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ISSS U.S. political Webinar Series

Fall 2020

webinar schedule 


Mount Rushmore

Forum: The Presidency [Hinckley Center Forum]

Date: Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Time: 12:00PM-1:00PM MST (time zone converter) 

Registration: Registration is now closed. See the link for the recording below. 

Description: Since the nation’s founding, the role and power the president has — and ought to have— has been hotly debated. Join our panel as they examine the history of the executive in the United States, how the position has expanded over time, and what future presidential administrations may look like.

  • Jim Curry, Associate Professor, University of Utah Political Science Department
  • Eric Hinderaker, Distinguished Professor, University of Utah History Department
  • Josh Ryan, Associate Professor, Utah State University Political Science Department
  • Cody Stephens, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Utah History Department
  • Jennifer Napier-Pearce, Editor (fmr.), The Salt Lake Tribune

Did you miss this webinar?  You can watch the recording here!




Forum: Security & Voting Rights in the 2020 Election [Hinckley Center Forum]

Date: Monday, September 28, 2020

Time: 12:00PM-1:00PM MST (time zone converter) 

Registration: Registration is now closed. See the link for the recording below. 

Description: Join us for a conversation with the state's election experts. We will examine COVID-19's potential impact on election administration, Utah’s implementation of vote by mail, and what officials are doing to keep our elections safe, accessible, and fair for all.

  • Ricky Hatch, Weber County Clerk/Auditor
  • Amelia Powers Gardner, Utah County Clerk/Auditor
  • Justin Lee, State Elections Director
  • Sherrie Swensen, Salt Lake County Clerk
  • Frank Pignanelli, Partner, Foxley & Pignanelli (moderator)

Did you miss this webinar?  You can watch the recording here!



Branches of Govt

Webinar: Basic Overview of the U.S. Political System and U.S. Elections [ISSS Webinar]

Date: Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Time: 4:00PM-5:00PM MST (time zone converter) 

Registration: Registration is now closed. Click below to watch the recording! 

Description: Our panelists will provide an overview of the unique system of government in the United States, the philosophy behind the system, and the basics of how U.S. Elections work. Questions may be submitted in advance during registration, but we will also be accepting questions live and they will be answered during a live Question & Answer session at the end. This webinar session will also be recorded and posted to the ISSS website so that you may watch it at your convenience.


  • Dr. Juliet Carlisle - Associate Professor, Department of Political Science
  • Dr. James Curry - Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Political Science
  • Dr. Matthew Burbank - Professor, Department of Political Science
  • Dr. Edmund Fong - Associate Professor, Chair, Division of Ethnic Studies, Department of Political Science

Moderator: Chelsea Wells - Director, International Student and Scholar Services

Did you miss this webinar?  You can watch the recording and see the Q&A's below!

Answer summary (Burbank) : Each state holds its own electoral college election. All parties eligible on a ballot in a state will list as many electors that state has; for example, Utah has 6 votes – 2 senators, 4 representatives. The party with the most votes in a state gets to submit all of the electorates for their party. Are they trustworthy? The electors are “trustworthy” because the parties “trust” them to do what they are supposed to do. The only people not eligible to be in the Electoral College are those who are currently sitting in congress. Electors usually consist of former governors, former senators. Leadesr of a state party are often chosen to be in the Electoral College. The party is depending on them to vote for who they are supposed to vote for – almost all cases this has happened. In the rare case someone voted for who they weren’t supposed to vote for, it has never changed the outcome of the election. 

Answer summary (Carlisle):  The president gets to nominate the next Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). He has nominated Amy Coney Barrett. RBG was very liberal and she represented equality across the board; so, for Trump with a Republican controlled Senate, this means you are substituting a conservative member for a liberal member to sit on the SCOTUS. The balance of the court will change; usually cases are  4:5 on such issues. If  Amy Coney Barrett were to be confirmed, it will put the balance of power very much on the conservative side; 6:3 sitting in the court. Republicans haven’t won seats by a majority; Democrats tend to get a lot more votes. An imbalanced court would represent a minority preference. 

