News & Events

Lindy Cranwell successfully defended her proposal

Lindy Cranwell successfully defended her dissertation proposal on Monday, May 1, 2018. Her committee included: Chair Dr. Max Stephenson (Director Institute for Policy and Governance), Co-Chair Dr. Denise Simmons (Assistant Professor, Myers-Lawson School of Construction), Dr. David Knight (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Engineering Education) and Ralph Hall (Associate Professor, UPA). Lindy’s Dissertation Title is University Comprehensive Internationalization: Faculty Perspectives on Meaning-Making, Attitudes and Motivations for Engaging Globally. Congratulations and best wishes Lindy, as you move to the next phase.

2018 Awards

The School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) held its annual Excellence Awards on Monday, April 16th, at the Graduate Life Center.  Awards received by faculty and students with an association with the Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) included: Dr. Max Stephenson, Professor in SPIA and Director of the Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG), received the Graduate School/College of Architecture and urban Studies Outstanding Mentor Award.

Hamza Safouane, PGG-GG, Blacksburg received the Richard E. Zody Award for Outstanding dissertation in PGG.  Hamza’s dissertation was titled:  Governing migrants in the European Union: A Critical Approach to Interrogating Migrants' Journey Narratives Dr. Stephenson served as a member of Dr. Safouane’s advisory committee.

Beth Olberding, MURP, Blacksburg, was awarded the Brenda Crawford Award for the Program’s Graduate Student who has embodied and demonstrated the ideals of public service and social justice. Dr. Stephenson is serving as chair of her advisory committee.

Lara Nagle, MURP, Blacksburg, was awarded the VA Chapter of the American Planning Association Certificate Award for Graduate Students for Outstanding Professional Promise. Dr. Stephenson is serving as chair of her advisory committee. Lara is also serving as a graduate assistant with the Institute.

Congratulations to all!

CAUS Outstand Mentor Award

On Thursday April 19, 2018, The College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) held it's annual Award Ceremony at the German Club Manor.  Dr. Max Stephenson from the Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) was awarded the Outstanding Mentor by Dean Blythe.  This award was created by the Graduate School to recognize on faculty member from each college for their role in supporting, encouraging and promoting a positive and inclusive scholarly and teaching environment and for contributing to the professional and personal development of graduate students. Thank you for your strong commitment to facilitating graduate student learning and modeling outstanding mentoring. Congratulations Dr Stephenson!

Dr Kristin Kirk

Colleagues, I am very pleased to report that Kristin successfully defended her dissertation this morning-entitled, “Assessing Nonprofit Websites: Developing an Evaluation Model”- and thereby completed requirements for her PhD In Planning, Governance and Globalization. Special thanks to Kristin’s advisory committee members: Alan Abrahams, Department of Business Information Technology, Jason Kelly, Department of Political Science, Tom Sanchez, Urban Affairs and Planning Program/SPIA and Chris Zobel, Department of Business Information Technology. I served as chair of her committee. Kristin is the 31st student affiliated with VTIPG to complete their doctorate since the Institute’s founding in 2006. Congratulations to Kristin! Best wishes, Max  


CAUS Graduate Student Research Poster competition

Just a note to say that IPG affiliated graduate students, Beth Olberding (MURP.MNR candidate) and Neda Moayerian (PhD PGG candidate) and Laura Nagle (MURP) won first and second prizes in the subject competition, respectively at the CAUS Graduate Student Research Poster Competition.  The competition was held at  Cowgill on Friday March 16 , 2018.  Kudos to them!

Thomas Murray's documentary "The Right of Way" at the Cube

Thomas Murray, a third-year MFA candidate in Public Directing and Dialogue has created a documentary play, The Right of Way, about the death of a bicyclist in Chicago. He developed the drama on the basis of interviews with the bicyclist's family and friends, court transcripts, and contextual interviews with civil engineers, urban planners, lawyers, and historians. Former MURP students Tara Reel and Michael Stapor are both referenced in the play. The Right of Way is scheduled for a full production in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center, March 29-31. Tickets are free and may be accessed here: VT event listing: Public Facebook event:  A short post-show discussion moderated by RIDE Solutions will follow each performance. In addition, Murray’s work was selected for discussion at the Sackler Student Symposium at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. next week. He will also be co-presenting at the national conference for the American Planning Association with Michael Stapor in April. The two will offer an educational session entitled Docudrama for Catalyzing Complete Streets Conversation that will reflect on The Right of Way's connection with non-arts partners. Congratulations to Thomas!


