Tough topics, curious minds, honest conversations.

It seems there are more and more topics we shy away from out of fear of offending, being shouted down, or getting “canceled.” We in the philanthropy sector can either accept this as a new reality, or we can remember that our voices have value. We can and we should be able to talk about just about anything—to explore our own thinking and the thinking of others, to understand ideas that various people hold and why they hold them, to discover what we will commit to standing up for, and to understand why we hate the evil ideas we do. Can We Talk About It? centers around these topics. Each week, we’re going to celebrate success and all the great work philanthropy does.  We’re going to get uncomfortable sometimes. We’re definitely going have fun. And we’re going to rediscover our voices.

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Episode 28

IInterview with Deputy Director for the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution Alissa Marque Heydari

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Do prosecutors hold too much power in our criminal justice system? Is their job like the job shown on “Law and Order”? In this episode, Alissa Marque Heydari, deputy director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, joins host Debi Ghate to share her experience as a line prosecutor and her vision of the criminal justice system. They’ll discuss the range of decisions made by prosecutors in a system that relies so heavily on plea deals, plus the shift from incentives based on conviction rates and plea deals to a broader range of sentencing options outside of prison.


Episode 27

Interview with Executive Director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy Garrett Ballengee

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Watch any late-night comedy show, and one state receives the brunt of the jokes more than the rest: West Virginia. For many people, the state is synonymous with rural economic disadvantage, and unfavorable media coverage to this end dates back more than a century to the Hatfield-McCoy feud. This week, Cardinal Institute Executive Director Garrett Ballengee joins host Debi Ghate to discuss the misconceptions Americans have about West Virginia. They'll explore the successes and opportunities in West Virginia, as well as the Cardinal Institute's work to reduce restrictions to opportunities for West Virginians and to shift conceptions of the state.


Episode 26

Interview with Eugene Volokh, Law Professor at UCLA and founder and author of "The Volokh Conspiracy" blog

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In the flood of information on social media, both opinions and statements of fact are shared freely, accurate and inaccurate alike. When a false statement of fact about an individual damages his reputation, however, it could qualify as libel. This week, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, founder of the Volokh Conspiracy blog, joins host Debi Ghate to discuss what qualifies as libel, both civilly and criminally, the state of free speech in the university, and the ethical and moral considerations of public discourse within legal limits.


Episode 25

Interview with Julie Killian, Co-Founder of Rye Action for Children and Teens (RyeACT)

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When students and alumni raised concerns with the Rye City School District (NY) about their treatment as students of color, the school district responded by launching a task force, involving an organization that affirmed race-based programming to "settle the debts we owe for our overdue national sins." In this week's episode Julie Killian, mother of five children, former elected official and active member of her community, joins Debi Ghate to discuss the petition to remove the organization from the project and to create a task force committed to fighting bigotry rather than encouraging it, as well as the realities of inclusion in secondary schools for students of all skin colors.


Episode 24

Interview with Curtis Valentine, Julius Rosenwald National Parks Campaign Board Member

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How did the man who launched Sears Roebuck & Co. into the distribution revolution also revolutionize education for Black students in the segregated South, establishing an astonishing 4,977 schools? In this week’s episode, Julius Rosenwald National Parks Campaign Board Member Curtis Valentine joins host Debi Ghate to share the incredible story of Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropy and Curtis’s personal connection to the schools, the campaign to establish a National Park for the Rosenwald Schools and the importance of school choice today.


Episode 23

Interview with Wenyuan Wu, executive director at Californians for Equal Rights

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In the 2020 election, Californians voted down Proposition 16 – a measure that would repeal the state constitutional amendment that prohibits preference or discrimination in public schools, public employment and public contracting (Prop. 209). Executive Director for Californians for Equal Rights Wenyuan Wu joins host Debi Ghate in this week’s episode to share the story of the campaign against Prop. 16 and affirmative action, the support of the Asian-American and immigrant community in their efforts and the way in which people of all political persuasions united to keep the constitutional principle of equal treatment.   


Episode 22

Interview with Philanthropy Roundtable President and CEO Elise Westhoff

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In this episode, Philanthropy Roundtable President and CEO Elise Westhoff joins Debi Ghate for a special conversation about her experience in the philanthropic sector and what inspired her to lead Roundtable with its mission to strengthen a free society. Westhoff shares her direct experiences with both generous donors and with those in the philanthropic sector who are seeking to “bridge” across differences. Finally, Westhoff discusses some of the Roundtable’s recent work, including some op-eds that have sparked controversy as well as a new campaign the Roundtable has launched: True Diversity. Hear directly from Elise Westhoff, who as always, speaks here from the heart.


Episode 21

Interview with Chloé Valdary, founder of the Theory of Enchantment

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Are socioracial dynamics reducible to two categories: The oppressor and the oppressed? Some argue that this reduction fails to recognize the depth of the complexity within each person. However, Chloé Valdary, founder of the Theory of Enchantment, believes that both the oppressor and the oppressed are suffering – and resentment and vengeance only cause more suffering. This week, she joins host Debi Ghate to share the ideas behind her antiracism program The Theory of Enchantment – and how, through teaching a person to show love and compassion to themselves, owning even the parts of themselves they don’t like, they can begin to show that same love and compassion to others.