In 2016; 10 months before election; Justice Scalia died, and then Obama nominated Garland, and Republicans, who had majority in the Senate (Sen. Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell) said that we had an upcoming election, and insisted on letting voters decide who would replace Justice Scalia on the Court. McConnell did not move forward with Obama’s nominee. Many Republican in the Senate stated rhetoric that included: “If a Justice dies before the election in 2020 we will do the same thing and leave seat open until after the election...”. McConnell wants to create a conservative court, so he is pushing ahead with trying to vote on a nominee DURING the election. 

We like to think of the SCOTUS as apolitical, it is in fact very political. It is supposed to be seen differently than Congress (the House and the Senate), but it is in fact viewed as very political. 

Summary (Fong): Many Federal Orders around Civil Rights issues are from Supreme Court Rulings; Civil Rights issues date from landmark laws since the 1960s; RBG is a “hallmark” or “pillar” of the post-Civil Rights era- expanding Civil Rights act to include women and issues that affect marginalized communities. These include: abortion rights, etc. RBG is historic in pushing through those issues in the SCOTUS. That balance is now gone; and replacing with a conservative Justice will change different approaches to Civil Rights or a “re-definition” of Civil Rights in the United States moving forward. 

Answer Summary (Carlisle): Historically, people have already decided who they are going to vote for due to the partisan nature of the two-party system. Some candidates may get a bump after a debate, but this bump is not enough to shape the results of the election. A candidate may stumble after a debate, but it is not enough to convince voters to vote differently than they had been planning before a debate. The debate can mirror other issues in the election arena. Examples include: Trump didn’t do well in the first debate – this could have influenced people, but it is not necessarily the deciding factor to not vote for him. “People may not have thought Trump debated well, but they also considered other issues: taxes, COVID, etc...”. With the little influence debates have, it may still get people fired up and mobilized. It’s “a pep rally if you will – like the convention”. Some people may be tuning in late to the election – not following it since the beginning earlier candidates – there could be an influence towards a candidate, but at the same time those people might not even show up to vote. 

Answer Summary (Fong): It’s political theater; it can motivate people who are on the fence, but in the larger scheme of things a debate has no influence. Debates in the past have had a different influence: JFK vs Nixon that was the first televised debate and it depended on how people participated (listening to the radio or watched on TV). Those who listened on the radio thought Nixon won because his answers were better; those who watched on TV thought Kennedy won because Nixon looked sweaty and had a 5’o’clock shadow. 

Answer summary (Carlisle): Jimmy Carter had a lot jeopardizing his standing when he was up for reelection. 

Answer summary (Burbank): Some people look at the debates to consider what they have already thought about, but it doesn’t change minds. Debates can impact the dynamic of the election to how candidates and campaigns try to take advantage of a good or bad performance in a debate. 



Webinar: International Student Rights & Responsibilities in Political Demonstrations [ISSS Webinar]

Date: Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Time: 4:00PM-5:00PM MST (time zone converter) 

Registration: Registration is now closed. Click below to watch the recording!  

Description: This webinar will focus on the rights and responsibilities of international students, including how to safely engage in political demonstrations and protests, as well as other types of political activism. Our panel will discuss a myriad of topics, including: how international students can be involved in the U.S. political process, student rights when interacting with U.S. law enforcement and ICE, and reminders about what international students can and cannot do during the U.S. Election. Questions may be submitted in advance during registration, but we will also be accepting questions live and they will be answered during a live Question & Answer session at the end. This webinar session will also be recorded and posted to the ISSS website so that you may watch it at your convenience.


  • Jonny Benson - Associate Instructor - University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law; Attorney at Law - Anderson & Benson
  • Mel Moeinvaziri - Adjunct Assistant Professor - University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law; Attorney at Law - Perreta Law Office; National Lawyers Guild, Utah Chapter
  • Jason Ramirez - Associate Vice President, Dean of Students - University of Utah

Moderator: Chelsea Wells -  Director, International Student and Scholar Services - University of Utah

Did you miss this webinar?  You can watch the recording and see the Q&A's below!

