America’s Hallowed Ground Team Shares Vision for K12 Curriculum at Bass Connections Showcase

A group of smiling people pose for a picture.
Members of the America’s Hallowed Ground Bass pose in front of their table at the Fortin Foundation Bass Connections showcase. From left to right, curriculum designer Kendall Surfus, Duke University sophomore Irma Lopez, co-director Mike Wiley, Duke University Master of Public Policy student Crystal Card, and co-director Charlie Thompson. Photo credit: Sarah Rogers.

What do we mean when we say “hallowed ground”?

A signature program of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, America’s Hallowed Ground works with communities to tell the stories of sites connected to broader conflicts and struggles in American history. Often, these stories are about moments when America has fallen short of its ideals — like equality, justice, and democracy. In a term inspired by Lincoln’s Gettyburg Address, the sites are “hallowed” by the sacrifices of those who fought for these ideals — or were harmed by others’ attempts to subvert them.

One of these sites is in Wilmington, North Carolina, where white supremacists overturned the city government and massacred Black citizens in 1898. In a 2023 workshop, an array of professional artists associated with America’s Hallowed Ground, including muralist Cornelio Campos, led Wilmington community members in unpacking the painful legacies of 1898 through painting, movement, song, visual arts, and writing.

Through a 2023–2024 Bass Connections project, America’s Hallowed Ground is creating curricular materials for 7 through 12th graders, aiming to help students connect with the past through the power of the multidisciplinary arts. As co-director Mike Wiley has noted, the arts are not only a powerful way of teaching us about the past: they help us to remember it, often far more so than assigned readings, lectures, and quizzes. By taking part in virtual artist workshops, students can explore the meaning of historical sites in their own communities, deepening their connections to their homes, to our nation’s past, and, hopefully, to our nation’s future.

Watch the America’s Hallowed Ground Bass Connections Team talk about this project in the video below.


The Stories of “Ukraine at War” in Pictures

Two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kenan Institute for Ethics hosted the three-day event “Ukraine at War: Life in a Time of Fear and Hope” on March 27–29, 2024. Traveling to Duke University from New York, California, the Hague, and even the frontlines of the war itself, “Ukraine at War” speakers shared their experiences with hundreds of students and community members through class visits, workshops, performances, and events.

Highlighting the war’s devastating impacts on the country’s infrastructure, military, civilians, and even ecological health, “Ukraine at War” and its associated events explored the ways in which people respond ethically to war — whether by witnessing, fighting, commemorating, or repairing. At the same time, it showcased the remarkable resilience of the Ukrainian people and the ways that they sustain themselves and their community through their national identity, language, and arts. “Including the arts and personal narratives in this program really brought together the local community and a real sense of hope — something as equally necessary as the historical facts and socio-political analysis of this war,” wrote one audience member.

Through their words and actions, the speakers of “Ukraine at War” emphasized that even when a society is confronted with an all-encompassing crisis, we are not powerless: everyone has agency, and everyone has something they can do. The photos below touch on some of the stories they shared.

Through Documentary Films, Portraits of Ukraine at War

On the evening of Wednesday, March 27, two events showcased the experiences of Ukrainians in the first months of the war. An interview with champion rock climber Jenya Kazbekova highlighted one athlete’s commitment to representing her nation, and a screening of the Academy Award-winning documentary “20 Days in Mariupol” showed audiences the devastating human costs of the city’s siege in the early days of the full-scale Russian invasion.


Lunch and Learning Across Duke’s Schools

Showcasing speakers’ remarkable breadth of expertise, midday events on Thursday, March 28 focused on issues such as mental health resources for Ukrainians impacted by the war, the ecological impacts of war on Ukraine’s soil, and the documentation of war crimes for international criminal court cases. Events took place at the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Nicholas School of the Environment, and Duke Law School.


Finding Respite in Traditional Ukrainian Arts

Pysanky, or Easter eggs, are a traditional Ukrainian folk art. Amid “Ukraine at War” events, which happened to be scheduled during Easter week, Duke Arts Create hosted a pysanky workshop for students, staff, and other community members in the Duke Arts Annex.


Showcasing the Power of the Arts Amid Conflict

The keynote event of “Ukraine at War” shared the struggles of Ukrainians, whether refugees, soldiers, or those with loved ones living or fighting in war zones. But it also showed the places where they find strength  — singing together, writing poetry, and in the belief and knowledge that they are not alone.


