Davidson Teach-Ins: Students and Faculty Resisting the Trump Administration

Colleen Karlovich – “To teach people how to nd their voice, use their voice, and if they disagree with something what can they do about it.” is was one of the mantras that Rachel Ruback ’17 shared for the Davidson Teach-Ins series. As campus is abuzz with conversations about Executive Order, and Trump’s administration more broadly, Ruback and Arden Simone ‘17, with the support of Dr. Ruhlen of the Anthropology Department, hope to create a space where conversations are not only welcome but required.

The Davidson Teach-Ins began as the brain- child of a wise teacher and an energetic student. Following the election in November, Ruhlen noticed a sentiment of fear and anxiety facing the students of the campus. But she also noticed a lack of plans for action. Her response? Look to history. In the 1960s, the idea of a teach-in became an effective tool for sharing information and resisting the Vietnam War.

Ruhlen decided this strategy could be useful in our own political unrest: “Well, teachers know how to teach, students know how to learn. is is a way to build momentum and get ourselves moving and engaged in really practical, really practical, on-going actions and activities both on and off campus.”

When Simone asked to create an independent study with Ruhlen based on political activism, Ruhlen’s idea was brought to life. With the important help of the Spike! Grant, Simone and Ruback combined student and faculty voices, an art component, and an anonymous number that students can text if they would like to ask a question.

The speakers that are featured at these events represent the “snowball method” of the project’s creators. Ruhlen, Simone, and Ruback tap their own networks of people they know or organizations they have heard of that have a connection to the topic that they wish to discuss, and then ask for more contacts. Additionally, faculty members have reached out to the team: they see the platform created by Davidson Teach-Ins as an opportunity to share their stories and scholarship. e organization strives and struggles to balance academics with activism. As Ruback puts it, “It’s very much education for its purpose. We are giving you the information that you need, we are answering the questions that you have about this topic.”

However, the Teach-Ins are not simply lectures or talkbacks; there is an element of direct action. According to Simone, “We want it to be very action focused… we wanted to educate people and say, ‘Okay, if this is something that speaks to you, here are direct action plans for what you can do to contribute to this cause.’” The team has passed around sign-ups to different email lists during the event, held lunch-in conversations, and shared information on the best charities to fund.

The Teach-Ins grew in direct opposition to the Trump administration—not necessarily to Trump himself, but rather to specific Executive Orders and other actions that the team of Davidson Teach-Ins believe to be unconstitutional and unjust. In order to achieve this goal, they need as many people discussing and protesting these issues as possible. The team wants to focus on reaching those who do not usually come to these types of events.

Ruback shares, “We are trying to find different places we can advertise. Different email lists we can get involved with… get the Bio department to encourage students who might be interested in this issue who don’t necessarily have room in their schedule to take these classes… Or athletes who have really hectic practice schedules, who therefore can’t attend the normal ‘6:30 in the Union’ conversations at night.”

The team has found potential solutions to these problems by using one of the most public spaces in campus at its most popular time: the Union, during common hour, with a microphone. Ruhlen says the team’s mission has been met with success: “The conversations that have been happening over email, or running into Summit or in the Union, around the possibilities that can occur or the ideas that come up when people hear what we are doing have been incredibly arming. is is a campus filled with people who know things and want to do things.”

As for the future of the Davidson Teach-Ins, the team hopes that the organization will continue on after Ruback and Simone graduate. Students could adapt the platform and structure to any number of problems, allowing great freedom to the next generation of leaders. There are plenty of opportunities right now that any student or professor can lend a hand with, such as public relations and advertising duties. As Simone says, “The more voices the better!”

Ruhlen agrees: “There are lots and lots and lots of work to be done and far too few students are actually doing it. Like, if someone could do specific publicity tasks. ere are little bitty tasks who want to help in a behind the scenes way, we can put them to work.”

Although this is a politically-oriented endeavor, the team stresses that it is not a partisan project. The organization is not resisting Trump himself, but rather building capacity to resist his administration. The group is working tirelessly to “create spaces of welcome and opportunity for people who don’t agree with necessarily progressive liberal politics but who are opposed to what is happening in this country and want to participate and to build capacity to resist this administration,” according to Ruhlen.

Davidson Teach-Ins has been received with warm success and expects more to come. If interested in becoming part of the task force or participating in an event, please contact: Arden Simone (arsimone@davidson.edu), Rachel Ruback (raruback@davidson.edu), or Professor Rebecca Ruhlen (reruhlen@davidson.edu).