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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2017

Mount Mercy University dives into division in 2017 Fall Faculty Series

By By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Aug 30, 2017

CEDAR RAPIDS — Breaking news has been prolific of late, with daily reports of epic proportions — from prospects of nuclear war to domestic racism to border walls and the like. Running undercurrent to it all is a theme of division — prompting Mount Mercy University this fall to tackle that larger issue at a community level.

For its 2017 Fall Faculty Series, Mount Mercy is hosting 16 events focused on varying aspects of democracy and citizenship — from the role of a free press to the impact of minority groups.

Titled, “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age,” the three-month series will explore “how today’s biggest issues can be resolved through courage and compassion.”

“In the early months of 2017, it became clear that the United States is a divided nation,” Joy Ochs, series coordinator and English professor, said in a statement.

Noting hashtags like #buildthewall and #resist on social media sites like Twitter, Ochs said, the Mount Mercy faculty wanted to step back and take stock of the state of the nation’s democracy and what it means to be a U.S. citizen.

“In a political atmosphere where there seems to be a lot of shouting, we want to address issues with the Mercy charism of courage and compassion,” she said in the statement.

The series’ events range in focus, including media, taxpayer funded medical research, women’s rights, racism, civil discourse and the prospect of peace. The goal, according to Ochs, is to facilitate an inclusive discussion about the state of the nation and what folks want it to be.

“Attendees can choose topics that interest them, while also exploring topics they may have not thought about,” she said.

A kickoff event at 7 p.m. today, features Assistant Professor of Political Science Richard Barrett, speaking about the meaning of citizenry in a representative democracy.

The event, free to the public, takes place in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall on Mount Mercy’s campus, 1330 Elmhurst Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids.

Associate Professor of Communication Joe Sheller on Sept. 7 will present on “Fake News and the Free Press.” He told The Gazette that topic is paramount right now, with the president liberally using “fake news” rhetoric — oftentimes attacking the media for reporting facts that are verifiably accurate through audio and video recordings.

“His recent speech in Phoenix, where he self-edited his earlier remarks about the violence in Charlottesville by leaving out a key point and then blasted the media for not reporting those remarks in the way he wanted it reported is a case in point,” Sheller said.

In his presentation, Sheller will briefly trace the history of the term “fake news,” examine the president’s use of it, and discuss the damage and distrust that language can create within a political system.

“I do plan to note inherent biases in media, so I’m not letting journalists entirely off the hook,” he said. “But the current presidential attack on journalists is an unhealthy and almost authoritarian strain in our political discourse that needs to be seen for what it is.”

Addressing the mission of the series on the whole, Sheller said he’s not expecting easy answers.

“I think of the series more as a look in depth at the reality, understanding where the divisions come from and what they might mean,” he said.

Series highlights include: “Fake News and the Free Press,” “Great White Hoax: Racism, Divide-and-Conquer, and the Politics of Trumpism,” and “Protest 101: How to Be an Effective Activist.”

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