Hesburgh Democracy Fellows created for student “champions of democracy”

The Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy recently launched the Hesburgh Democracy Fellows Program. The program will grant fellows “exclusive access to opportunities for engagement with the work of the Center and its programming.” 

Although no programming has been specifically announced for the program, the most recent Rooney Center programming, to which Fellows will have special access in the future, includes talks titled “Dog Whistles and Political Communication,” “Policing in America,” and “The Spatial Politics of Backlash.”

Founded in 2008, the Rooney Center’s general mission is to “examine politics and policymaking in the United States—leaving Notre Dame’s distinctive imprint on the study of American democracy. With a grounding in Notre Dame’s Catholic mission, the Center facilitates research on the critical issues facing America’s democratic system and encourages Notre Dame’s students to be engaged in both civic and political life.”

The program was outlined in a letter published in The Observer on February 1 written by Claudia Francis, the Rooney Center’s Associate Director for Undergraduate Programming and Center Advancement, and senior Nicholas Crookston. The article opens with a discussion of the Health of Democracy Survey published by the Rooney Center in November 2022, which “uncovered a series of findings with grave implications for the future of our republic” such as “strikingly low support for various, core democratic values — including free speech and voting rights,” and the widespread “belief that the United States is currently on the brink of a new civil war.” 

“Taken alongside continued threats to voting rights and elections and the rampant spread of disinformation,” continue the authors, “these findings tell a story of how deep divisions and widespread distrust—of each other and our institutions—threaten to compromise our entire democratic system.” 

The Hesburgh Democracy Fellows Program seeks to address these challenges by bringing “students from all backgrounds together, in community, around the promotion of American democracy, civil discourse, and combating misinformation and barriers to democracy in our local and broader communities.” The program invites students of differing courses of study and levels of experience to apply. The Democracy Fellows initiative coincides with a program of the Rooney Center and the Hesburgh Program in Public Service called ND Democracy Talks, a semester-long series thatfeatures Notre Dame scholars and guest experts presenting mini-lessons on key concepts and issues in American democracy.” The first talk was held on February 8 and discussed the question, “How Democratic Was the Founding?”

Commenting to the Rover, Francis described the Hesburgh Democracy Fellows as “a core group of students who want to self-identify as ‘champions of democracy.’ In the coming months we’ll tailor the fellows programming to their interests. We anticipate offering our Fellows opportunities to engage with speakers through meals and other extended conversations.” 

She went on to highlight the Rooney Center’s desire “to reach non-majors with the ND Democracy Talks series, so everyone has an opportunity to learn.” “It’s important in a democracy for people to be well-informed.” She continued, “students don’t have to have an academic interest in political science to care about the health of democracy and learn more.”

Francis anticipates the talks continuing in the future, with “3–4 talks each semester, mostly with ND faculty from across disciplines.” On April 20, the Rooney Center will host an event in which Dr. Robert Jones from the Public Religion Research Institute will discuss research on Christian nationalism and Professors Dave Campbell and Geoff Layman will share their research on the rise of secularism.

The Rooney Center has just accepted its first round of Democracy Fellows. One of their featured students is Libbey Detcher, a senior at St. Mary’s College studying political science and conducting research on gerrymandering. Libbey conveyed her interest in democracy and voting rights, saying, “I became passionate about voting rights not only because I believe them to be necessary for good government, but because they serve as a means to bring people together.”

 Adam Morys is a junior from Downingtown, Pennsylvania majoring in history and philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. When he is not reading, you can find him listening to music and taking walks around campus. Please email him at amorys@nd.edu.

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