Breakout Session Descriptions

BREAKOUT SESSIONS I: 14:15 - 15:45 

1. "Missouri: The Hands that Feed Us – When Liberal Student Activism Meets Conservative Electorates”

  • Ben Trachtenberg (Associate Professor of Law, University of Missouri; Humanity in Action Senior Fellow)

In November 2015, the University of Missouri captured national attention when its system president, along with the chancellor of the flagship Columbia campus (“Mizzou”), resigned in the wake of student protests. Media reports provided a straightforward narrative: Black students, including a hunger striker and striking football players, had ousted top administrators. While the truth was far more complicated, one cannot deny the link between the student protests and the administrative departures. Soon afterward, Mizzou suffered huge drops in applications and enrollment, contributing to massive budget shortfalls. Concurrently, state legislators chastised the university for “caving” to protestors’ demands, threatening additional multimillion dollar cuts. Did the Mizzou protests do more harm than good? Who, if anyone, is to blame? Should America’s 14-million-plus public university students stay silent to avoid offending politicians and potential applicants? This presentation will explore how student activists, and others, must navigate state politics when seeking change at public universities. 

2. "Virginia: Charlottesville and the Summer of Hate” 

  • Anna Duensing (PhD Candidate, Yale University; Humanity in Action Senior Fellow)

This past summer, emboldened by the Trump administration, a broad, loosely-organized faction of the alt-right declared Charlottesville, Virginia the next major battleground for what would come to be called the "Summer of Hate." In the language of these white nationalists, however, this series of events from May to August were meant to "Unite the Right," and saw a stunning array of fascists, hate groups, hooligans, and trolls descend on this southern, liberal college town. Indeed, these groups ranged from the clean-cut collar-and-khaki white supremacism of Richard Spencer and his ilk, to local Ku Klux Klan chapters, biker gangs, men's rights and second amendment advocates, to fringe neo-Nazi organizations like Identity Evropa, Vanguard America, the Traditionalist Worker Party, and the American Nazi Party. This talk will begin by chronicling and contextualizing the events of the summer, culminating with the rallies on August 11 and August 12, which gained significant national attention after the murder of Heather Heyer and President Trump's brash "both sides" equivocation, which seemed to sanction the events and condemn counter-protestors. The talk will then move to frame these rallies in the context of a longer Charlottesville and Virginia history, working through the local particularities while also parsing what about the "Summer of Hate" was truly endemic to the nation. 

3. “Careers for the Social Good”

  • Christelle Onwu (Human Rights Specialist – New York City Commission on Human Rights)
  • Amy Turner (Principal Attorney, Turner Legal PLLC; Humanity in Action Senior Fellow)
  • Oscar Baez (Diplomat, U.S. Department of State; Humanity in Action Senior Fellow)
  • Moderator: Antje Scheidler (German National Director & International Director of European Programs, Humanity in Action)

This breakout session will bring together three professionals advancing the social good through their careers. The session will feature: Amy Turner, a lawyer and Senior Fellow who has founded her own practice to focus on environmental law; Oscar Baez, a Senior Fellow working at the U.S. State Department monitoring and reporting on today’s geopolitical crises; and Christelle Onwu, a friend of Humanity in Action who works at the NYC Commission on Human Rights in grassroots organizing on human rights among marginalized New Yorkers in the Bronx. Amy, Oscar and Christelle will discuss their career paths, ethical dilemmas in the workplace and the challenges in advancing social justice ideals in their work. Moderated by Humanity in Action’s Antje Scheidler, the session will provide an opportunity for Fellows and Senior Fellows to share their experiences and frank advice about careers.

BREAKOUT SESSIONS II: 16:15 - 17:15  

1. "United States: Hope for Advancing Environmental Justice in a Time of Federal Retraction”

  • Ana Baptista (Assistant Professor and Associate Director for the Tishman Environmental and Design Center, The New School)

Today, climate change is endangering vulnerable, overburdened communities all over the world as climate related disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Maria remind us. Meanwhile, the federal government has abdicated leadership on these issues, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords and dismantling key US Environmental Protection Agency policies.  In the midst of this federal retraction, states, municipalities and local leaders are stepping up their fight to protect the most vulnerable communities against environmental degradation and climate change. In this session, Ana Baptista, an environmental justice policy scholar and practitioner from The New School, will take conference participants on a survey of how the drastic changes in Washington are reverberating in states and local communities across the country. In examining dangers and advancements in environmental justice policies, Baptista will discuss the importance of centering environmental policy at multiple scales around principles of justice.  

2. “Washington State: Coalition Building on LGBT Health and Housing”

  • Andy Post (Capitol Hill Housing, Humanity in Action Fellow; Humanity in Action Senior Fellow)
  • Sophia Philip (Virginia Mason, Humanity in Action Fellow; Humanity in Action Senior Fellow) 

Humanity In Action’s inaugural Virginia Mason Fellowship focused on the intersection of healthcare and housing for LGBTQ communities in Washington State. The fellowship paired one of the largest developers of affordable housing in the Seattle area - Capitol Hill Housing - with a leading hospital system in Washington - Virginia Mason. Dr. Amish J. Dave (Berlin, 2006)worked with Sophia Philip (Paris, 2015) and Andy Post (Warsaw, 2016) on an intensive study of the current state of affordable housing options and healthcare resources for LGBTQ populations. Each fellow was stationed at the partnering organizations, working alongside staff and community members to both identify the needs and concerns of elderly LGBTQ populations and design and implement tools to improve accessibility and care. Examples of these projects include community surveys of LGBTQ individuals' housing needs, improving sexual history taking among primary care providers, implementing guidelines and standard work processes for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV transmission, organizing discussions related to afford housing for senior citizens, and helping to organize participating organizations for Seattle Pride events.

3. "Texas: Transgender Rights and Bathroom Access"

  • Shelby Chestnut (National Organizing and Policy Strategist, Transgender Law Center)

This session will focus on the recent victory for Transgender Rights in Texas when advocates and trans activists defeated an anti-transgender bathroom bill in Texas during their special legislative session in 2017. This session will also map out why and how Transgender public accommodations is the civil rights issue of our time, especially during this challenging political times.