Mobilizing Rhetoric as Emblem of Enervating Democratic Capacity

In my last Soundings commentary, I argued the following:

Cognitive empathy requires deep personal consideration and reflection concerning who one is and what one believes, as well as considered regard for how and why others may live and evidence different values than your own. It demands imagination, perception and sensitivity of a sort grounded in continuing reflection on the human experience. That requirement, in turn, necessitates developing the highest order forms of communication and reasoning both to practice it and to bridge differences among those with whom one is relating. …

More, one cannot so serve and unleash the agential possibility latent in all individuals with whom one might relate and with whom one might serve, if one fears difference or lacks the analytical wherewithal and emotional maturity born of continuing reflection on one’s own and humankind’s strengths and frailties. Cognitive empathy demands a deep rootedness in what joins human beings a well as a considered awareness of humankind’s propensity for both good and evil, justice and injustice. It also demands the capacity to analyze knotty social problems that are likely to evidence all of those propensities and others at once, especially as those relate to self-governance challenges.[1]

These contentions and four other themes I have highlighted in recent essays—the role of fear, “othering,” absolutism and anti-communitarianism in today’s mobilization politics—came to mind as I read President Donald Trump’s remarks at the February 23 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington, D.C. Each of these concerns alone, and certainly all of them taken together, serve only to weaken and undermine democratic proclivities among those who accept them. In so doing and in the longer pull, they also work to diminish our nation’s capacity for self-governance.

Trump employed all of these negative tropes in his CPAC remarks. Consider, for example, his use of the fable of the woman and the ungrateful serpent as a metaphor for how immigrants and refugees who come to the United States treat citizens of this country. Here is Trump’s version of the tale and the conclusions he drew from it in his speech:

On her way to work one morning, down the path along the lake, a tenderhearted woman saw a poor, half-hearted, frozen snake.  His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew. 'Poor thing,' she cried, 'I'll take you in, and I'll take care of you.'

'Take me in, oh, tender woman.  Take me in, for Heaven's sake.  Take me in, oh, tender woman,' sighed the vicious snake.

She wrapped him up all cozy in a comforter of silk, and laid him by her fireside with some honey and some milk.  She hurried home from work that night, and as soon as she arrived, she found that pretty snake she'd taken in had been revived.

'Take me in, oh, tender woman.  Take me in for Heaven's sake.  Take me in, oh, tender woman,' sighed the vicious snake.

She clutched him to her bosom, 'You're so beautiful,' she cried.  But if I hadn't brought you in by now, surely you would have died.'

She stroked his pretty skin again, and kissed and held him tight.  But instead of saying thank you, that snake gave her a vicious bite.

'Take me in, oh, tender woman.  Take me in for Heaven's sake.  Take me in, oh, tender woman,' sighed the vicious snake.

'I saved you,' cried the woman.  'And you've bitten me. Heaven's why?  You know your bite is poisonous, and now I'm going to die.'

'Oh, shut up, silly woman,' said the reptile with a grin.  'You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.'"  (Applause.)

And that's what we're doing with our country, folks.  We're letting people in, and it's going to be a lot of trouble.  It's only getting worse.  But we're giving you protection like never before.  Our law enforcement is doing a better job than we've ever done before.  And we love our country.  And we're going to take care of our country.  Okay?  We're going to take care of our country.  (Applause.)[2]

This rhetoric is sweeping, absolute, factually inaccurate and designed to elicit fear. Trump used the story to ask his audience to hate a group of people on the basis of deceitfully ascribed characteristics, and he went still further to contend that those listening to him should loathe such individuals on the basis of fear. More subtly, this sort of speech attacks the idea of community by singling out specific groups for opprobrium and arguing that one cannot trust those “others.” I need not belabor here the irony that Trump’s mother, grandfather and two of his three wives were immigrants to this nation.

It also seems clear that Trump’s absolutism and false claims of certainty give members of his audience who wish to believe his assertions a way to make sense of the swiftly changing economic and social realities the United States now confronts, and to become comfortable with blaming specific groups for them. In this sense, Trump’s speech was profoundly anti-democratic. That is, his comments undermined claims of common humanity by degrading and dehumanizing targeted individuals and groups. One cannot “be like us,” Trump told his audience through his use of the fable, and yet “kill” us for our empathy. This sort of rhetoric encourages reckless and wanton cruelty on the basis of imagined and fantastical slights, even as it explicitly characterizes empathy as the province of suckers.

Trump’s CPAC rhetoric concerning the Parkland, Florida school shootings, in which a deranged individual used an assault-style rifle to murder 17 students and staff members, was similar in character. The President called for arming teachers with concealed weapons and “hardening” schools as a potential solution to the periodic mass killings happening in the nation’s educational institutions (a phenomenon unique to the United States):

It's time to make our schools a much harder target for attackers.  We don't want them in our schools.  (Applause.)  We don't want them.

When we declare our schools to be gun-free zones, it just puts our students in far more danger.  (Applause.)  Far more danger.  Well-trained, gun-adept teachers and coaches and people that work in those buildings; people that were in the Marines for 20 years and retired; people in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard; people that are adept—adept with weaponry and with guns—they teach.  I mean, I don't want to have 100 guards standing with rifles all over the school.  You do a concealed carry permit.  (Applause.)