Offering Perspectives From Research and Lived Experience

On the final day of “Ukraine at War,” speakers shared diverse perspectives from across their areas of expertise in two midday panels: “Sites of Violence, Sites of Resistance: Bodies, Ecologies, Communities & Music” and “Witnessing and Responsibility: Allocating Care in an Age of Global Crisis.”



The Kenan Institute for Ethics is grateful for the Katz Family Fund for Women, Ethics, and Leadership for making these events possible. We also owe thanks to our partners in the Duke and Durham communities who hosted “Ukraine at War” speakers for class visits and other events, enabling them to connect with much wider audiences during their brief time in Durham.

Professor of Cultural Anthropology Orin Starn first proposed that the Kenan Institute for Ethics organize an event on Ukraine during the fall of 2022. We are grateful for this inspiration of his, as well as his persistence amid many delays and obstacles in bringing it to fruition.

Summer Steenberg, a Duke University Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Anthropology, played an essential role in organizing “Ukraine at War” events — both in conceptualizing them and in making them happen. This event would not have been possible without her.

A group of people smile as they stand on the grass in front of a tree.
”Ukraine at War” speakers pose with Kenan Institute for Ethics staff and collaborators. From left to right, Kenan Institute for Ethics Program Director Hillary Train, Summer Steenberg, Yaryna Chornohuz, Hanna Dosenko, Ewa Hofmańska, Viktoriia Grivina, David Toole, Alla Prokhovnik-Raphique, Jenya Kazbekova, Nadia Tarnawsky, and Nina Fontana.


Call for Applications: Peter Lange Director of DukeEngage

Call for Applications Peter Lange Director of DukeEngageThe Kenan Institute for Ethics seeks applications from current, regular-rank Duke faculty to become the Peter Lange Director of DukeEngage. The deadline for applications is April 8, 2024.

The ideal candidate will have a record of community-engaged scholarship and teaching, the capacity to collaborate with peers and staff members, and experience with academic service and/or community-building that demonstrates excellent potential for leadership. We are looking for an energetic person who will help lead ongoing efforts to adapt the past and current successes of DukeEngage to the shifting landscapes of higher education and the world.


DukeEngage was launched in the summer of 2007 with the ambition to change the way students learn about the world, about the challenges facing specific communities, and about the potential to draw on community assets to address those challenges. Since then, more than 5,500 Duke undergraduates have participated in the program. DukeEngage now sends roughly 200 students into the field each summer for eight-weeks of immersive experience in communities in the United States and around the world.

In summer 2023, students participated in twenty-two programs in thirteen countries outside the United States, from Paraguay and Brazil to Oman and Jordan to South Africa and South Korea. Sites for domestic programs included Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York, Orange County, CA, and Washington, DC. Programs are populated with six to ten students and designed by Duke faculty and staff in collaboration with community partners on a wide variety of topics: health, education, conservation, sustainable development, immigration, democracy, science and technology, and so on.

Job Description

The director will work closely with the director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the associate director of DukeEngage on all aspects of the design and implementation of DukeEngage, from strategic and financial planning to the successful fielding of summer programs. Responsibilities include:

  • adapting the program to a changing culture inside and outside the University;
  • integrating DukeEngage with other projects in the Kenan Institute;
  • assessing existing projects, via site visits when time allows;
  • developing pilots to experiment with new models;
  • connecting with similar programs in other institutions;
  • articulating the program’s strategic vision to diverse audiences;
  • recruiting and onboarding directors for new summer project teams;
  • aiding with project design, and mentoring project team leads as appropriate;
  • convening project directors and marshaling their input on program aims and implementation;
  • guiding the development of content for pre-program trainings and post-program reentry for students
  • strengthening the curricular aspects of the program’s co-curricular identity;
  • linking DukeEngage appropriately to Duke’s efforts to build enduring partnerships with Durham and other communities in the Carolinas; and
  • developing collaborations with other Duke units and programs, not least Duke Service Learning, the new Center for Community Engagement, the Office of Durham and Community Affairs, the Focus Program, and Bass Connections.

The DukeEngage director, in their role as director, will report to the director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and will work closely with the four full-time staff who run the day-to-day operations of the program. In addition to the above duties, expectations are that the faculty director will direct a DukeEngage program each summer and will continue to teach in a way that models possibilities for making connections between DukeEngage programs and the wider curriculum. Effort percent is negotiable, but will be substantial; as a result, the endorsement of a candidate’s department chair, or school dean as applicable, will be crucial.

