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Middle School Students Get Tough On Bullying

22 Apr

Earlier this month, Assistant Director, Etana Jacobi, was invited to facilitate two forums on bullying with sixth grade scholars at Up Academy Lawrence in Lawrence, Massachusetts.   Utilizing the David Matthews Center for Public Life‘s issue guide, Bullying: What is it? How do we prevent it?sixty students participated in fruitful deliberations on how this issue affects their lives, and what they can do to change it.  As this is Up Academy Lawrence’s founding year, participants had the unique opportunity to discuss an issue with the support of an open administration eager to enact student-generated policies school-wide.

Both forums produced a similar set of ideas to eradicate the bullying phenomenon, centering on the necessity of a school culture where reporting and positive intervention is considered the norm. As the merit system was considered to be an effective strategy currently in place to reward exceptional behavior becoming of an Up Academy Lawrence scholar, participants felt that merits should be awarded to students for reporting bullying to help eliminate the negative “snitch” mentality.  Students recognized that a trade-off for this option was the potential for over/false reporting, but they felt strongly that the benefits outweighed the possible costs in this situation.

There was also a clear need for students to feel equipped with the skills to become positive interveners when they witness, or are victims of, bullying. Participants supported the idea of having self-confidence training for all incoming students to properly prepare them for handling difficult bullying situations.  In addition to a self-confidence training, many participants expressed an interest in establishing a peer mediation program.  Students could opt out of detention if they agreed to participate in a mediation facilitated by trained peers, without the punitive pressures of faculty or administration involvement.  They felt that the implementation of such a program would foster a group of student allies who would be able to help bullies and victims work through the root cause of the issues they are facing.

Amelia Marden, Founding History Teacher at Up Academy Lawrence and 2012 Teach for America Corp Member, took notes on the deliberation, and is currently working with students on policy recommendations that can be made to their Principle and Dean of Students.


WE HIT 100!

13 Feb

Last Thursday we hit what seemed to be a goal only attainable in our wildest dreams: ONE HUNDRED deliberative forums throughout Long Island on issues that affect each and every one of us!  We were incredibly pleased to share this milestone with the students, faculty, and administration at Long Beach High School.  Having faced utter devastation as a result of Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach has done an excellent job rallying together in rebuilding efforts to move forward as a community.  Garnering similar spirit, we led six forums on the National Debt and Immigration Reform, giving students the opportunity to approach these issues in a deliberative manner so that we can move forward as a nation.  Both the Principal, Dr. Gaurav Passi , and the Superintendent, Dr. David Weiss, are Hofstra alumni and have a long involvement with the deliberative NIF process.  In October, the Long Beach Public Library hosted eight forums on four consecutive Fridays, allowing for community members to weigh in on the very same issues students considered last week.  Unfortunately, Sandy hit just days after our last forum at the library and it has yet to reopen.

Long Beach

Reflection from A Nation In Debt:

“I had no idea about anything with the debt, it was just something Dr. Smith gave us last week.  It isn’t something we talk about at home.  My parents don’t say ‘Wow, we’re 17 trillion dollars in debt, have a good day at school!'”  — Female Student

“We only debate at home about politics and say how we feel, not moving on our stances.  It was nice to actually discuss something and see people change their mind about stuff.” — Male Student

“This was the first time I got to hear this is actually an open issue looking for a solution.  The only times we’ve talked about it, I’ve been talked at and not spoken with.” — Female Student

“This should be talked about a lot at school.  This is real life and we need to talk about it now.  It matters.”  — Male Student

Reflection from Immigration in America:

“In my family, when we talk about it, we may have different opinions, but we’re all coming from the same place.  It was good to actually talk about this with people from different backgrounds.” — Male Student

“It’s good we didn’t just talk about what affected us, but how it impacts people from all over the country…how this conversation would be if we were living in Arizona or someplace else.” — Male Student

“I think this type of conversation is more productive and beneficial than how the country has been talking about it.” — Female Student

“This is better than the debates we’ve had in class.  It is not as much about defending everything.  You can have an opinion without fear of being looked down upon.  The forum allows us to actually talk about it.  I’m heard, not judged.” — Female Student

94 down. How many to go?

5 Feb


Project leaders, Bernie Stein and Etana Jacobi, led a focus-group forum on the state of racial and ethnic tensions in the U.S. this past Saturday.  The conversation highlighted the varying degrees of discrimination and acceptance participants have felt and witnessed throughout their lifetimes, and national trends on how Americans feel about racial and ethnic relations.  Information collected from this forum will be used towards a possible rewrite of the NIF Racial and Ethnic Tensions guide.

We will be at Long Beach High School this week, so keep a look out for our next entry about the big 1-0-0!

