On Jan. 20, the University of Redlands’ Public Square Conversations held a dialogue on the recent inauguration of President Joe Biden titled “The U.S. Inauguration in Context: Race, Health, Law, and Violence.”
The conversation, hosted by Redlands political science professor Althea Sircar, largely echoed sentiments of optimism and hope for the future. Moreover, the panelists also aimed at finding solutions to polarization and unifying the country.
The panelists were political science Professor Mzilikazi Koné from the College of the Desert, Professor Anna Sampaio of Santa Clara University, and Assistant Professor of economics Samantha Sterba at the U of R.
To an audience of roughly 50 students and faculty, Professor Koné began by remarking “[The United States] is in a practice of democracy,” referring to its procedural electoral politics and transitions of power. “I am optimistic, and I am hopeful that we will put pressure on the state to act in bold and radical ways.”
Dr. Sampaio shared similar attitudes, stating “I have never seen anything like today … There is so much symbolism today that is rich.”
The professor went on to note the 17 executive orders signed by President Biden immediately following his inauguration as “almost dizzying to comprehend.” Of these included re-entering the Paris Agreement and bolstering the DACA program.
Professor Sterba commented, “I still have a lot of optimism. Capitalism is not doing well. The healthcare system is not doing well. But people are becoming aware.”
Dr. Sampaio suggested that the Biden administration shouldn’t be immune from receiving criticism, however, in reference to the small majority the Democratic party has in the United States Senate. She predicted the administration “will disappoint,” nevertheless urgin that this “doesn’t mean you don’t continue to press.”
To remedy common frustrations about national politics, Professor Koné inquired students and faculty to incorporate a level of self-care not through consumerism but through “a practice of loving one another.”
In response to a question posed by Redlands student Jaynee Ronquillo Anaya ‘23 on how to keep up youth engagement, Dr. Sampaio suggested students focus on issues they are passionate about. Koné recommended people “nurture all of [their] talents” through the arts in addition to grassroots organizing.
Here, the conversation shifted to ways that students and faculty can approach partisanship in their daily lives.
According to Professor Sircar, “it’s important that a politics of care be essential,” regarding the discourse individuals have with one another. Professor Sterba expanded on this point suggesting community and sense of belonging as essential to stopping incentives for radicalization.
The professors agreed that echo chambers are detrimental to progress and the conversations students and the community have with one another ought to allow a level of vulnerability.
“All the things we’re interested in have a political aspect,” Koné states. However she advises fragmentation amongst groups isn’t the end-all-be-all. Organizing doesn’t always have to take place with people on the same page, “just common goals.”
“The U.S. Inauguration in Context: Race, Health, Law, and Violence” was one event from an ongoing series by Public Square Conversations that began last fall semester.
Conversations are organized by Jennifer Nelson and Jennifer Tilon and take place weekly at 5 pm at redlands.edu/publicsquare. The second Public Square event, called “Social Justice in the Presidential Search,” will be hosted at that time today.
Photo by Ian Hutchinson.