Inaugural Highlander Discovery Institute event brings meaningful, thought-provoking discussion to Radford campus and local community

The inaugural event was an opportunity to observe civil discourse in action.

At the inaugural event of the Highlander Discovery Institute held on September 19, 2019, students, faculty, staff and members of the community experienced an insightful discussion focused on the nexus of politics and society.

The Highlander Discovery Institute was established by President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., to provide the campus and the surrounding community with the opportunity to experience new ideas and ways of thinking, specifically in the areas of teaching, research and service.

“The purpose of an institution of higher education and the mission of Radford University are to provide transformative experiences,” President Hemphill said. “We also strive, each and every day, to provide incredible experiences for our students, faculty, staff and the local community. By bringing the community together, we are able to hear different perspectives and come together as one Radford family.”

The inaugural Highlander Discovery Institute event featured three renowned individuals: Katie Couric as the moderator and Donna Brazile and Ana Navarro as panelists.

Highlanders had the opportunity to discover and explore new ideas and perspectives at the event.

With Couric as the moderator, she set the course for an engaged and lively discussion that also sought areas of overlap. “We’re going to determine if there is common ground in fact among us somewhere and if we can agree to disagree,” Couric said. Transitioning into the panel, she framed the evening’s events with the question, “Is there any room for compromise in this age of extremes?”

During a thought-provoking and inspirational 90-minute discussion, difficult and challenging topics were explored from gun control to global warming, polarizing politics to the role of media in society. However, the panelists were able to express views without interrupting each other or showing disrespect. It was truly an opportunity to observe civil discourse in action.

“We look at issues in black and white,” Navarro said. “People play that. Special interest groups play us. That contributes to polarization. There is more common ground among Americans than people think.”

Many of the comments from both Navarro and Brazile focused on what it will take to join together and advance as a society. “There are too many people on the outskirts of hope. We must bring them back inside the circle of opportunity,” Brazile said. Her comments emphasized the reimagining of government and the future. “We can do more with our time and talent.”

For Abigail Bailey ‘19, a current graduate student in English from Wytheville, Virginia, the speakers were a personal inspiration to her growing up.

“Katie Couric was a huge inspiration for me in choosing my undergraduate route as a journalism major,” Bailey said. “Ana Navarro is a huge inspiration of mine in political commentary. As a woman in journalism, all three of them are incredible role models in pursuing diversity and our chosen careers.”

Assistant Professor of Political Science Allyson Yankle, Ph.D., attended the event and took to heart the marketplace of ideas and consumerism.

“What they highlighted, for me, is that they are taking away that we have power as individuals when we use our voices about who they vote for, what they watch and what speeches they go to,” Yankle said. “I think that was a really important aspect of tonight.”

President and First Lady Hemphill are pictured with Donna Brazile, Ana Navarro and Katie Couric.

Following the inspired panel, various discussions were held to further the evening’s transformative experience in nearby Young Hall. The discussions invoked all academic aspects from across Radford University and topics such as “Social Media and Politics,” “America’s Role in the World,” “Transformative Politics of the Arts” and “The Political Landscape in Virginia.”

“As a political science professor, this is an example that we can use to illustrate what informed political discourse in a democratic society looks like,” said Department of Political Science Chair Tanya Corbin, Ph.D. “The most compelling reason to host this discussion at the collegiate level is to embrace and promote the Founders’ vision of civil discourse and the search for common ground across disparate political and world views. In order to preserve a healthy democratic republic, we must learn and practice the habits of deliberative democracy, and this event is an important opportunity to engage in this model.”

John Purcell, from Roanoke, Virginia, is a history and social science major that enjoyed the approach of the event – an approach that signaled unity and common ground among Americans.

“If you aren’t talking about things, no ideas are shared,” John said. “Then, socially and culturally, you come to a standstill. I think that is extremely dangerous to politics. You must be able to share ideas with each other and work together.”

Through experiences, such as the Highlander Discovery Institute inaugural event “Exploring the Nexus of Politics and Society,” Radford University offers incredible opportunities to stimulate intellectual discovery. Students are encouraged, and offered ample opportunities, to perform at higher levels of thinking through learning and engagement in order to consider new ideas and viewpoints.

Following the President’s announcement of the creation of the Highlander Discovery Institute, a Steering Committee was formed, thereby providing leadership and guidance regarding the selection and invitation of world-renowned speakers to visit Radford University. The Steering Committee is co-chaired by Tim Channell, Ed.D., Professor of Music Business and Department Chair of Music, and Angela Joyner, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for Career and Talent Development.  

Katie Couric moderated a 90-minute, thought-provoking discussion.

“This event showcased a lively dialogue surrounding politics and society in today’s modern times as a panel of nationally renowned commentators represented varying political viewpoints and encouraged a fearless exploration of knowledge and perspectives in an inclusive and supportive environment,” Channell said.

With the combined work of the Steering Committee, the moderator and panelists were chosen, each with a prestigious background and perspective on the nexus of politics and society.

Couric is widely known as the first woman to solo anchor an evening newscast when she joined CBS Evening News in 2006. Couric has won numerous awards, including a duPont-Columbia, Peabody, two Edward R. Murrows, a Walter Cronkite Award and multiple Emmys.

Brazile, a political strategist and former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, is a contributor to Fox News and formerly contributed to ABC News and CNN. Brazile is also the founder and director of Brazile & Associates LLC, a general consulting, grassroots advocacy and training firm based in Washington, D.C.

As a political strategist and commentator, Navarro specializes on Latin American, Florida and Hispanic issues. She has advised numerous campaigns, including being the National Hispanic Co-Chair for John McCain’s 2008 Presidential Campaign and is a co-host on ABC’s “The View.”

Sep 20, 2019
Max Esterhuizen