Answer summary (Benson): It is important to show empathy and try to understand people to see their point of view Most of the discourse we are seeing is people convinced they are right and not being able to see that someone else’s position on any issue is valid. Too quickly, we devolve into attacking someone else. We don’t know how people will respond, but personally, we can be the ones to act civilly with people and respect others’ point of view. Society is missing civility when we disagree. 

Answer summary (Ramirez): All too often when we don’t agree, and it is easy to generalize a disagreement with another point of view. We generalize a person as “awful” because of the subject we disagree on, or if someone has a different point of view. Just because someone may have a different opinion doesn’t mean we can’t see try to see and understand the point of view and respond to it civilly. Our opinions may not change or our point of view may not change, but we can act civilly and try to understand others.

Answer summary (Moeinvaziri): BLM is not new, but every time we see a Black person killed by a police officer, it brings the matter to the forefront again. Recently, it has reached a tipping point. Politicians are choosing to bring these issues to the forefront. The news focuses on the negative stories of this movement, but the majority of the protests are peaceful and have been happening every day since George Floyd’s death. “I commend the work that they are doing.” 

Answer summary (Benson): The way we demonstrate has impact. Opposers of BLM point to the fact that the protests have turned violent. BLM is not always violent, but unfortunately some people are violent and are affecting the perspective of the message that people are receiving from those protests. So, as you engage – of whatever movement you are interested in pushing – consider how your actions can impact a cause. Are you going to get the message out in a positive matter? Or, are you going to turn people away from the cause because of your actions? It doesn’t mean you have to be peaceful – quiet, mute – be vocal but in an appropriate manner so you bring strength to the cause. 

Answer summary (Ramirez): The U of U can place limits on this. They are called “time, place, and manner restrictions”. The University can say you cannot disrupt a classroom or learning environment with a protest. Can they happen? How do we navigate this? Yes, they can happen on campus. The Union scheduling office can help students think through logistics. The Office of the Dean of Students has helped students navigate the permission to gather. Outside of COVID social distancing restrictions, the Marriott Library Plaza, Union Plaza are common places where students can demonstrate. Most places outside on campus, outside of buildings, are available for assembly and speech.  

We ask that gatherings and making voices and opinions heard is not a violation of the student code, and the destruction of buildings, spray paint, and other activities will violate the student code and also need to include criminal law – that is where student code violations may be charged. The right to gather and the voices heard for a cause is not only allowed but encouraged. It is a great sign of activism and a great way to be engaged as a student. 

Answer summary (Ramirez): Historically, the outside area west of the Union was called the “free speech zone”. This is referenced back to the Vietnam war and how it was utilized by student protestors during that time. This “free speech zone” has grown to include all outside areas on campus. Specific places include outside areas – public areas outside of buildings. How does this adapt into the electronic space? The exchange of ideas in an online classroom relates to academic freedom: students and faculty are encouraged to express ideas and opinions in a discussion in class, but one cannot be disruptive in a classroom environment. 

Answer summary (Moeinvaziri): The National Lawyers Guild manages a legal hotline that stays live during protests. If it there is not an active protest, you can leave a message, and an attorney will follow up with your message. The phone number is801-410-0393. The community has many criminal defense, civil rights, and pro bono initiative clinics to seek for advice and suggestions depending on nature of a negative interaction with law enforcement. 

Answer summary (Benson): If you have been charged of a crime and have already plead guilty to that crime, it is rare to get a better deal (especially with immigration). Do not plead guilty until you have sought counsel. Seek an attorney and get informed decisions before pleading guilty. ACLU Utah takes up cases where civil rights have been violated ( i.e. national origin, race, etc.). 

Answer summary (Ramirez): If the negative encounter was with University of Utah campus police, the U has recently hired Rodney Chapman as the new Chief of Police. He wants to engage with students and interact with students. Reach out to him to provide feedback, or reach out to the Office of the Dean of Student to share feedback on your behalf. 