Send queries to David Toole (david.toole@duke.edu). To apply, candidates should send a letter of interest, a two-page statement discussing their philosophy of community engagement, a CV, and the names of three references to Kim Dorman (kimberly.dorman@duke.edu). The deadline for applications is April 8. The goal is to have a director in place by July 1.

What Now? Mini-Course on Taylor Swift Encourages Reflections on Personal Growth

Part of the The Purpose Project at Duke, What Now? is a network of first-year courses across the disciplines where questions of happiness, purpose, and other ethical concepts are key. Once-a-week experiential learning sessions bring What Now? students and faculty together to explore resources at Duke, develop connections, and to reflect on the ideas presented in their courses.

What Now? also offers three-week “mini-courses” that allow students to learn from faculty members across the network. Written by Audrey Patterson, this article about Lisa Andres’s mini-course on Taylor Swift was originally published in the Duke Chronicle.

After a three-week lesson series on the lyrics of Taylor Swift songs, these students knew “All Too Well” about the broader implications of what the pop singer represents.

Lisa Andres, lecturing fellow of the Thompson Writing Program, has been delving into the lyrical prowess and rhythms of Taylor Swift as part of the “What Now?” ethics half-credit course.

Throughout the three-week miniseries, Andres guided her class through an exploration of several albums including “Midnights,” “Reputation” and “Lover.”

Andres wrote in an email to The Chronicle that Swift’s autobiographical songwriting traced her “shifting conceptions of happiness in the wake of broken hearts, media scrutiny and emotional growth,” as well as the cultural response to these changes.

While the series offers an outlet for Swifties to find new songs to add to their playlists, Andres hopes that exploring the lyricism and cultural context of different phases of Swift’s life will help students consider their own journeys and interactions with the changing world around them.

In one class, Andres projected the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “I Forgot That You Existed” and pressed play on her computer. After a couple of minutes of foot tapping, lip-syncing and head bobbing, Andres asked the class how they perceive the lyrics in the wake of a male artist’s public bashing of Swift.

20240208 Lisa Andres & Taylor Swift Class Amy Zhang 2
Lisa Andres, lecturing fellow of the Thompson Writing Program, speaks to her class. Photo credit: Amy Zhang.

Andres delved into a discussion about indifference and moving on as a takeaway for students.

“I think for me personally, when I listen to music I don’t often think about the lyrics behind it or the meaning … I think analyzing it is really important because you can learn more about the artist,” first-year Saanvi Cherukumalli said.

Despite teaching about Swift’s musical work, Andres wants students to learn beyond Swift and more about what she represents.

“Things that belong to popular culture — like Disney, like Harry Potter, like Taylor Swift — are often more powerful teachers because people don’t see them as purposefully pedagogical,” Andres wrote. “Yet they often reveal — with startling clarity — the larger questions and struggles we’re currently trying to navigate.”

Andres showed clips of Taylor Swift’s documentary “Miss Americana,” which captures moments from her early life and her humble beginnings as a young country singer. First-year Andrew Sample spoke about how the documentary juxtaposes Taylor’s massive success and how it has “weighed on her in a way that very few have ever experienced.”

Students in the course also analyzed “You’re On Your Own Kid,” a personal narrative on Swift’s recent “Midnights” album.

“To hear that message even though we have very different opinions on her and her music … There is something unifying about a statement of ‘You have what it takes to take the next step,’” Sample said.

Andres hopes that even if students aren’t fans of Taylor Swift, the class at least gives them a new perspective they can approach her and her music with. She wants students to ultimately reflect on their own growth throughout their lives and first year at Duke.

“Do I think students need to know about Taylor Swift specifically? Not necessarily. But I think looking at her catalog of music — the stories she tells, the growth she demonstrates — and at her cultural impact provides fascinating insight into how we’re navigating this current climate,” Andres wrote.

Summer Funding Opportunities for PhD Students

Summer Funding for PhD StudentsAPPLICATION DEADLINE:
MARCH 31, 2024

The Kenan Institute for Ethics is providing three funding opportunities for Ph.D. students for summer 2024: internships, dissertation awards, and travel awards. Internships and dissertation awards are available only to students who do not have full summer funding. Because of limited funds, all three opportunities are competitive.


