Understanding the Forces that Drive Us Apart: A Symposium on Polarization

February 5, 2019, UMass Campus Center

As part of our Dignity and Respect in Action initiatives, this daylong symposium will help participants to understand the history and dynamics of political and social polarization as well as offer opportunities to build skills to overcome it.

The symposium is free and open to the public, but registration is requested. Register here.

Program Summary

The detailed schedule can be found here.

9:30am: Opening Remarks

10:00am: Plenary Session: Hate in Historical Perspective by Lecia Brooks

12:00pm: Lunch Keynote Address: Hate in the US Today

1:00pm: Plenary Session: The Structures of Polarization

2:30pm: Breakout Sessions: Building Skills to Combat Polarization

  1. How to be an Intersectional Ally

  2. Intergroup Dialogue

  3. Using Dialogue to Bridge Political Divides Between Massachusetts & Kentucky

2:30pm: Watch. Learn. Grow. Documentary Film Screening: Abrazos

4:00pm: Speech On and Off Campus: A Conversation with Jelani Cobb moderated by Anna Branch

6:00pm: Evening Keynote Address: Insights from 'How Democracies Die' by Daniel Ziblatt

See Detailed Agenda.

Featured Speakers

Headshot of Lecia Brooks looking at the camera and smilingLecia Brooks, Outreach Director, Southern Poverty Law Center

Lecia Brooks is the Outreach Director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she travels across the U.S. and abroad to counter hate and extremism and promote the celebration of difference. She leads the Center's vital outreach initiatives advance social justice. Lecia also serves as director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama, an interpretive center designed to provide visitors to the Civil Rights Memorial with a deeper understanding of the civil rights movement. Joining the SPLC In 2004, she revitalized the Teaching Tolerance "Mix It Up at Lunch Day" program, which strives to break down racial, cultural, and social barriers in schools. She has nearly a decade of experience in diversity advocacy training for corporations and nonprofit organizations, including Walmart, Lyft, Prism Health of North Texas, and the Salzburg Seminar, and the Newark Public Library. She has a degree in political science from Loyola Marymount University and an elementary education certificate from National University in Los Angeles, California.

Jelani Cobb standing in front of books and smilingJelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism, Columbia University

Jelani Cobb joined the Journalism School faculty in 2016. He has contributed to The New Yorker since 2012, and became a staff writer in 2015. He is the recipient of the 2015 Sidney Hillman Award for Opinion and Analysis writing and writes frequently about race, politics, history and culture.

He was most recently an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut where he specialized in post-Civil War African American history, 20th century American politics and the history of the Cold War. Dr. Cobb is also a recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright and Ford Foundations.

He is the author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress as well as To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic. His articles and essays have appeared in the Washington Post, The New Republic, Essence, Vibe, The Progressive, and TheRoot.com. His collection The Devil and Dave Chappelle and Other Essays was published in 2007. He has also contributed to a number of anthologies including In Defense of Mumia, Testimony, Mending the World and Beats, Rhymes and Life.

Daniel Ziblatt looking at the camera Daniel Ziblatt, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, Harvard University

Daniel Ziblatt is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University where he is also a resident faculty associate of the Minda de Gunzburg Cener for European Studies and Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. His research focuses on democratization, democratic breakdown, political parties, state-building, and historical political economy, with an emphasis on Europe from the nineteenth century to the present. His three books include How Democracies Die, co-authored with Steve Levitsky), a New York Timesbest-seller, being translated into fifteen languages. He is also the author of Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, which won the American Political Science Association's 2018 Woodrow Wilson Prize for the best book in government and international relations as well as three other prizes including the American Sociological Association's 2018 Barrington Moore Book Prize.  His first book was Structuring the State: The Formation of Italy and Germany and the Puzzle of Federalism. Ziblatt co-chairs (with Steve Levitsky) a new Challenges to Democracy Research Cluster at Harvard's Weatherhead Center. He also directs a research program for graduate and undergraduate students at Harvard's Institute of Quantitative Social Science and has served as interim director of Harvard's de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

Register here.