Friday, January 28, 2011

Return of the Friday Forum!

Economic Security: How Should We Take Charge of Our Future?
A Friday Informal Community Forum

When: Friday, February 25, 2011, 3:30-5 p.m.

Russell Library Auditorium, West Entrance, UGA Main Library

Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia (, a civic engagement program of the Russell Library hosts community deliberative forums on a monthly basis to explore challenging public issues in a deliberative, civil way.

The focus for this month’s forum is rebuilding economic security. The forum asks participants to mull a vital question -- How we can best take charge of the future so our families can feel reasonably secure, so parents can help their children prosper, and everyone can move toward a financially stable retirement?

More on this Topic:
Americans lost $8 trillion in home values and savings, the national unemployment rate hit 10 percent and, in some areas, went even higher. Many Americans are justifiably angry at the irresponsibility and greed exhibited by Wall Street speculators, yet at the same time, people are troubled by the willingness of their neighbors to buy houses they could not afford and run up massive debts. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such large forces. Yet, we, as individuals, are largely responsible for decisions about our economic security and the future of our families—decisions about where we work and live, how we spend and save our money, and when we retire. And, just as important, we make collective judgments about the direction of our nation and the economy. As the nation slowly recovers from its worst recession in decades, we have the power to shape the future for ourselves and for generations to come. Come to the forum and share in this critical process.

What Happens at a Forum?
In this community forum we will explore this complex issue by working together to understand the issue better. With help from trained neutral moderators we will look at several possible approaches to meeting the challenges posed by the current fragmentation of public life in the United States and consider both the benefits and consequences of each approach, as well as possible trade-offs. Finally, we will explore possible actions that might make a positive difference in our community. Throughout the forum we may find some areas of agreement among us, just as we will likely clarify areas where our beliefs and perspectives differ greatly. This robust and civil threshing of the tough public issues that we face is the foundation for vibrant and resilient community.

About the Economic Security Issue Guide…
This forum will use the deliberative issue guide developed by the National Issues Forums Institute in association with the Kettering Foundation. If you are interested in reading more about the issue before the forum, you can download the issue guide in brief in advance for free at

More information:
For more information about this forum, please contact Jill Severn at 706-542-5766 or For more information about Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia, visit

News from Russell Forum for Civic Life

After a short break, the Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia is back in action for 2011 and will be rolling out an engaging array of programs and training for the year ahead! Beginning in February and running through 2012, Russell Forum plans to offer forums in venues in the Athens area that focus on the economy, education and the job market, and polarization and politics. We are also developing two new workshops scheduled for later this spring. The first will provide training in advanced moderating techniques. The second will showcase a streamlined approach to framing community issues called “framing on the fly” that allows groups to develop a basic framework for discussing tough issues in just a few days. Stay tuned for details and dates for these exciting new programs!

Meanwhile, another great aspect of the Russell Forum’s work is that from time to time we get an opportunity to test drive new issue guides still in development. This month the Kettering Foundation asked us to host a test forum for its new National Issues Forums guide, “What Should Go on the Internet: Privacy, Freedom, and Security”. The topic considers what we put on the Internet and explores the concerns the public has about this tremendous resource. We gathered a group of fifteen dedicated Russell Forum attendees to thresh a preliminary version of the issue guide. Brad Rourke, one of the guide’s authors, was on hand to observe the discussion and take notes as things progressed. When an issue guide gets to the test phase, the developers like to see how it goes over with group of participants. Are there particular kinks? Is the language confusing? Is the guide shaped so that it leads participants to deliberation OR are there problems that serve as hang-ups to the discussion? Jill Severn and I moderated the forum and here are just a few notes and musings that Jill shared about the “test-drive” of the new issue book:

“I think the new privacy and the Internet issue book will be a great resource for people and their communities. My sense as a moderator is that although most of the participants at our test forum accept and indeed appreciate many aspects of their wired world, some if not all of have some ambivalence about its impact on their lives. As one participant expressed, the Internet engages people's brains and asks them to make sound judgments in new arenas and to adjust or reexamine their old relationships to the wider world. This can be a messy process for people who experience the transition from old ways to new ways and some of the forum participants described a wistful longing for simpler and more holistic times. For younger participants who have grown up always knowing the wired world, the concerns about privacy and security were present, but were expected and part of the normal set of risks they negotiate.

This experience of the change brought on by technology reminds me of the research I did on people's experience of getting electricity in rural areas here in Georgia in the nineteen-thirties and forties. Most everyone was excited to get lights, and other benefits of electricity, but initially, many people had little understanding of exactly what the potential of this new technology might be--some were afraid of it, some ascribed fantastical properties to it such as the fear often expressed that the electricity would leak out of the wires, and some adopted it selectively mixing it with their old practices such as having a refrigerator but still cooking food with a wood stove.

When people and communities have to make a transition from one way of being to another one of the things that helps them make sense of this process is meaningful conversation and discussion. This forum topic should give people navigating this current transition a great basis to make sense and move forward.”