Deepening Democracy Project In the News!

28 Jan


Check out our feature in East Meadow Life, Plainview Life, and Inside Merrick!  Big thanks to Roman Kudryashov for the great press!

23415_4427612371571_1220551328_nEast Meadow Life– What We Talk About When We Talk About Democracy 

After the 2012 Election: An Election Like No Other-More Democracy or Less?

30 Nov

Rejena Carmichael, a junior at Hofstra University working towards a double major in English and Political Science,  reports on a panel our fellows sat on this month.


Michael D’Innocenzo, one of the project leaders and History professor at Hofstra University, was joined by four of our Democracy Fellows, Etana Jacobi, Ariel Flajnik, Jesse Crosson, and Mishiana Joseph, to speak on a post election panel at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Shelter Rock this month.  The talk was titled, After the 2012 Election: An Election Like No Other-More Democracy or Less?, and the various panelists spoke to their individual experiences with the election and conducted an overall analysis of what this election means for the future.  The panel concluded with in an active Q&A session with the audience, followed by a reception.

D’Innocenzo started the discussion with an evaluation of how politics has become more of a “moneyball” type game, where the winner can be predicted by statistics rather than events. He referenced blog-writer, Nate Silver, who predicted the correct outcome of every state in the past election. D’Innocenzo argued that because this campaigning strategy has been adopted, the candidates must now shape their campaigns around its principles. President Obama was able to mobilize young voters and (surprisingly) slightly increased their turnout from the 2008 election, despite expectations of voter turnout decline among young people in the 2012 election. He further argued that Obama rallied his base together, while Romney was not as effective in getting his party out to vote. In order to increase the voter turnout for both parties, the media and news outlets need to find a way to better inform the public. D’Innocenzo persuasively outlined the problem with reliable knowledge-with a combination of facts and a distortion of facts disseminated by media outlets and the public’s newfound responsibility to discern what knowledge is and what it really means.

He also spoke to the dynamic and changing voter demographics in this election, suggesting the Republican party’s potential need to realign its core ideology to encompass more people and garner wider support from a broader base. In the current Congress, there is only one African-American Republican and one Jewish Republican. D’Innocenzo argued that for this party to prosper in future years, they must find a way to represent the diverse population and expand their ideals to more groups. In the deliberation project, the forums outline options that represent several groups’ opinions on a single issue, and try to reach common ground on various views. This type of nonpartisan deliberation could be utilized in Congress to eliminate the downsides of a lame duck session. D’Innocenzo concluded with a belief that Obama has the opportunity to be a transformational president with his reelection, but he must shift his focus from anticipation for the future and a vision, to a real plan of action.

Jacobi highlighted how the deliberation project engages community members to participate in politics and feel ownership over the issues they discuss. This civically engaged attitude is imperative for mobilizing voters and making people feel that their vote matters. She also spoke to the climate silence that occurred in this election cycle, with the first set of debates making no mention of climate change since 1988. In a multitude of forums, the issue of money and politics was raised, and Jacobi commented on the importance of intersectionality in issues arising from delberative discussion.  She argued that if the public continues to discuss these problems in the deliberative format and demand they are more productively discussed on a national level, candidates would then be forced to make necessary public policy changes to move the country forward.

Crosson elaborated on D’Innocenzo’s point about the Republican party’s need to broaden its base, arguing this flaw in the party was Romney’s major weakness in his 2012 campaign. He further explained how the drastic difference between Obama and Romney’s ability to connect with voters was what lost Romney the election. Crosson aptly pointed out that exit polls indicated that by and large, voters believed Romney would be more effective at fixing the current state of the economy and they ranked the economy as the most pressing issue in this election.  Unfortunately for Romney, by a landslide, voters felt Obama better understood and could relate to “people like them,” winning him the election. Crosson wrapped up with an explanation of how the Republican party needs to appear less elitist and angry to appeal to a wider conservative base in an analysis of the future of the party.

Joseph discussed the influential nature of the deliberation project on her peers and family members. When members of the community engage in and talk about politics, they feel personally responsible for the future of issues and candidates. Joseph fully supported the project’s attempt to facilitate intergenerational discussions, not only to hear as many opinions and voices as possible, but to mobilize them to action together.  She also highlighted her own experiences on various campaigns and how this experience has affected her as a citizen.  

Flajnik spoke to the faults of the two-party system by disempowering those who do not align with major political platforms, and credited the deliberation project for reengaging those citizens in a non-partisan fashion.  She explained how she herself felt empowered while working as a fellow, arguing that the discussions force people to stop thinking in a binary way, and instead enable participants to work through a plethora of options in the hopes of creating a comprehensive solution. The project strengthens democracy by hearing the voices of the people and motivating them to speak out in a civil manner.  It is not about partisan politics, but policy solutions.