And this would be a major deterrent because these people are inherently cowards.  If they thought—like, if this guy thought that other people would be shooting bullets back at him, he wouldn't have gone to that school.  He wouldn't have gone there.  It's a gun-free zone.  It says, this is a gun-free zone; please check your guns way far away.  And what happens is they feel safe.  There's nobody going to come at them. …

But I also want to protect—we need a hardened site.  It has to be hardened.  It can't be soft.  Because they'll sneak in through a window, they'll sneak in some way.  And, again, you're standing there totally unprotected.[3]

As Trump defined it, the “problem” of frequent mass shootings in the United States is not that individuals, including teenagers, can easily acquire assault-style rifles and other powerful guns, but that teachers are unarmed when individuals attack them with such weapons. Trump did not mention the role of the police, who represent and work to protect communities, nor did he suggest that government more generally had a role to play in preventing the possibility of such violence, except to permit teachers to carry concealed weapons. Trump also did not treat the role of law in creating the nation’s mass murder culture. State and federal lawmakers, after all, have crafted the statutes that have allowed mentally ill individuals and criminals such easy access to guns in this country.

Instead, he framed the issue as one of fearing the murderous among us and individually protecting ourselves from them. The implicit vision of society Trump presented was of a mythical Wild West run amok. This binary simplification undermines awareness of the need for cognitive empathy concerning how to balance the role of citizen rights to own weapons and society’s right to reside in peace. The latter requires a conception of community not present in Trump’s vision, which addresses the concern only from the standpoint of individuals. Trump’s formulation was devoid of any intimation that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, the state of Florida or the nation shape and are shaped by their inhabitants. Trump’s remarks lacked any sense those communities have rightful and profoundly significant roles to play in their participants’ lives.

Trump also called for efforts to “target harden” schools in order to prevent preying criminal elements from entering them or killing or maiming others once within. That is, far from calling for schools to be gun-free zones, Trump suggested they become heavily armed, securitized, weapons laden and fear-filled locations. It seems more than counter intuitive to imagine that such action would constitute a “safer” environment for school-age children.

Trump’s speech evoked a well-established pattern of mobilizing voters on the basis of fear, as individuals alone, in the name of phantom absolutist problems and responses and against stereotyped and “othered” persons and groups. As long as Trump, and other GOP leaders particularly, can galvanize voters on the basis of these profoundly anti-democratic means, we may expect citizen capacity for cognitive empathy and community-based action to continue to decline. To the extent such occurs, we may also expect the nation’s capacity for self-governance and its companion capability to maintain its citizens’ human and civil rights to deteriorate.



[1] Stephenson, Max, Jr., “On ‘Changemakers,’ Education and Democratic Self-Governance,” Soundings, February 19, 2018,, Accessed February 25, 2018.

[2] Lord, Debbie. “Full Transcript: Read Donald Trump’s Remarks at CPAC,” The Atlanta Constitution, February 24, 2018, Accessed February 24, 2018.

[3] Lord. “Full Transcript.”



Majora Carter, Urban Revitalization Strategist

Majora Carter, urban revitalization strategist, to present lecture

Majora Carter will present her lecture "Home(town) Security" from 6:30 to 8 p.m. March 22 at the Moss Arts Center.

Carter, of the South Bronx, knows how to make low-status communities more livable, greener, and healthier. She is an award-winning urban revitalization strategist who addresses systemic inequality through economic development incentives and innovative talent-retention projects.

Working with government, businesses, and neighborhood organizations, she creates new opportunities for transportation, fitness and recreation, nutrition, and wealth creation. Today, Majora Carter is profoundly transforming the quality of life for people nationwide.

For more information, visit

The event is sponsored by the VT Landscape Architecture Program (, and in association with the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; the Office for Inclusion and Diversity; Office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives Graduate School; the Landscape Architecture Community Engagement Lab; Institute for Policy and Governance; School of Public and International Affairs/Urban Affairs and Planning (SPIA/UAP); Global Forum for Urban and Regional Resilience (GFURRl); ASPECT Studio; Graduate  School; Agriculture, Leadership, and Community Education; and Community Voices.

Community Change Journal New Call for Papers

New Call for papers Community Change | Vol.2, No.1 (2018). The topic is:

Democratic Community Change in the Time of Trump Key Dates:

  •  Submission deadline - March 12, 2018
  • Author notification of selection - March 19, 2018
  • Online publication - June 2018

Please submit preliminary articles of the chosen format to

For submission information, please visit:

Hamza Safouane Successfully Defended his Dissertation

Warm congratulations to Hamza Safouane who successfully defended his dissertation on February 7, 2018 to complete requirements for the PhD in Planning, Governance and Globalization! Congratulations too to his advisory committee, which included the following faculty members: Tim Luke, Political Science/GIA, Chair, Joyce Rothschild (Emerita), GIA, Brett Shadle, History and Max Stephenson, SPIA/UAP and Director of Institute for Policy and Governance. Hamza’s effort was entitled, “Governing Migrants in the European Union: A Critical Approach to Interrogating Migrants’ Journey Narratives.”  

February 19, 2018 @ 7 PM - Amy Goldstein: "Janesville: An American Story"

You are invited to join us for Amy Goldstein, a Pultizer Prize winning Washington Post jounalist, for a talk on her book "Janesville: An American Story".  She will talk about what really happens to workers, families, and a community when good jobs go away?  See flyer below for 3 opportunities to attend. Community Voices_Amy Goldstein_new FLYER2.5.18