Check out the Theory of Enchantment


Episode 20

Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human rights activist, speaker, and author of Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights

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(Warning: This episode discusses sensitive themes such as sexual assault. Listener discretion is advised.)

Victims of sexual violence often have a difficult time talking about their experiences, and this is true around the world. What happens when that violence is linked to immigrants and minorities, as it has in Europe? The topic becomes even more of a taboo. In her second appearance on Can We Talk About It? Ayaan Hirsi Ali joins host Debi Ghate to talk about the theme of her book “Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women's Rights.” They’ll address some of the complex issues that have arisen as a "rape epidemic" has emerged in some European countries.

Episode 19

Interview with Jake Horowitz, Director of the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew Charitable Trust

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In 2020, crime statistics showed curious trends – while homicides spiked, property crime rates and jail populations both decreased. While the prediction of crime can be difficult, the data and trends can inform conversations and policies. This week, Jake Horowitz, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew Charitable Trust, joins host Debi Ghate in a 2020-recorded interview. They’ll discuss the data, racial disparity in incarceration rates, the decrease in jail populations in 2020, the zero-sum game of public safety budgets and Pew Charitable’s work with state leaders to reinvest resources.

Episode 18

Interview with Irshad Manji, author and founder of Moral Courage ED

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Is it possible to seek diversity without labeling others? Honest diversity cares about seeking to understand the plurality within each other, says Irshad Manji, director of Moral Courage ED at Let Grow, their new course “Diversity without Division” and author of the book “Don’t Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars.” This week, Irshad joins host Debi Ghate to talk about this idea of plurality, leading by listening to understand and standing your ground with integrity while also seeking common ground.

Episode 17

William Jacobson, Professor of Law at Cornell University 

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Is it possible to undo past discrimination through new discrimination? Professor of Law at Cornell University William Jacobson would argue "no," but his expression of this point of view has brought condemnation – first by outsiders to the organization, then by faculty and student boycotts in response to his writings on controversial topics at his blog Legal Insurrection (est. 2008). In this week's episode, he joins Debi Ghate to address mandated anti-racism training, critical race theory and freedom of speech in the university, and his new project  

Episode 16

Carrie Tynan, executive director of Adolph Coors Foundation

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For years, critics of philanthropy have called for increased regulations around the ways foundations choose to spend their funds. Those calls have increased recently. In this week’s episode,  Carrie Tynan, a 5th generation executive director of the  Adolph Coors Foundation joins Debi Ghate to discuss these criticisms. They discuss the realities of earning a position in a family foundation, founder Bill Coors’ intent to give people the opportunity to develop self-reliance, personal responsibility, and integrity to reach their full potential, plus their decision to support non-profits based on the mission and outcomes, rather than the outward identities of the people they serve.

Episode 15

Mandy Richards, Justice Reform Advocate

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Rick Turner was the youngest child in his family and helping others was his way of life. After the loss of several family members, he struggled with mental illness and increased drug and alcohol abuse. During an undercover operation, at 37, he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison on four counts of drug crimes and having a firearm while dealing drugs. The gun did not belong to him, nor did he use it. He had no prior criminal record. Amid appeals for prison transfer, Rick Turner died in prison in Colorado on June 13, 2019. Joining Debi Ghate, Rick’s sister Mandy Richards shares the story of her brother’s life, her search for answers to his death and the urgent need for reform in the criminal justice system.

Episode 14

Carrie Ann Donnell of American Juris Link

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As the political climate ebbs and flows, victories and opinions in the courtroom can often last for generations. This week, Carrie Ann Donnell of American Juris Link joins Debi Ghate to discuss the pro bono work of public interest litigation, the coordination between public interest firms to protect the rights of defendants, and the necessity of firms’ donor privacy, as they litigate on many sensitive and controversial issues.

Episode 13

Darcy Olsen, CEO and Founder of Gen Justice

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Having taken in 10 foster children and adopted four, CEO and founder of Gen Justice Darcy Olsen Olsen is intimately aware of the grim reality of the foster care system. In this week’s episode, she joins Debi Ghate to talk about both the joys and heartbreak of fostering – and the work she does with Gen Justice to ensure the legal protection and to protect the rights of the approximately 400,000 children in foster care.

Episode 12

John Wood, Jr., National Ambassador for Braver Angels

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Is there such a thing as a shared American identity? Is one even possible when we have a lack of shared vocabulary and interaction with those who think differently from us?  John Wood, Jr., national ambassador for Braver Angels, joins Debi Ghate to discuss his close, personal experience with individuals of various beliefs and backgrounds. He describes the work of Braver Angels to reinvigorate conversation and reduce political polarization, by humanizing partisan opponents – and hopefully discover why they see the world the way they do. We may not agree with one another, but we will understand one another better, a necessary step to improving discourse.

