Loyola University Chicago

Civic Engagement and Civil Discourse


Panel Presentation: President Trump and the Press


Loyola faculty and other industry experts will be kicking off a lively conversation on journalism, media literacy, and the fight against disinformation.

On November 8, Loyola faculty and other industry experts sat down to discuss the topic that’s been dominating the news for more than a year: President Donald Trump’s contentious relationship with the press and political journalists.


Hosted by the Office of the Provost, President Trump and the Press is a part of Loyola’s Civic Engagement and Civil Discourse initiative.
Wednesday, November 8
3:30 p.m.
Damen Student Center, Damen Den


Newspapers like The New York Times and the Washington Post are seeing a growing subscriber base, but at the same time journalists have to answer questions like, “why do you write fake news?” With so much happening on the web and social media, individuals have every piece of information and disinformation at their fingertips. That’s why Jill Geisler, the Bill Plante Chair of Leadership and Media Integrity in the School of Communication and moderator of the panel, wants the panel to be a conversation with the audience—not a lecture.

“I hope the takeaway is that we all leave that day better connected to each other as citizens, as people who want to understand government with open minds and new information,” Geisler said.

 Ahead of the event, we asked Geisler a few questions about what to expect from the discussion.

 On why the discussion topics won’t be settled until right before the event:

We specifically decided to do it one hour in advance because the current news atmosphere is constantly changing, and so we wanted to make sure that any advanced planning we did wasn’t dated and overtaken by more important subjects coming out of the administration in the near term.

 We have stories that are happening on the international front and on the domestic front. We might be talking about taxes. We might be talking about health care, but in three weeks we may be talking about those things still and possibly more. And this is an administration that through social media may divert the conversation because of a claim that’s been tweeted out.

 On the changing relationship between social media and journalism in the past few years:

Social media and digital media have accelerated everything. Traditionally, broadcasters operated on a 24/7 cycle, but now everyone is operating on a 24/7 news cycle. We have to be on high alert in some cases because of what is being tweeted out by the president. In some cases, because there’s an expectation from citizens/audiences that if something is happening, we can’t wait until the morning news to tell you about it or until your paper is delivered. People want information delivered to them wherever, however, and whenever they prefer.

 On why is this a conversation that still needs to be happening:

There is always tension between government and the press. The job of one is to hold the other accountable. That can cause tensions. Press ask questions—at times the administration might not want to answer them or might not want to share it.

But we are living in an exceptional environment. This is the first time a president has declared journalists to be the enemy of the people. This is the first time a president has consistently branded information with which he disagrees as fake news. Even when the information is demonstrably true.

It’s very important not just to simply say we’re going to support journalism because we have to hold journalists as accountable as we do public officials but it’s very important to talk about the ways in which this administration demands an almost higher level of professionalism among the journalists who cover this president. Those journalists have to be ironclad in their fact-finding. They have to be able to put information in context. Because a fact sitting by itself may not tell a whole story.

President Trump and the Press is a part of Loyola’s Civic Engagement and Civil Discourse initiative. Joining Geisler as guest panelists are:

  • Bill Plante (BS ’59), Veteran CBS White House correspondent and Loyola alum
  • Jane Elizabeth, director of the accountability journalism program at the American Press Institute and expert in fact-checking and the fight against disinformation
  • Jack Smith, Veteran political journalist and Loyola School of Communication adjunct faculty

Loyola student discusses civic engagement with Obama after his return home

By Evangeline Politis

“What's been going on since I've been gone?" asked former President Barack Obama to a panel of young adults on Monday, April 24 at the University of Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center. Facing an audience filled with 500 students from Chicago high schools and colleges, Obama spent his first public appearance since leaving the White House investigating what motivates their generation on the issue of civic engagement.

A group of Loyola students attended—each representing different schools and organizations across the University—and senior marketing major Kelsey McClear was invited to be on stage and share her input and experience as an active member of the Loyola community.

She’s had a busy four years, which included serving as a student representative on the Implementation and Steering Committee of Loyola’s five-year strategic plan, “Plan 2020: Building a More Just, Humane, and Sustainable World.” She’s also participated in an Alternative Break Immersion trip to a New York City elementary school and has been a student coordinator on Loyola’s Student Leadership Development team. But perhaps nothing will be as memorable for her as meeting the former president.

“As nervous as we all were, it was so fun to get to know all of these accomplished young people,” McClear said of her backstage experience. “About 20 minutes before we were set to go on stage, President Obama joined us and made us all feel so comfortable, assuring each of us that we would just be having a conversation together.”

A centerpiece of the spring semester at Loyola, President Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, first highlighted the importance of engaged citizenship in her note to the community at the beginning of the year. Special discussions addressing citizen rights, social activism, and immigration were held throughout the semester and will continue to be programmed into the 2017-18 academic year.

“It isn’t always easy work and there isn’t immediate satisfaction, but making sure that young people realize their own potential, the opportunity to make a change in the public sector, is something that I believe is possible,” said McClear, who hopes to promote this philosophy herself as she moves into the higher education realm. In the fall, she will begin work on her master’s degree in higher education at Boston College.

