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Political science associate professor Jim Curry explains how this campus event will help people ‘make sense’ of a few issues and spark deeper engagement in the political process—now and perhaps in the future.

By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications

On Oct. 17, the Department of Political Science, the Hinckley Institute and the Scholars Strategy Network will host a day-long event on “Making Sense of the 2016 Elections.” The event will feature three different panels, each focused on a major campaign issue. The event will be held in the Saltair Room at the Olpin Union Building, 200 Central Campus Drive, from 11:30 4:30 pm. Political Science associate professor Jim Curry explains to @theU how the event will make you a more informed voter:


Q: The Department of Political Science is hosting a day-long event on Oct. 17 called “Making Sense of the 2016 Elections.” What is it about?

A: Elections draw public attention to politics and policymaking like nothing else, but the discussion that results is often shallow and narrow, focused on which candidate is winning, who said what, the latest gaffe on the campaign trail and so on. Rarely do we take advantage of the heightened public engagement that presidential elections bring and use that to get people to think about and discuss important issues in a meaningful way. We want to help people make sense of some of the important public policy issues that are facing our country. Our goal is to help people ‘make sense’ of a few of these issues and spark deeper engagement in the political process—now and perhaps in the future.

Q: What issues will the event discuss and why?

A: While there are many important issues facing the country, we chose to focus on three that have been a significant part of the public debate over the past couple years: Immigration and national security, election “fairness” and criminal justice policy.

  • Immigration and national security and the linkage between these two issues has been a major theme in the 2016 presidential election, from Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexican-American border to the controversy over Syrian refugees and continued threats from various terrorist-linked attacks in the U.S. and abroad. (Panel 1, 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.)
  • The question of whether or not our elections process is “fair” has been recurrent throughout the primary and general election, from Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters complaining that the primary process was tilted against their candidate to Trump’s recent comments that the general election might be rigged. Underlying all of this has been the persistent controversy over voter ID laws in many states. (Panel 2, 1:45 to 3 p.m.)
  • Police-involved shootings and violence against police officers continue to make news across the country. We’ve experienced the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, controversies over sentencing policies and debate over justice reform measures adopted by many states, including Utah. The criminal justice system is at the forefront of public debate—so much so that Trump has sought to capitalize on the issue by declaring himself the law-and-order candidate. (Panel 3, 3:15 to 4:30 p.m.)


Q: Who will participate on these panels?

A: We have compiled a diverse and impressive set of panelists from different backgrounds who will bring different perspectives to the discussions. Our panelists include:

  • Local academics from the University of Utah and BYU, as well as academics from other prestigious universities throughout the country, including Simmons College in Massachusetts and Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.
  • Utah policymakers, including Democratic State Sen. Luz Escamilla and Republican State Rep. Eric Hutchings, both of whom will join our discussion on criminal justice policy.
  • Policy advocates from Utah and beyond, including Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City; Derek Monson of the conservative-leaning Sutherland Institute; Leah Farrell of the ACLU Utah; and Dr. Nazgol Ghandnoosh of The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C.