The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

The history and ethics of protest in America

George Floyd is dead and America is convulsing.

How ought we to respond, and why?

This discussion-based course will help provide historical and ethical context to our current national trauma, and help participants find their own way forward. Using classic SEGL readings, films, and case studies, along with today’s most influential thinking, we will wrestle with questions as old as our Republic:

Is violent protest ever best, and if so, when and why?

How should we interpret John Locke’s famous concept (enshrined in the Declaration of Independence): “the consent of the governed”?

How should our backgrounds inform how we understand and respond to potential injustice?

Along the way, we will give special attention to the role of African American men (from Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the American Revolution, through Mr. Floyd) in inspiring, participating in, and responding to protests. Guest experts will enrich our understanding.

Wednesday, July 29: Where do we go from here?: Our final class.

Suggested homework for this session:

Review and reflect on the following questions. Feel free to write your responses:

  1. What is the most important thing I saw in this class?

  2. What are the most important conclusions I reached as a result of this class?

  3. What, if anything, have I done differently in the past few weeks as a result of this class?

  4. What, if anything, will I do differently in the future as a result of this class?

    “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches, by Audre Lorde, Ten Speed Press, 2016.

Wednesday, July 22: Protesters and the Police, Part II: A conversation with Professor Adriane Lentz-Smith.

Adriane Lentz-Smith is Associate Professor and Associate Chair in Duke University’s Department of History, and a Senior Fellow at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. Her current research focuses on violent encounters between African Americans and the police. Each of these readings will take longer than previous homework assignments; make sure to schedule enough time in advance!

Suggested homework for this session:

  • Lentz-Smith, Adriane “The Laws Have Hurt Me”
  • Lentz-Smith, Adriane “The Unbearable Whiteness of Grand Strategy” (this may be of particular interest to SEGL graduates given the final Ethics and Leadership case study on grand strategy).

Wednesday, July 15: “It’s going to require every single one of us”: SEGL alums in action.

Featuring SEGL alums Peter Beck (Fall 2019), Toella Pliakas (Spring 2016), Afia Tyus (Spring 2016), Miles Weddle (Spring 2015), and Courtenay White (Fall 2018).

Suggested homework for this session:

  1. Beck, Peter and White, Courtenay. “Historical Findings and Accompanied Discussion On the Rev. Dr. Anthony Toomer Porter.”
  2. Iannelli, Nick. “Emergency kits handed out to DC protesters in hot weather.” WTOP, 4 June 2020.
  3. Batson, Jenna. “MHS Alum and Harvard Grad Miles Weddle Creates Stand in Solidarity Fund.” Baristanet, 17 June 2020.
  4. Pliakas, Toella. “In D.C., whom should you call when you shouldn’t call the police?” The Washington Post, 15 June 2020.

Wednesday, July 8: “Protesters and the Police: Part I” with DC Police Union Chair Gregg Pemberton and Vice Chair Medgar A. Webster, Sr.

Suggested homework for this session:

  1. McKinnon, Isaiah. [former Detroit Chief of Police] “It’s time to restructure police departments so they truly serve and protect.” Detroit Free Press, 11 June 2020.
  2. Kaba, Mariam. “Yes, we mean literally abolish the police.” The New York Times, 12 June 2020.
  3. Elkins, Emily. “Americans don’t want to #DefundPolice. Instead they agree on reform.” Cato Institute online, 4 June 2020.
  4. KARE 11 [local Minneapolis TV station]. “Full Interview: Minneapolis police union head Bob Kroll speaks on George Floyd death, police reform.” YouTube, 23 June 2020.
  5. DC Police Union. “DC Police Union Member Survey on Emergency Bill.” Twitter, 18 July 2020. [Note that the press release is two pages]
  6. Austermuhle, Martin. “D.C. Council Passes Emergency Police-Reform Bill, Delays Cutting Size Of MPD.” WAMU, 9 June 2020.

Wednesday, July 1: “A Highly Interesting Object”: the role of monuments in popular protest, with educator and FREED actor <strong>Marcia Cole</strong> and <strong>Kirk Savage</strong>, History of Art and Architecture Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Suggested homework for this session:

  1. Kildahl, Elizabeth. “Critical Thinking: An Inside Look At Our Lincoln Park Case Study.” The School for Ethics and Global Leadership, 15 March 2019.
  2. WJLA. “Some Want D.C.’s Lincoln Statue Gone. Others Point out: Freed Black Americans Paid for It.” WJLA, 26 June 2020.
  3. Savage, Kirk. “Making Monuments What They Ought to Be.” Lapham’s Quarterly, 14 August 2018.
  4. Heim, Joe. “On Emancipation Day in D.C., Two Memorials Tell Very Different Stories.” The Washington Post, 15 Apr. 2012.
  5. Blight, David W. “Yes, the Freedmen’s Memorial Uses Racist Imagery. But Don’t Tear It down.” The Washington Post, 25 June 2020.
  6. Douglass, Frederick. “Oration By Frederick Douglass Delivered On The Occasion of the Unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument.” 14 April, 1876.
  7. White, Jonathan. “What Frederick Douglass Had to Say About Monuments.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 30 June 2020,

Wednesday, June 24: “Performative Wokeness” in response to popular protest: A conversation with writer and New York Times editor Aisha Harris.

Suggested homework for this session:

  1. Harris, Aisha. “’This You?’ (It Definitely Is).” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 June 2020.
  2. Have a conversation with three different people. Discuss the following prompt with them: What do the people most affected by racism need in this moment, and from whom? Journal about what you have learned from these conversations. Again, this work is not required. If you choose not to complete it, reflect in your journal about why. Was it not worth your time? Was it the wrong thing to do? Did it make you uncomfortable? Is there another conversation you think might be more useful?

Wednesday, June 17: “You broke the contract!”: A conversation with author Kimberly Jones on the ethics of violence in popular protest.

Suggested homework for this session:

  1. Jones, Kimberly. “How Can We Win.” YouTube, commentary by Kimberly Jones, uploaded by David Jones Media, 1 June 2020.
  2. Lewis, John. Interview with Gayle King. CBS This Morning. 4 June 2020.
  3. The School for Ethics and Global Leadership. “Unit 2 – Introduction to Political Philosophy.” Vimeo, commentary by Noah Bopp, recorded and uploaded by Christian Starling, https://vimeo.com/50109140

Wednesday, June 10: “Tell me how you feel, but don’t say it too harshly”: the ethics of allyship in popular protest.

Suggested homework for this session:

  1. Excerpt from “Chapter 19: 1965.” The Autobiography of Malcolm X: with the Assistance of Alex Haley, by Malcolm X, Ballantine Books, 1992.
  2. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King, Penguin Books, 2018.
  3. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches, by Audre Lorde, Ten Speed Press, 2016.
  4. Blow, Charles M. “Allies, Don’t Fail Us Again.” The New York Times, Sunday, June 7, 2020.
  5. DeSanctis, Alexandra. “Your Silence Is Not Enough.” The National Review, Sunday, June 7, 2020.

Wednesday, June 3: A conversation with Dr. Farah Peterson, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, and author of “Black Lives and the Boston Massacre” in The American Scholar.

Suggested homework for this session:

  1. Peterson, Farah. “Black Lives and the Boston Massacre.” The American Scholar, 25 Jan. 2019.
  2. Zobel, Hiller B. “What’s Race Got to Do With It?” The American Scholar, 9 March 2019.