A question and answer session followed the panel discussion and then everyone had an opportunity to chat at the reception.  Several audience members approached our deliberation fellows afterward, sharing their inspiration after hearing young people in the community who are active, articulate, and engaged.  The panelists did an excellent job of explaining how the group’s nonpartisan discussions encourage a deepening of our democracy!


Deepening Democracy Through The Schools

27 Nov

Check out this awesome write up on the great work our fellows are doing throughout Long Island in the Merrick Herald!

By: Scott Brinton

The seniors in Kara McManus’s Advanced Placement government class at Kennedy High School in Bellmore were seated in a giant circle, just talking. No arguing, just talking.

The emphasis on talking is important. The students had gathered on Oct. 22, nine hours before President Obama and Governor Romney were set to spar on foreign policy, in order to discuss national security, free trade and climate change. But, unlike the presidential debate, with its emphasis on the divisions between the two candidates, these young people had to work in earnest to reach consensus on the most critical issues affecting the United States today.

And, after more than an hour and a half, the dozen and a half students came to agreement on a number of issues, while on others, they respectfully agreed to disagree.

The forum was one of dozens that Hofstra University is hosting at schools across Long Island in a program that is running in tandem with Hofstra’s town-hall presidential debate, which was held on the Hempstead campus on Oct. 16. The project is called Long Island Deepens Democracy Through Deliberation, and is administered by the university’s Public Policy Institute, of which former Mepham High School social studies teacher Bernie Stein, of Merrick, serves as associate director.

Karen McGuiness, Kennedy’s social studies chairwoman, said Hofstra has held a number of issues forums at the school in recent weeks, and she said, “We’ve been really pleased with the deliberative process.”

Stein said he is working with Hofstra history professor Michael D’Innocenzo, the Harry H. Wachtel distinguished teaching professor for the study of nonviolent change, and Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement on the L.I. Deepens Democracy project, which is grant-funded. The Kettering Foundation developed the deliberative format employed during the forums, and the National Issues Forum supplied the nonpartisan research material that students use to help formulate their opinions on the issues.

Etana Jacobi, 22, of Hooksett, N.H., who is the Harry H. Wachtel Leadership Scholar at the Center for Civic Engagement, and Kayla Rivara, 21, of Shoreham in Suffolk County, a Hofstra senior majoring in political science, led the Oct. 22 forum at Kennedy High.

And, while the discussion got heated at times, it never became overheated.

Kennedy senior Marc Tawfik, 17, said government must protect citizens from terrorism, but must do so without impinging on their civil liberties, and that, he noted, is not always possible. “In protecting itself against threats,” he said of the U.S., the country “became more constricted.”

Classmate Cory Azmon, 17, said that the more than $750 billion the U.S. spends annually on the military may be too great a price to pay. Military spending, he said, “is a little excessive when we have allies that will protect us.”

Senior Kaela Feit wondered whether the U.S. has too many weapons. To a number of other nations, she said, “It looks like we’re stockpiling weapons for some action against them.

“We’re not a police force,” Feit later added. “We’re a democracy.”

A number of students said the U.S. should work through the United Nations in a multilateral approach to world peacekeeping. “Diplomacy should always be the first option,” said Sara Bigman, 17.

Feit said she believes “there is never going to be an end to the war on terror.” Containment is the only real possibility. By working together with other nations, she said, keeping the terrorists at bay is made far easier than if the U.S. were to go it alone.

Perhaps the presidential candidates could take a lesson or two from the students in the L.I. Deepens Democracy project.

For more on the project, check out

Polydoros Sassos on the DDD Project

5 Nov

Polydoros will be graduating from Hofstra Univeristy with a BA in History in 2013 after only two and a half years of study.  In addition to his rigorous curriculum, he is a competitive athlete and defines his three pillars of life as his pursuits in academia, physical athleticism, and Christianity.

My experience as a Democracy Fellow at Hofstra University has been one of, if not the most, beneficial experiences in my life. Getting the chance to work with active students and professors has taught me the skills to address and observe the issues that are plaguing our nation with an open mind and an open heart. I have not only learned to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds,  but I have learned to engage them and the values they hold most sacred in life. The rhetoric and engagement skills that I have learned as a Democracy Fellow have been incomparable to anything else I have experienced at Hofstra University.

After I graduate, I plan on furthering my education in pursuit of a PhD in History.  But no matter where my career takes me, I am positive that the skills I have obtained as a Democracy Fellow will be used to the fullest extent, be it in the classroom, the political arena, or the private sector. My experiences with this project have broadened my knowledge of society, increased my love for knowledge and academia, and has made me a more active citizen.