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The McCourtney Institute for Democracy



Our events bring thought-provoking conversations about democracy to the Penn State community and beyond. All events are free and open to anyone. Professional recordings by C-NET will be posted to our YouTube channel following each event.

Cassidy Hutchinson

Thursday, March 14, 4:00 p.m. EDT
HUB Freeman Auditorium
Doors open at 3:30 p.m.
No registration required for attendance
This event will not be recorded or livestreamed

Cassidy Hutchinson’s desk was mere steps from the most controversial president in recent American history. Her life took a dramatic turn on January 6, 2021 when, at age 24, she found herself in one of the most extraordinary and unprecedented calamities in modern political history.

Hutchinson was faced with a choice between loyalty to the Trump administration or loyalty to the country by revealing what she saw and heard in the attempt to overthrow a democratic election. She bravely came forward to become the pivotal witness in the U.S. House January 6 investigations, as her testimony transfixed and stunned the nation.

In this lecture, Hutchinson will discuss the struggle between the pressures she confronted to toe the party line and the demands of the oath she swore to defend American democracy.

50 free copies of Hutcinson’s book “Enough” will be available at this event. Additional copies will be available for purchase from the Penn State Bookstore.

Remembering the War, Forgetting the Terror: Appeals to Family Memory in Putin’s Russia

Center for Democratic Deliberation lecture: Ekaterina V. Haskins

Wednesday, March 20, noon EDT
Grucci Room, 102 Burrowes Building or on Zoom

Please email Johey Verfaille at to reserve a lunch for this event.

Thirty years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia is wielding the banner of victory over Nazi Germany inWorld War II to rally domestic support for its aggression against Ukraine. The Russian state propaganda framed the invasion as a liberation mission by invoking the Soviet-era myth of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945), according towhich the Soviet people, led by Russia, saved the world from the greatest evil of the twentieth century. At the samet ime, the government has banned civil society institutions and initiatives that reminded the country of the legacy ofSoviet political violence. Remembering the War, Forgetting the Terror explores the appeal of the cult of the Great Patriotic War to contemporary Russians and the waning of public interest in Soviet political terror as intertwined trends. These trends are driven not only by the weaponization of the official WWII memory, but also by familial pieties and deep-seated memory habits. The author demonstrates how these widely shared habits of remembrance have taken root and flourished through recurring exposure to war films, urban environments, popular commemorative rituals, and digital archives. Combining memory studies, rhetorical theory, and personal biography, Haskins illuminates why, despite the staggering toll of WWII and internal political violence on Soviet families, most Russian citizens continue to proudly embrace their family’s participation in the war effort and avoid discussion of domestic political persecution.

Ekaterina V. Haskins is professor of communication arts and sciences and visual studies at Penn State. She investigates official and grassroots memory practices as significant sites of civic engagement. Haskins is the author of three monographs, including Popular Memories: Commemoration, Participatory Cultureand Democratic Citizenship (University of South Carolina Press 2015) and Remembering the War, Forgetting the Terror: Appeals to Family Memory in Putin’s Russia (Pennsylvania State University Press 2024) as well as numerous articles on rhetoric, memory, and visual culture.

David Hogg

Monday, April 1, 7:00 p.m. EDT
HUB Alumni Hall

Thrust into the world of activism by the largest school shooting in American history, Parkland survivor David Hogg has become one of the most compelling voices of his generation. His call to “get over politics and get something done” challenges Americans to stand up, speak out and work to elect morally just leaders, regardless of party affiliation.

Passionate in his advocacy to end gun violence, David’s mission of increasing voter participation, civic engagement and activism embraces a range of issues. He graduated from Harvard in 2023.

Antjie Krog: 30 Years of Democracy in South Africa

Wednesday, April 10, 4:00 p.m. EDT
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
Co-Sponsored by the School of International Affairs

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy, in collaboration with our College of the Liberal Arts colleagues, will mark the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s first election open to all citizens in 1994. We believe it’s important to examine the evolution of democracy in South Africa as we consider the future of American democracy.

Antjie Krog, a South African writer, scholar, and activist, will present the keynote lecture in the series. She covered the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission and wrote the book Country of My Skull about her reflections on the process and the possibility for true reconciliation in South Africa. Krog is currently a faculty member at the University of the Western Cape. 

Postracial Fantasies and Zombies: On the Racist Apocalyptic Politics Devouring the World

2024 Center for Democratic Deliberation Kenneth Burke Lecture: Eric King Watts

Wednesday, April 17 4:00 p.m. EDT
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library or on Zoom

Postracial Fantasies and Zombies examines the ghostly and horrifying figure of the zombie across several historical contexts to examine how it functions as a mode of regenerating a fantasy involving its surveillance, containment, and destruction. Watts asserts that the zombie is a biotrope that gets repetitively deployed and enjoyed as a blackened biothreat body provoking rituals of securitization and weaponization. Beginning in the wake of the Haitian Revolution and 19th century pseudo-science, the book charts a course through the zombie’s appearance in early 20th century films through the post-civil rights and Vietnam eras to show how the zombie becomes a fixture in our 21st century postracial moment. Watts contends that each iteration of the genre produces the zombie as a hate object as a part of a fantasy involving the reclamation of white masculine sovereignty.

Eric King Watts is an associate professor of rhetorical studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research explores the manner in which public voice is invented, performed, consumed, and suppressed. In particular, Watts examines the diverse phenomena of African American public voice and its relation to the representation of the black body, the meanings of blackness, the shape of civic culture and community; voice and voicelessness are understood as being impacted by the rhetorical agency of the subject, the terms of one’s publicity, and the power relations that make up one’s various identities.