The discussion was rich and hopefully our feedback (and that of our participants) gave Brad good food for thought!

Another neat Russell Forum initiative is a project with a small group of University of Georgia faculty, exploring ways to bring civic engagement into the classroom. Entitled, “Making the Academic more than Academic," this faculty learning community is exploring how they might incorporate National Issues Forums, World Café, and Study Circles models for dialogue into their courses. It’s been great to share our knowledge of NIF and its possibilities with them and also to have a chance to learn more about other approaches that we haven’t had much experience with. Heather Cummings Jensen, a colleague from the UGA campus, will lead our group through a World Café experience in late February and then the group will look at Everyday Democracy’s Study Circles to close out the academic year. We hope to give some of these other civic engagement programs some room in our calendar of events for Russell Forum as we become more familiar with them.

I hope this update has energized you and made you want exercise your civic muscle! Join us for a community forum on the new National Issues Forums issue guide, Economic Security: How Should We Take Charge of Our Future? on Friday, February 25th from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Russell Library Auditorium. This forum is part of nationwide effort to have an authentic and constructive conversation about how we as Americans can best take charge of the future so our families can feel reasonably secure, parents can help their children prosper, and everyone can move toward a financially stable retirement.

As always, if you’re interested in the work of Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia, you can find out more at our website: OR by contacting us at OR by calling (706) 542-5788.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Conversation with Charlayne

This year the University of Georgia celebrates the 50th anniversary of desegregation on its campus.

In January of 1961 Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter became the first African Americans to enroll at UGA, after winning a lengthy legal battle to gain admission. That summer Mary Frances Early, an African American graduate student at the University of Michigan, joined Holmes and Hunter at UGA to complete her degree in music education. This year the University celebrates the accomplishments of these brave individuals with a series of events held over the course of January and February, “Celebrating Courage: The 50th Anniversary of Desegregation at UGA.”

Neither the threat of snow and ice, nor their actual occurrence and overwhelming abundance, kept attendees away from the opening events of “Celebrating Courage” which kicked off on Sunday, January 9, 2011. However, the inclement weather did relocate events scheduled for the first week of celebration to the Georgia Center. The Russell Library was to serve as the host for a small breakfast program, featuring Charlayne Hunter-Gault on January 10th, which was also relocated to the Georgia Center. Ever the faithful public programmers, Russell staff Jill Severn, Jan Levinson, and Sheryl Vogt braved the weather to serve as hosts for the event in its new location.

“Conversation with Charlayne” provided an intimate setting for the small group of attendees to have a casual Q&A session with Ms. Hunter-Gault. Jill Severn, Head of Access and Outreach at the Russell Library, provided welcome and introductions. Severn described Hunter-Gault’s donation of personal papers to the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies several years prior. Describing the donation of the papers as “a political act” – one that ensures those future generations will have continued access to this history – Severn noted the Library’s enthusiasm for serving as a home for the collection. Further, she mentioned that the Russell Library looks forward to receiving future installments to the collection – those relating to Hunter-Gault’s distinguished career in journalism.

Below: Charlayne Hunter-Gault signs the deed of gift alongside (left to right) Sheryl Vogt, Cheryl Dozier, and Derrick Alridge.

After a few words, Mrs. Hunter-Gault signed the official deed of gift and posed for pictures with Sheryl Vogt (Director, Richard B. Russell Library, UGA), Derrick Alridge (Director, Institute for African American Studies, UGA), and Cheryl Dozier (Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, UGA).

After the deed signing, attendees were invited to ask questions of Mrs. Hunter Gault. The questions prompted stories of her time on campus, her career as a journalist abroad, and how the experiences of both were intertwined. She reflected on meaningful moments during her years at UGA, those in which she found friendship among the students and faculty. She also touched on her own philosophy of journalism explaining that objectivity and tenacity are central, but that often these attributes are most effective when they are balanced with compassion and human understanding. Most of all, she ably described for the crowd how, in big and small ways, her experiences at the University of Georgia touched the rest of her life. Both she and attendee Sonia Sanchez, noted poet, reflected on the state of civil rights today – how much has been achieved, but how much farther there is left to go. The event closed as Mrs. Hunter-Gault thanked the crowd for their attendance and headed to her next engagement on campus – the crowd clapping loudly as she gathered her things to depart.

Right: Sonia Sanchez chats with Mary Frances Early following the program.

A small case exhibit, “Finding Her Place: Selections from the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Papers” is currently on display in the Lobby Gallery of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. The display uses letters, photographs, documents, and artifacts from the collection to portray Charlayne Hunter’s experience integrating the University and her life as a student at UGA from 1961-1963. Many of the items on display were referenced by Hunter-Gault in the writing of her memoir, In My Place. The exhibit will remain on display until April 1, 2011.

The lobby gallery of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies is open from 8:30AM – 4:30PM, Monday through Friday, with the exception of University holidays. For more information on the exhibit, please contact Jan Levinson at or (706) 542-5788.

Post by Jan Levinson, Outreach Archivist, Russell Library