Three of the Institute’s programs are seeking a summer intern for 6, 8, or 12 weeks between May 17 and August 16, 2024. Interns will work no more than 19.9 hours/week. All current Ph.D. students enrolled in the semester before and after the internship and who do not have full summer funding are eligible to apply. Awards for internships include summer tuition, summer stipend, associated fringe, and the summer health fee. Programs seeking interns are:

Democracy and the Politics of American Higher Education gathers faculty, administrators, and member of the public to reflect on how the university should respond to ongoing threats toward democratic values and principles. Responsibilities will include staying on top of news about the politics of American higher education, writing summaries of recent publications on the topic, helping organize and produce a monthly newsletter, and working on a white paper on the history of the issue. Ideal candidates will have excellent writing skills and coursework/knowledge/experience related to higher education and democracy. For more information contact Eric Mlyn.

The Purpose Project at Duke strives to facilitate conversations, foster partnerships, and field experiments inside and outside the classroom that enable students — undergraduate, graduate, and professional— to pursue questions of moral purpose and a life well-lived as an integral part of their Duke experience. Current programs include courses for first- and second-year undergraduates; a summer co-curricular program for undergraduates interested in healthcare as a profession; a program for doctoral students aspiring to become teachers of undergraduates; and a university-wide project focused on storytelling as an avenue for exploring hard questions, and questioning answers. The Purpose Project is seeking a Ph.D. student with skills in qualitative methods who will help brainstorm assessment and evaluation, collect and analyze qualitative data, and assist in reporting findings. For more information contact Alexandra Cooper.

Just Environments is a joint project of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability. It invests in collaborations between communities, students, and scholars based on research and data justice principles in order to explore solutions and practices to promote environmental justice. It also houses the Environmental Justice Lab, which is devoted to the study of environmental justice and questions at the intersection of race, poverty, and the environment. For more information on a summer internship with Just Environments, contact Kay Jowers.
To apply for a summer internship, send an email to Kim Dorman specifying the program of interest and whether you want to pursue a 6-, 8-, or 12-week internship. Include the following attachments as pdf documents.

  • An updated CV (maximum two pages)
  • A brief statement (maximum two pages) of your interest in the program and how it relates to your overall academic, research, and professional plans.
  • A letter of support from your primary faculty advisor
  • A listing of already awarded summer funding and of any concurrent proposals for other summer funding. If applicants receive news about other funding proposals after the submission deadline, they should provide updated information to Kim Dorman.

Students with questions about planning around existing summer funding can contact grad-finaid@duke.edu.


Summer Dissertation Awards provide funding for post-prelim PhD students without full summer funding who are prepared to spend the summer researching and writing dissertations focused on questions of ethics, especially if those questions align with the Institute’s emphasis on the good life, the good community, and the good society.
These awards are for twelve weeks between May 17 and August 16, 2024, and include summer tuition, summer stipend, associated fringe, and the summer health fee.
To apply for a summer dissertation award, send the following documents to Kim Dorman:

  • An updated CV (maximum two pages)
  • A brief statement (maximum two pages) of your dissertation research and its intersections with questions of ethics, especially if those questions align with the Institute’s emphasis on the good life, the good community, and the good society
  • A letter of support from your primary faculty advisor
  • A listing of already awarded summer funding and of any concurrent proposals for other summer funding. If applicants receive news about other funding proposals after the submission deadline, they should provide updated information to Kim Dorman.

Students with questions about planning around existing summer funding can contact grad-finaid@duke.edu.


The Kenan Summer Dissertation Research Travel Award provides funding for PhD students to travel in order to conduct pre-dissertation or dissertation research that focuses on questions of ethics, especially if those questions align with the Institute’s emphasis on the good life, the good community, and the good society. All PhD students are eligible to apply for up to $4,000 for domestic travel support, and $5,000 for international travel.

To apply for a summer dissertation travel award, send the following documents to Kim Dorman:

  • An updated CV (maximum two pages)
  • A brief statement (maximum two pages) of your dissertation research and its intersections with questions of ethics, especially if those questions align with the Institute’s emphasis on the good life, the good community, and the good society, and an explanation of what you hope to accomplish with travel
  • A budget and timeline for travel
  • A letter of support from your primary faculty advisor

How A DukeEngage Student Became an “Unlikely Ally” of Her Political Opponents

In this column, originally published in the Duke Chronicle as “DukeEngage Democracy at Risk: An Unlikely Ally,” Gabrielle Mollin T’26 reflects on how working on common goals can bring people from across the political spectrum together — and make it harder to stereotype your political opponents.

Illustration of a diverse group of people repairing a tattered American flag
Illustration by Yunyi Dai.

