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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Interview with Jake Horowitz, Director of the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew Charitable Trust
Episode 19

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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.


Interview with Irshad Manji, author and founder of Moral Courage ED
Episode 18

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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.


William Jacobson, Professor of Law at Cornell University 
Episode 17

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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 CriticalRace.org.  


Carrie Tynan, executive director of Adolph Coors Foundation
Episode 16

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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.


Mandy Richards, Justice Reform Advocate
Episode 15

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Episode 15

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.


Carrie Ann Donnell of American Juris Link
Episode 14

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Episode 14

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.


Darcy Olsen, CEO and Founder of Gen Justice
Episode 13

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Episode 13

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.


John Wood, Jr., National Ambassador for Braver Angels
Episode 12

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Episode 12

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.


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Episode 11

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

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.


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Episode 9

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.”


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Episode 8

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.”


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Episode 7

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.


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Episode 6

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.


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Episode 5

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?

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Episode 4

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.

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Episode 3

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.

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Episode 2

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.

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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.