Answer summary (Moeinvaziri): The National Lawyers Guild is open to anyone. You don't need to be a lawyer to get involved with the organization; is for anyone interested in participating. is the national website for the organization. NLG is related to ACLU and partner locally, but it is different ideologically. Get involved in street actions or protests – these are great ways to get involved.  

Answer summary (Ramirez): ISSS is a great resource to students. They are a great resource for students and can provide information for resources on and off campus.  


News Outlets

Webinar: Understanding U.S. Media & Consumerism [ISSS Webinar]

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Time: 4:00PM-5:00PM MST (time zone converter) 

Registration: Registration is now closed. Click below to watch the recording!  

Description: Designed for international students who may not be as familiar with rhetoric used in U.S. media, particularly during U.S. Presidential Election season, our panelists will discuss how to interpret U.S. media, how to determine if information is accurate or inaccurate, how to best research the issues reported, as well as how cultural background may impact the interpretation of information. We will also discuss techniques and tactics regarding how to respectfully engage with peers and other individuals on sensitive political topics. Questions may be submitted in advance during registration, but we will also be accepting questions live and they will be answered during a live Question & Answer session at the end. This webinar session will also be recorded and posted to the ISSS website so that you may watch it at your convenience.


  • Taylor Stevens - State Government Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune
  • Randy Dryer - Presidential Honors Professor, Professor (Lecturer) S.J. Quinney College of Law - University of Utah
  • Avery Holton - Assistant Professor, H2 Honors Professor, Department of Communication and College of Humanities
  • Darby Fanning - Associate Librarian, Marriot Library - University of Utah

Moderator: Chelsea Wells -  Director, International Student and Scholar Services - University of Utah

Did you miss this webinar?  You can watch the recording and see the Q&A's below! Also you may view the presentation slides here

Answer Summary (Dryer): Recently, social media platforms have begun labeling information as misleading, false or inaccurate, and –in extreme cases- removing content. In the U.S. we have “free press” in the First Amendment; this is only a limiter on what government can do to control the press. A government website cannot block content because of the First Amendment, so it doesn’t apply to private companies. There is no legal obligation for private companies to remove content, but they have chosen to do so in limited circumstances because of public pressure. Private companies are worried about the government trying to regulate them and repealing a federal law that grants immunities to web hosts for false information posted by another party. Private companies (eg. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) have hired fact checkers, but information is spread so quickly that fact checkers cannot review and remove everything. 

Answer Summary (Holton): In a study, we looked at the amount of media any person interacts with in a day – we are now using our phones 8 to 10 hours a day. We are only awake maybe 14 hours a day. Most of that use is social media, news media, other media – not games. We’ve evolved our use of cell phones to best utilize their internet capability. Not everyone has access to internet 24/7, but 92 percent of Americans do have constant access to the internet. We can choose who and what we follow, and the posts we view on social media platforms are posts of the same people, repeatedly. We can break out of this repetition by how we choose outlets and information to view. We can choose news source aggregates (Apple, Buzzfeed) that can bring in the content. These, however, have biases based on algorithms to choose which of the publications to come into your feed every day. Stories, and the way stories are covered, changes between news apps. Remove apps that you don’t use and apps that cause more stress (Facebook is an example – avoid it until the election is over). Find apps that provide information and perspectives and follow those - “creating your own diet”. Allow 15 minutes a day where you provide yourself freedom to explore news outlets and how they are giving your information. 

Answer Summary (Dryer): Find 3-4 credible news sites that you have confidence in, and make sure they are not from the same perspective. Deliberately look at one that is perhaps a different perspective than your own belief so you get exposure to additional viewpoints; 3-4 maximum, any more and you are flooded with too much information.

Answer Summary (Stevens): Recent polling in Utah shows that most voters already know who they are going to vote for and are firm in that decision. Most people are decided in this stage of the election and debates don’t change people’s minds. I would love to talk to undecided voters, but at this stage people know who they are voting for. 