The 80-minute discussion in Hyde Park moved from such topics as voter participation to the question of where the young generation is sourcing their information. Obama mostly turned to the panel to answer these questions, but interjected his own thoughts and experiences throughout the conversation.

Asya Meadows, a second-year student at Arrupe College, also attended the event. Sitting in the audience, she took to heart the former president’s advice of shifting focus from “what should I be” to “what do I want to accomplish.”

“President Obama gave an example of Bill Gates, explaining that [Gates] didn’t sit around and say, ‘I want to be a millionaire,’” said Meadows. “He focused on creating quality software for people’s computers, then the millions followed as a result. And that is where our attention should be aimed—at producing quality work for others, which gives us a better sense of purpose.”

Meadows hopes to apply that advice in her leadership roles as the Arrupe student government president and as a member of the Dreamers and Allies Student Organization (DASO).

Similarly, audience member Jake Dumbald, the incoming president of the Student Government of Loyola Chicago, pinpointed a theme from the panel that will influence his governance: the importance of conversation.

“Conversations with peers can often be the starting point and the catalyst for change both in them and in you, and I think that is an essential facet of how I want to lead,” Dumbald described.

Toward the end of the event, Obama honed in on the topic, focusing on ways a common conversation could be created with news sources becoming increasingly polarized. McClear responded with the importance of listening to understand rather than to respond.

“One of the biggest themes we kept coming back to is that our political system is very divided, and a lot of that has contributed to a lack of communication,” she explained. “I especially have noticed it with the prevalence of social media. So often people find it easier to have an argument over Facebook comments or Twitter rather than having a productive conversation where people are able to understand each other’s perspective and respect viewpoints different than their own.”

McClear said that the fine points of listening are among the many lessons she learned during her time at Loyola, which prepared her for this culminating moment in her college career.

“I have grown so much over the last four years and the list of people to credit for their mentorship and guidance is too long to even begin,” she said. “Loyola has taught me how to have difficult conversations, how to think critically about all that I do, and at the end of the day, to remember that my education and degree isn’t for me, but instead the people that I will be able to serve and support throughout my life.”

Take action to help end the budget impasse


It’s been almost two years since lawmakers in Illinois have passed a budget. (Pictured: Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.)

Students from the School of Law’s Legislation and Policy Clinic have created a series of flyers to inform fellow Loyolans about the state’s budget impasse—and hopefully to spur elected officials to take action.

The three flyers—one for each of the University’s Chicago-area campuses—use data and other information to help explain Illinois’s budget impasse. The hope is that by spreading awareness, students will reach out to elected officials and pressure them to work toward passing a budget.

Click on one of the links below to learn how you can take action:
Lake Shore Campus
Water Tower Campus
Maywood Campus

Panelists discuss free speech, state of the news


Alexander Tsesis, a professor in the School of Law, makes a point in the Damen Den during Tuesday’s panel discussion on free speech and the media. Looking on is fellow panelist Grace Runkel, editor-in-chief of The Loyola Phoenix, the University’s student newspaper. (Photo: Natalie Battaglia)

By Anna Gaynor

A veteran journalist, faculty members, and the editor of Loyola’s student newspaper discussed the media, the First Amendment, and the state of the news during a March 21 panel discussion in the Damen Den.


Social Movements in the U.S.: Lessons Learned
Thursday, April 6
3–4:30 p.m.
Damen Den

Shifting Sands: The History of Mexican Immigration into the U.S.
Wednesday, April 19
3–4:30 p.m.
Crown Center Auditorium

Click here to learn more.

Titled “The Role of Free Speech and Free Press in a Democratic Society,” the discussion was moderated by Michael Limón from the School of Communication. The topics covered were as broad as the panelists’ backgrounds—including social media, legal statutes, the media’s reputation, and technology such as smart phones.

“These little devices have democratized what previously was a right of the elite, and now every one of you can be a publisher,” said Don Wycliff, distinguished journalist in residence at the School of Communication. “More than that, you can read, view, and listen to everybody else’s publications, whether they be brilliant and learned or nitwits. Democracy is always a two-edged sword. It’s the worst form of government, except all of the others that have been tried.”

The event is the first of three at Loyola promoting civil discourse on campus. Led by faculty, staff, and students, these forums are providing an opportunity for those from different disciplines to discuss and educate one another on the issues of the day. In addition to Wycliff, a former editor at The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, the panel included Alexander Tsesis, professor in the School of Law; Bastiaan Vanacker, program director of the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy; and Grace Runkel, editor-in-chief of The Loyola Phoenix, the University’s student newspaper.

Attendees asked the panel about challenges facing news outlets and the University’s policies on student free speech. Vanacker wanted to stress that it’s wrong to believe the First Amendment gives the press any special treatment or extra protection.

“This is not how courts have come to determine the First Amendment,” Vanacker said. “In fact, it’s pretty clear that the First Amendment belongs to all of us, not just to the press. However, we don’t all fit within the White House press room, so there have been certain privileges created for the press so they have access to those in power on our behalf.”