As campus conversations begin to spiral about finding the right summer internship, I can’t help but think about my time last summer at DukeEngage’s Democracy at Risk program. Upon arriving in D.C., I had my work cut out for me. Our program’s goal of helping fix American democracy was lofty, and on top of that, I would be working for the “other side.” This Republican organization was committed to defeating Donald Trump in 2024, even if it meant turning against the majority of the Republican Party. Yet as I embarked on my internship at Longwell Partners, where I would devote hours a day filming testimonials with two-time Trump voters regarding their decision to move on from the indicted, impeached and immoral former president for the 2024 election, I often found myself wondering: how did our country get here?

In search of answers, I quickly found my way back to a trusty book from my political science class at the start of my first year at Duke that I’d brought along as a D.C. read (thanks Professor Vanberg). As I opened my heavily annotated copy of “How Democracies Die,” I slowly peeled off the first pink sticky note I saw and dove into the section on the “closet autocrat,” where I soon found some answers.

Headshot of Gabrielle Mollin
Gabrielle Mollin. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Mollin.

The “closet autocrat” bore all too many similarities to the man I’d spent my whole summer crusading against: Donald Trump. The chapter explained the nuances of outsider politicians — how they can rise to the top of a democratic institution with “rebel appeal” despite closeted disdain for democratic values.

As Donald Trump campaigned to label the media and political opponents as “terrorists,” with which his followers swiftly agreed, it became easier for him to justify actions against such groups and our democracy as he took the White House and fought back against leaving it. Even further, because Trump’s claim to fame deepened our culture of polarization and hostility, his words had a “boomerang effect.” Threatened, the media ditched restraint and professionalism in an attempt to undermine the government. Embattled, political opponents ditched restraint and professionalism in an attempt to undermine the government. The very people and institutions Trump baselessly condemned turned into what his voters feared most.

So it seems Trump invented a democratic crisis to get elected, but then he created that very crisis by stoking fear throughout his base. And when people are afraid, it’s easier for them to support quasi-authoritarian expansions of executive power (look at public favor for the USA PATRIOT Act after 9/11 or for Japanese internment camps during WW2). When these crises are invented by demonizing political rivals, thereby furthering polarization, politicians like Trump may feel justified to employ any means necessary to defeat opponents. And even if such actions are antidemocratic, citizens support them because they too fear the opponent.

But while Trump poses a definitive threat to our democracy, his power came from a fault within our political system: people don’t feel represented by their government. On nearly every testimonial call I had while interning at Longwell, two-time Trump voters cite Trump’s business skills and real-life experience as his primary appeal in 2016. Though they grew to resent his narcissism and vindictive rhetoric, Trump’s uninhibited politics managed to break down the barrier between most everyday Americans and the political sphere. So while Trump arguably embodies patient zero for the deep polarization that infects American society, he also signals a yearning within the American public for their politicians to fulfill Lincoln’s famed national promise of “government of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

The Republican firm I worked at knew where our democracy was headed with Trump, and like me, they wanted to change it. My friends jeered at me, a left-leaning New Yorker, spending eight weeks in a D.C. office with a bunch of Republicans. I laughed along, but after some time I didn’t find their jokes all that funny. Republican or not, the people at Longwell were committed to our democracy. They were committed to defending their party from Donald Trump. And they were committed to including me in the process, even though they knew I belonged to a different side of the political spectrum. What good was it to laugh at this group who had only been honorable in my eyes?

Now I’m no democracy expert, but I do know people. I know how easy it is to judge, to criticize, to laugh. I know it’s tempting to write off your political opponents when you’ve never even spoken to them, fomenting caricatures of uninformed bigots. I used to do that. But after talking with Stephen from South Carolina, Ross from Utah, Joanna from Tennessee and many more two-time Trump voters around the country who are now committed to his exile from the Republican party, I came to see our country in a new light.

I’m miles away from identifying with the Republican party, but I can no longer impose false narratives onto their voter base. And even though I never fully agreed with these people, I came to understand them. They were scared. They were angry. They were isolated. They wanted change. And I want change for them. We cannot continue to exclude them from our political future; that’s why we are where we are today. Continued isolation will only bring about more polarization, which will only further damage our democracy. We should know better by now.

So instead of sticking with people who think like me, comfortably yet critically looking down at the “other,” I spent my summer in deep conversation with fellow Americans whom I once foolishly perceived as the enemy, working together towards a common cause many want to claim as their own. And now, I’m urging you to try something like it…you might be surprised.