Answer Summary (Dryer): People view debates for entertainment not to persuade. 


You are Welcome Here

Webinar: International Student Advocacy [ISSS Webinar]

Date: Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Time: 4:00PM-5:00PM MST (time zone converter) 

Registration: Registration will be done through Zoom - register here

Description: Our panelists will discuss how international students can participate and advocate for changes at both the local and federal level in the United States. We will provide advocacy group resources, review how international students can get involved in campus groups and local organizations, how international students can become involved with local immigrant communities to advocate for change, and also discuss campus and local resources for students who may be experiencing issues coping and dealing with stress during and after the U.S. Election.


  • Miranda Best - Outreach Coordinator, Hinckley Institute of Politics - University of Utah
  • Dean McGovern - Executive Director, Bennion Center - University of Utah
  • Madhan Arulanandam - Director of International Student Concerns, National Association of Graduate-Professional students; Ph.D. student - Arizona State University
  • Merry Joseph - University of Utah student; Presidential Intern; International Student Council Board Member; Former ISSS Ambassador

Moderator: Chelsea Wells -  Director, International Student and Scholar Services - University of Utah

Please note: All webinar and forum times listed are in U.S. Mountain Standard Time (MST, which is Utah time). If you are interested in attending these sessions live and you are currently located in a different time zone, you will need to adjust your schedule to attend at local Utah time. However, ISSS webinar sessions will be recorded and posted to our website for you to view at your convenience.

Additionally, The Hinckley Institute and International Student & Scholar Services neither support nor oppose the views and opinions expressed in these forums and webinars. 

Vice Presidential Debate was hosted at the University of Utah Campus

VP Debate The nonpartisan, nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) selected the University of Utah to host the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7, 2020, at Kingsbury Hall, Nancy Peery Marriott Auditorium.

The CPD was established in 1987 and has sponsored and produced all general election presidential and vice presidential debates since then. The CPD receives no funding from the government or any political party or campaign.

The 2020 vice presidential debate was made possible through a partnership with the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Utah Debate Commission.

You may view a recording of the debate here

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has a Glossary of Terms that has helpful definitions to frequently used terms during the election season.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Election day is not a national holiday; therefore, the University of Utah campus will remain open, as well as banks and other services. 

International students on an F-1 or J-1 visa are not permitted to vote in the U.S.

 To register in Utah you must: 

  • be a citizen of the U.S.
  • have resided in Utah for 30 days immediately before the next election 
  • be at least 18 years old on or before the next election (individuals who are 16 and 17 years of age may pre-register to vote; if a 17 year old will be 18 years of age on or before the upcoming general election, they may pre-register and vote in the primary election)
  • not be a convicted felon currently incarcerated for commission of a felony
  • *find more information on voting rights restoration here

From the ACLU, The First Amendment protects your right to assemble and express your views through protest. However, police and other government officials are allowed to place certain narrow restrictions on the exercise of speech rights. Make sure you’re prepared by brushing up on your rights before heading out into the streets. Further information can be found on the ACLU webpage

A good resource to review in order to prepare before, during and after attending a protest can be found on the Right to Protest to webpage

Please note: ISSS does not endorse or encourage students to attend certain protests or rallies. We provide this information so you can understand your rights, protect yourself, and make best choices.

 Information on how to become a Legal Observer at a protest can be found here

  • Pro Bono Initiatives through the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah
  • Utah Immigration Attorneys 
  • Contact ISSS for further resources on your situation and to set up an appointment with an International Student Advisor. Email: or call us at 801-581-8876
  • *These resources are to provide the names of select local immigration attorneys as well as resources for finding additional attorneys who practice immigration law locally and nationally. The University of Utah does not recommend or endorse any particular immigration attorney(s). You are responsible for selecting and vetting the attorney of your choosing for your particular legal needs.

Please contact ISSS if you are in legal trouble, or have further questions on this topic. We are here to assist and give additional resources for your situation. Email: or call us at 801-581-8876.


Last Updated: 10/23/20