Runkel and student writers at The Phoenix have seen an increase in social media posts criticizing their articles and reporting, but she believes the newspaper remains an important tool for education—even for those outside the School of Communication.

“In fact, a lot of our writers right now aren’t journalism majors,” Runkel said. “I think that is such a crucial element to teaching news literacy, which is more important now than ever. The more people know about the editorial process and what goes on behind the scenes of a newspaper, I think the better they are at judging whether a source is credible or not.”

Three special discussions to address citizen rights, social activism, and immigration


Loyola is hosting a series of special discussions on topics of current interest including citizen rights, social activism, and immigration. The events—which will be led by faculty, staff, and students—will be held at the Lake Shore Campus in March and April. Please see below for details and click on the titles for more information about each event.

Shifting Sands: The History of Mexican Immigration into the U.S.*
Wednesday, April 19, 6–7 p.m.
Cuneo Hall, Room 311


  • Ruth Gomberg-Munoz, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
  • Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

*Time and location have recently been updated

Past Events

The Role of Free Speech and Free Press in a Democratic Society
Panel Discussion
Tuesday, March 21, 3–4:30 p.m.
Damen Student Center, Damen Den


  • Michael Limón, Instructor, School of Communication; veteran journalist and editor


  • Grace Runkel, editor-in-chief of The Loyola Phoenix student newspaper
  • Alexander Tsesis, Raymond & Mary Simon Chair in Constitutional Law and Professor in the School of Law
  • Bastiaan Vanacker, Associate Professor and Program Director of the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy
  • Don Wycliff, Distinguished Journalist in Residence, School of Communication; former editor at The New York Times and Chicago Tribune

Social Movements in the U.S.: Lessons Learned
Panel Discussion
Thursday, April 6, 3–4:30 p.m.
Damen Student Center, Damen Den


  • Christopher Manning, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of History, and Assistant Provost on Academic Diversity


  • Twyla Blackmond Larnell, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
  • Michelle Nickerson, Associate Professor, Department of History
  • Matthew Williams, Lecturer, Department of Sociology
  • Rhys Williams, Professor, Department of Sociology

Panel: What can past leaders teach today’s activists?


Michelle Nickerson, associate professor in the Department of History, answers a question during Social Movements in the U.S.: Lessons Learned, an April 9 panel held in the Damen Den.

There is plenty for today’s social justice advocates to learn from their predecessors.

During the panel Social Movements in the U.S.: Lessons Learned, held April 6 in the Damen Den, Loyola faculty members looked back to U.S. and international history to offer up a few key points. Topics included the role of allies in organized movements, the positive and negative benefits of today’s technology, and past mistakes we can learn from today.

One mistake that social movements have sometimes made is not having a clearly defined goal, said Rhys Williams, a panelist and a professor in the Department of Sociology.

“One of the things I learned early in my career teaching sociology is you can respond to every single question with, ‘it depends,’” he said. “I’m going to take the opportunity here to say: When it comes to mistakes, it kind of depends on what was hoped to gain in the first place.”

That goal could be educating people on an issue or getting a specific outcome or change made, he continued.

Williams was joined by Twyla Blackmond Larnell, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science; Michelle Nickerson, associate professor in the Department of History; and Matthew Williams, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology. This panel is the second of three events this semester promoting civil discourse on campus.

Moderator Christopher Manning, associate professor in the Department of History and assistant provost on Academic Diversity, kept questions coming—with some help from students and faculty in attendance. One topic Manning discussed was the concept of civility and the inequitable way groups have been called to observe it. Nickerson pointed out that civil rights, feminist, and other progressive movements in the twentieth century were often unfairly accused of subversion or being disruptive.

“The problem was not their ideas necessarily,” she said. “On the surface, nobody wanted to claim that was a problem, the idea of equality. The problem was the way in which they were fomenting rebellion. They were creating the possibility for riots and danger. So there’s always the implication by critics that anything that you’re doing could possibly create unrest.”

Manning agreed with her point, bringing up Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1966 march in a Chicago neighborhood, where he was struck in the head with a brick—an incident heavily covered in city papers at the time.

“King is the one who is portrayed as a communist and a subversive,” Manning said. “In all of my research, I’ve never seen an extended story on that brick thrower.”

The stories he’s read about the community, however, raise another question: “Were the people within the community that threw that brick, were they called communists? No.”

Mobilization and demobilization was another reoccurring theme of the day’s discussion. While social media and technology helps spread information and images that could trigger an initial wave of support, that support doesn’t always translate to a long-term commitment.

“Just want to be clear to emphasize that the effected group is always working on these issues,” Larnell said. “So when that spark happens, it’s not just to mobilize the effected. That spark does a bigger job of mobilizing allies, bringing attention to all of those who are not specifically affected. We saw this with Black Lives Matter, we saw this with the Women’s March, we’ve seen this with earlier labor movements.”

Matthew Williams considered it a matter of perspective: While some people may see activism a major part of their life and community, many want to return to their normal day-to-day lives after a small win.

“So there is a question of how do you keep people engaged over the long run?” he added. “I think part of that is having a strong inclusive, inviting culture in a social movement—not just as diverse and democratic—but where is the real sense of community?”