Gerd Altmann | Pixabay
Boston College’s Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy marks two milestones this month, hosting a major symposium capping its yearlong “Renewing Journalism, Restoring Democracy” theme, and launching a new student-led annual journal that mirrors the center’s mission: promoting interdisciplinary reflection on constitutional government in the United States and throughout the world.
The publication’s first issue contains articles written by Clough Fellows—a cohort of BC undergraduate and graduate students from across the University, including the Philosophy, History, Sociology, Psychology/Neuroscience, English, Theology, and Political Science departments and the Law School. As will be the case each edition, its title and contents reflect the center’s programming theme for the academic year: Among the offerings in Renewing Journalism, Restoring Democracy are “Journalism and Government Advertising: The Relationship Between Corruption, Democracy, and Human Rights in Brazil”; “The American Jury and The American Media”; and “Haven’t We Heard This Before? Narratives of Polarization in the Catholic Church.”
Finishing touches on the debut edition come as the center prepares for the climactic event of its yearlong examination of the challenges journalism and democracy face, and the possibilities for renewing both.
Featured keynote speakers at the symposium, which takes place March 15-17, include New York Times columnist and CBS political analyst Jamelle Bouie, who referenced the conference in his March 11 column; award-winning journalist, author, professor, and speaker Farai Chideya, creator and host of the “Our Body Politic” radio show and podcast; Maria Hinojosa, anchor and executive producer of Peabody Award-winning “Latino USA,” distributed by NPR; and journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a longtime reporter, anchor, and correspondent for NPR.
Among others appearing are WBUR “Radio Boston” host (and former BC faculty member) Tiziana Dearing, Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr, National Review Editor at Large Kathryn Jean Lopez, and former BBC director and New York Times executive Mark Thompson.
BC-affiliated speakers include Clough Center Director Jonathan Laurence and Assistant Director Nicholas Hayes-Mota; BC faculty members Michael Serazio, Angela Ards (director of BC’s journalism minor), Heather Cox Richardson, and Carlo Rotella; BC visiting fellow Charles Sennott, Boston Globe writer and founder of the GroundTruth project; and Samuel Sawyer, S.J., ’00, M.Div.’14, editor in chief of America magazine
The symposium is co-sponsored by the Lowell Humanities Series, Institute for the Liberal Arts, Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, and the Journalism Program at Boston College.
It’s been exciting to see BC students from different disciplinary backgrounds come together around a common theme. In our weekly seminar and in conversation with visiting speakers, we all gained a deeper appreciation of how the news media shape our understanding of social and political life.
Finishing up his first year as center director, Laurence expressed happiness with the quality of the events and the response they generated, especially among students. “It’s been exciting to see BC students from different disciplinary backgrounds come together around a common theme. In our weekly seminar and in conversation with visiting speakers, we all gained a deeper appreciation of how the news media shape our understanding of social and political life.”
The “Renewing Journalism, Restoring Democracy” theme proved to be particularly relevant in light of notable events and trends in recent months, he said, noting coverage of the January 6-related investigations as well as controversy over the impact of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
“We’ve seen a resurgence of the role journalists play in providing accountability when our political system fails to function adequately. The coverage has been helpful in showing how close our democracy came to veering off the rails. We’ve learned about the weaknesses in our system, and how to shore them up.”
Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences graduate student Dennis Wieboldt III ’22 and Morrissey College junior Caroline Brewster have relished the experience of serving as Renewing Journalism, Restoring Democracy co-editors and co-organizers: It’s been an opportunity to work with other students from various academic disciplines, they said, and to reflect on journalism’s historic role in sustaining democracy.
As a double major in political science and theology, Brewster feels the Clough Center’s mission aligns with her interest in how religion influences social choices and political behavior. “I appreciate how the center aims to revitalize civil political discourse on campus, offering opportunities for the BC community to ponder questions facing our generation and beyond. The success of our constitutional democracy depends on our ability to engage sincerely and productively with those around us, including and especially around difficult questions. The center’s programs help to give students the experiences they need to develop these crucial skills.
“As co-editor, learning from students who study sociology, history, and other subjects has given me a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between journalism and democracy. I hope our readers similarly benefit from the interdisciplinarity of the journal.”
Wieboldt, who is pursuing a master’s degree in history, expressed gratitude for the center’s support of his interest in the historical relationship between law, politics, and religion in the 20th-century U.S., particularly American Catholic legal thinkers’ views on how constitutional provisions positively shape—and negatively limit—democratic decision-making.
“For historians of the 20th-century U.S., there are few better primary sources available than newspapers to learn about American democracy. My own research has relied extensively on newspaper reporting about the administration of BC Law School Dean William J. Kenealy, S.J., and his later civil rights-era advocacy to better understand his historical context and the types of questions that everyday Americans had about the virtues and vices of their democracy.
“By integrating both historical and contemporary accounts of journalism and democracy, this year’s publication is well suited to highlight how journalists have, and still can, promote the success of constitutional democracy in the U.S. and abroad.”
The journal will be available in print and online, hosted via the Clough Center website [bc.edu/clough], which also provides information on the March 15-17 symposium.
Sean Smith | University Communications | March 2023