrimental effects of climate change felt by millions of people world-wide and that this is an issue we are confronting now rather than in some distant future.   

A panel moderated by Project Pericles Assistant Director Garret Batten included Hanna

Griff-Sleven, Museum at Eldridge Street/A Landmark Synagogue Story; Tony Hillery, Harlem Grown; Dionna King, Education from the Inside Out/College and Community Fellowship; Erycka Montoya Pérez, Friends of the High Line; and Sondra Youdelman, Executive Director, Community Voices Heard. After the panel, students accompanied on of the panelists on visits to their organization.  


Student Teams Take Home $5,000 to Work on Advocacy Campaigns on their Campuses and in their Communities

(Continued from previous section)  

Receiving finalist awards of $500 were:

Bates College -A Letter in Support of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance Benefits for Non-Citizens

by Meghan Lynch, Eva Goldstein, and Ali Rabideau 

The authors encourage Governor Paul LePage (R-ME) to reevaluate his biennial budget proposal in which he prohibits the allocation of General Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to legal non-citizens. This directly impacts Maine's asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work and rely heavily on these financial services while seeking refuge. The authors see this legislation as a public condemnation of asylum-seekers that further deters immigration from a state that so desperately needs it.


Carleton College - A Letter in Support of Senate Resolution 40 and Current Diplomatic Negotiations with Iran

by Hannah Nayowith and Reilly Simon

This letter urges Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts (D) to join other legislators and
world leaders in denouncing additional sanctions legislation targeting the state of Iran.
Given the productive progress of the current P5+1 negotiations in Geneva, additional
sanctions would cripple the peace process and jeopardize the United States' interests in the
Middle East. Although preventing Iranian nuclear capabilities is imperative, doing so at the
expense of peace is irresponsible; therefore, the authors ask that Senator Markey support
Senate Resolution 40, advocating against more sanctions while Iran continues to cooperate

Macalester College - A Letter in Support of a Death with Dignity Bill for Pennsylvania

by Sarah Coleman and Emmet Hollingshead

The authors encourage the passing of the Death with Dignity Act in Pennsylvania, which will give terminally ill patients the right to end their lives on their own terms through the use of lethal medication prescribed by a physician. The Death with Dignity Act embodies every citizen's right to self-determined and autonomous decisions about their life, including the end of it. We believe that the Death with Dignity Act will give terminally ill patients a chance to make the choice about how they want to spend the rest of their lives which will lead to the emotional well-being of both the patient and their families. This letter was sent to State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-PA).


Occidental College - A Letter in Support of an amendment to SB 862 to Earmark Ongoing Cap and Trade Funds for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC)

by Adrian Adams and Karen Romero

This letter urges State Senate Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-CA) to lobby for an increase in funding allocation to the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program. This measure is a critical step for the California state legislature to take so more Angelenos have access to affordable, stable housing.

Project Pericles congratulates all the Periclean students on campuses throughout the country who participated in the competition. We thank all of the panelists and everyone who helped make the conference possible. 


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Periclean Colleges & Universities

Allegheny College * Bates College * Berea College
Bethune-Cookman University * Carleton College * Chatham University
Dillard University * Drew University * Elon University * Goucher College
Hampshire College * Hendrix College * Macalester College * Morehouse College
New England College * The New School * Occidental College * Pace University
Pitzer College * Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute * Rhodes College
St. Mary's College of Maryland* Skidmore College * Spelman College
Swarthmore College * Ursinus College * Wagner College
Widener University * The College of Wooster


National Office

 Executive Director: Jan R. Liss,

Board of Directors

Chair Emeritus: Eugene M. Lang
Chair: Neil R. Grabois
Vice-Chair: Richard Ekman
Treasurer: Alison R. Bernstein  


Presidents' Council

Chair: Richard Guarasci, Wagner College

Vice-Chair: Steven G. Poskanzer, Carleton College


National Board of Advisors

 Co-Chairs: Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker & Hon. Kurt L. Schmoke


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