Episode 11

Interview with American Contemporary Ballet's director Lincoln Jones

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The mission of the American Contemporary Ballet is to "produce and present choreographic works of the highest quality that exemplify dance as a musical art form." Yet there have been loud threats and demands that the company and its troupe declare themselves aligned with political causes, sign statements or even change its dance repertoire. 

ACB's director Lincoln Jones talks with host Debi Ghate this week about the nature of ballet, his company and the ideas threatening the essential freedom and individual voice and expression of the artists.

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Episode 10

Interview witNicholas Merriwether and attorney Tyson Langhofer

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On March 26, 2021 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of Philosophy Professor Nicholas Meriwether in the case of Meriwether v. Trustees of Shawnee State University. What was this case all about? In January of 2018, Meriwether refused to call a biologically male student by the requested pronouns “she/her.” Although he offered to refer to the student by any proper noun requested, his university threatened disciplinary action and later issued an ultimatum. Joining Debi Ghate, Nicholas and attorney Tyson Langhofer discuss the ideological implications of a pronoun, freedom of religion and free speech and the very purpose of the university in this week’s episode.

Episode 9

Interview with Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Mike Gonzalez

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Around the 60s and 70s, conversations around civil rights and racial equity began to shift from a focus on color blindness and equality of opportunity to color consciousness and equality of results. In this episode, Debi Ghate is joined by Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Mike Gonzalez as they explore the historical development of critical race theory and race-conscious policies, and the role philanthropy has played in it, identity politics, and his new book “The Plot to Change America.”

Episode 8

Interview with Carrie Lukas, President of the Independent Women’s Forum

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Can privilege expand beyond race, gender and sexual orientation to include worldviews? If so, is there such a thing as progressive privilege? Carrie Lukas, President of the Independent Women’s Forum, suggests there is. She says “privilege” does exist, and it is usually aimed at whites, males and straight people. Yet in some parts of our culture, such as the academy and the media, the progressive view dominates in a way that also creates a marginalized and a privileged group. Join Debi Ghate as she discusses Lukas’s monograph, “Checking Progressive Privilege,” a controversial but very thought-provoking piece that challenges us to rethink “privilege.”

Episode 7

Interview with President of Michigan Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Jimmy Greene

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Many symbols of the American dream can be found in the construction industry. Debi Ghate hosts President of Michigan Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Jimmy Greene this week to discuss some of those analogies, protecting merit-based and free-enterprise building, the relationship between merit and justice, and the importance of educating against prejudices to produce proactive, rather than reactive justice.

Episode 6

Interview with New York School of Law Professor Nadine Strossen and Kenneth Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate 

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In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League recorded the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in its 40 years of tracking. This week, Debi Ghate is joined by New York School of Law Professor Nadine Strossen and Kenneth Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate. They will discuss the reality of anti-Semitism, the larger context of racism and injustice, censorship and the academy and reducing hateful attitudes through more expression and free speech—not less.

Episode 5

Interview with Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

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Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. joins Debi Ghate in a conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion mandates. They’ll address how diversity makes for better decision making, the integral nature of diversity and inclusion, and the difference between equality and equitability. Do mandates really create the outcomes we want? Can DEI happen without mandates? And if mandates don’t work for DEI, why do we think they work for other employment issues?

Episode 4

Interview with Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

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Working non-stop to communicate COVID-19 news to the public has given Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, an inside look at the pandemic from both a clinical and policy perspective. The new public attention to himself has come with criticism and even hate mail. In this episode, Adalja reflects on partisanship, the authority of public health experts and the CDC, WHO reform, and his experience on the ground in a public health crisis.

Episode 3

Interview with journalist, editor, and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens

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Debi Ghate talks with journalist, editor, and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens about freedom of speech and the contrast between the freedom to offend v. freedom from offense. The two discuss the necessity of comedy in free societies, the rise of cultural “heretics,” and the reputational defenestration of comedians who push boundaries in the pursuit of their craft.

Episode 2

Interview with Professors Stephanie Shonekan and Adam Seagrave 

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Professors Stephanie Shonekan and Adam Seagrave identify the need for a shared understanding of what equality means for a diverse student body. In this episode, host Debi Ghate talks with them about the events that transpired to launch a course called “Citizenship@Mizzou” and the “Race & the American Story” project across various campuses. The project has become a rare space in the academy for a serious conversation about citizenship and race in America.

Episode 1

Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human rights activist, speaker, and author of Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights

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Episode 1

On our first episode, Debi discusses the inspiration behind this podcast—the murder of Theo van Gogh (the great-grandnephew of the famous Dutch painter), in the Netherlands in 2004. This was not some random mugging or drug offense gone wrong; Van Gogh was murdered because he directed a short film written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali called Submission: Part 1. The film took a critical look at how women are treated under Islam.

Ayaan discusses the aftermath of Van Gogh's death, her new book Prey: Immigration, Islam and the Erosion of Women's Rights, and the role of philanthropy in today's society.