2nd Signature Initiatives town hall meeting discusses equity, health, democracy at UC Berkeley

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UC Berkeley community members met in Sibley Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon in continuation of the April 15 Signature Initiatives town hall meeting, where the audience further directed questions and feedback to three of six remaining initiative teams — equality, health and democracy.

The three teams present Tuesday were the Equality, Equity and Opportunity group, the Charting a New Course to Health and Wellbeing group and the Future of Democracy group. These teams were formed to represent societal challenges that UC Berkeley will address through its research, teaching and outreach, according to the UC Berkeley Research website.

The formation of the teams was a “consultative” process that strived to create a “good balance of voices” with “people from a variety of different disciplines,” according to Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz, who leads the implementation planning for the Signature Initiatives.

“I think the Signature Initiatives represent a very exciting vision for Berkeley’s research enterprise that’s inherently interdisciplinary,” Katz said. “(It) builds on our technological strength but takes it into the societal impacts.”

The Charting a New Course to Health and Wellbeing group, represented by associate professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health Kristine Madsen and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, bioengineering and neuroscience David Schaffer, targets food, early childhood development and aging. The group referenced the importance of the campus’s various schools and disciplines that could potentially address these challenges.

“Berkeley is really well poised to address food systems. When we think about the food system — what we eat, how it’s grown, who has access to it — it affects some of the most important problems we face today,” Madsen said.

The Equity, Equality and Opportunity group, represented by Goldman School of Public Policy professor Hilary Hoynes and professor of political science Steven Vogel, introduced two main themes.

The first theme called for the design of society for equitable growth, and the second called for “race, opportunity and transformative justice.” The group also introduced ways in which UC Berkeley could use multidisciplinary groups to create more research around these given topics and influence policy.

The Future of Democracy working group is represented by UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education professor and Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies Lisa García Bedolla and Timothy Hampton, a professor of comparative literature and French and director of the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

The group discussed what it called a “crisis of democracy” and focused on three themes: “citizenship and migration,” “democratic speech cultures” and “making democracy work.”

“We think that Berkeley is ideally, not only a place to shape the discussion of democracy going forward — we think it’s a historical and ethical demand placed on this campus to confront the problem of democracy head on,” Hampton said. We are a model that the rest of the country is looking to.”

Contact Brennan Havens at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BrennanHavens.