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Emory University’s first ‘Conversation with America’ digs deep on big issues

By David Pendered

Emory University sparked just the sort of conversation it had hoped to initiate when Emory launched its Conversations with America project Tuesday evening in Pittsburgh. The event was covered by media including NBC, politico.com, and thehill.com.

“Last night’s discourse is what we had hoped to achieve – a thoughtful and open discussion about the difficult questions and issues facing our nation,” Emory spokesperson Nancy Seideman said in an email Wednesday.

The conversation in Pittsburgh included a focus group of 12 voters led by veteran NBC/Wall Street Journal pollster Peter D. Hart. Hart and Emory are collaborating on the project.

The story on politico.com indicates Hart led group through discussions of a series of topics. The conversation lasted two hours.

The story started with views of President Trump, which were mostly negative even among those who said they voted for Trump in a state that Trump won in 2016.

Congress and its leaders received low marks. The Russian investigation was touched on, along with immigration, trade and North Korea.

According to the story: “The group painted a dark picture of its sense of America right now, using words like ‘chaotic, ‘scary,’ ‘tense’ and ‘embarrassing.’”

Tony Sciullo

Tony Sciullo

NBC’s story quoted Tony Sciullo, an insurance company president who voted for Trump:

  • “He is almost totally lacking in empathy. That’s why he scores so poorly on all of these issues. He cannot put himself in the other person’s moccasins, whether it be racial or international or socio-economic. He’s incredibly obtuse. And I voted for him.”

Emory created Conversations with America in order to, “advance and promote conversation and civil discourse on the most difficult issues facing our nation,” according to an Emory statement.

Emory President Claire E. Sterk said the fostering of such conversations is a duty of colleges and universities.

“We cannot begin to address the most divisive challenges facing our nation without first taking the time to listen to the broad range of opinions and experiences across the nation,” Sterk said.

Conversations with America aims to help us engage in the difficult conversations we must have as a community and as a nation,” Sterk said. “Universities like Emory stand in a unique position to help foster respectful dialogue that brings greater understanding and engagement. That is our charge as an institution of higher education.”

According to Emory’s release:

  • claire sterk, edit

    Claire Sterk

    “The Conversations with America series will offer a valuable opportunity for Emory students, faculty and the public to pause and listen to a broad array of citizen voices and to learn about their diverse opinions on critically important national issues. The research team will provide a full-length video and independent summary to the Emory community and the public.”

The plan is to conduct several focus groups at select cities around the country to develop a deeper understanding of views on issues including immigration, race, education and health care. The schedule of future sessions is being devised, Seideman said.

The research team plans to release a full-length video and independent summary of the comments to the Emory community and the public when it is complete.



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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