The American Public Square, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose goal is to change the tone and quality of public discourse, has announced a new partnership with William Jewell College, and has rebranded as the American Public Square at Jewell.
The organization, founded in 2013 and headed by former Ambassador to Portugal Allan Katz, encourages honest, open, and civil discussions on important national issues, with the goal of fostering a better understanding of different perspectives and the eventual respect, compromise and resolution between groups.
The partnership between American Public Square and William Jewell was formally announced with a lecture by Ambassador Katz Sept. 17 in the Yates-Gill College Union on campus. The lecture was titled “Bringing Civility Back”.
In his lecture, Ambassador Katz recounted the events leading to the founding of the American Public Square and its prototype, The Village Square, which he used to explain the reason for and goals of The American Public Square.
In 2006, while Ambassador Katz was a city commissioner for Tallahassee, Fla. there was a dispute about whether or not to build a coal plant near the city. While observing the argument between the two sides Katz decided that something must be done and joined with a Republican colleague to create Village Square, a space where people could “at least talk to each other”.
The Village Square was conceived with a specific intent in mind by Ambassador Katz.
“As a sort of model of how you could talk about a controversial subject in a way that really was in keeping with the Founders’ approach of what America really was,” Katz explained. “You could agree to disagree without necessarily vilifying people on the other side.”
“Part of the basis of this country is that we owe to each other a certain amount of consideration, and our community has needs which we all have to work together and achieve,” Katz said.
Following the lecture and question time there was an informal reception. During this time, Ambassador Katz agreed to an exclusive interview for the Hilltop Monitor.
Q: What kind of internship opportunities and ways to get involved will be available to Jewell students?
“There will be programs here, there will be programs around the community, which we hope students will attend. We would like to get students involved. We have a program committee, we have a membership committee, and we are always looking for new ideas and ways that we can involve more young people in what we do. Plus, we have a student initiative geared towards high school students, and we would love to get input from students on how to bring that into colleges as well.”
Q: When do you think these opportunities will start?
“Well, we have the office here now, we have programs scheduled now for the next three months. One will be here on the fourth of November on medicaid expansion. I’m hoping by mid-October we will have a much clearer idea. [By mid-October we are hoping to have] an infrastructure and framework in place so when a student shows up to be an intern we know what they’re going to be doing.”
Q: This organization has been going for several years now, since 2013. Are there any examples of times you have seen that your organization is making some impact on the community?
“About two years ago we had a program called Muslims in the Metro, and we had a state representative from Kansas on the program and about five panelists, including a young woman who was part of the Muslim Student Association at KU. The state representative made some comment about her hijab, sort of referring to it as a costume.
“She was very, very calm and said, ‘I know you don’t mean to be offensive, but it’s part of who I am.’ By the end of the session, the state representative turned to one of the other Muslim panel members and said, ‘you know, I’ve never looked at things this way before. Would you please come out to my district where I can get some people and have you explain this to them?’ You never expect that to happen. It’s like out of a movie.
“We never have a program where several people don’t come up to me and say, ‘I want to thank you for starting this. I’m so tired of all this other noise”. “[But for what comes next] It’s not like I’ve said, ‘here’s the plan and here’s what we’re going to get done.’ It’s up to all of us.”
Q: Have you seen an increase in the size of audiences at your programs in recent years? How large of an audience do you see?
“Yes. The first program we did had 140 people. The largest we had was one at the end of February where we had 950 people. The range has usually been from somewhere around 100 to 150. We had a fake news program and there were 850 people, we had something on guns with 650 people, we had something on the death penalty that had 400 people.
“Part of it is to reach out to the community [and spread information on events]. We have a very small staff. That is something interns could help with.”
Q: Are there any other ways you are hoping to make an impact on the Jewell community?
“I would love to see Jewell students decide – if they think they can organize themselves with some help from us – to create their own American Public Square on campus, with students running it. They can staff it, they can find the speakers, and we would be happy to help them do it. That would be great.”
Dr. Katz will serve as a Distinguished Professor in Residence in Jewell’s Department of Political Science.
The American Public Square has a satellite office at William Jewell on the first floor of the Yates-Gill College Union. The organization is also continuing to maintain its headquarters in the Plexpod Westport Commons.
The first American Public Square event on William Jewell campus will occur Nov. 4, titled “Medicaid: Expansion vs. Status Quo – What’s the Price?”. Doors open at 5 p.m., the buffet opens at 5:30 p.m. and the program begins at 6 p.m.