Yesterday, the Riley Institute and OLLI@Furman launched their 12th annual StraightTalk, a three-part series in which experts are invited onto campus to discuss a pressing topic. This year’s StraightTalk, titled “Our Fragile Democracy,” grapples with the fallout from the 2020 election and events of Jan. 6, 2021, questioning if democracy is still safe in the next presidential election.

“We do not approach this year’s StraightTalk with a partisan lens,” says Jill Fuson, the Riley Institute’s Director of the Center for Critical Issues. Rather, Fuson emphasizes that the speakers come from diverse backgrounds and affiliations, chosen for their expertise in the issue of free and fair elections. 

Session One hosted Mike McConnell ‘66, a retired vice admiral of the US Navy and director of the National Security Agency from 1992-1996, and Temidayo Aganga-Williams ‘08, who served as senior investigative counsel for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

In a talk moderated by Politics Professor Dr. Danielle Vinson, the pair looked back upon our nation’s history and the months prior to the attack to analyze how our democracy has become increasingly vulnerable. In the end, they held former President Donald Trump accountable, suggesting that he advanced a false narrative of a rigged election, and honored those around him who resisted this narrative. Aganga-Williams ended the talk by encouraging the audience to critique their leaders, saying “It’s a call to patriotism. It’s a call to love of country.”

Session Two, “Free and Fair Elections: Protecting the Cornerstone of Democracy,” will take place next Wednesday, Sept. 6 from 6:30-7:45 p.m. The event notably invites Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, who denied a request by former President Trump to “find 11,780 votes” in Georgia during the 2020 election. He will be joined by Lawrence Norden, the senior director of the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Session Three, “Defending and Reforming Democracy in America,” will take place Tuesday, Sept. 12 from 6:30-7:45 p.m. The event will feature a presentation of political psychology research from Nicholas Davis, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, followed by a discussion with two leaders in political and community engagement.

Through these conversations, the Riley Institute seeks to awaken students to imminent threats to our democratic system, which are consequential no matter how politically involved one is. “Yet, even for those who don’t think about politics very often, this issue is of primary importance. We hope to raise awareness of the real concerns about the future of American democracy,” Fuson says.

Furman students can attend StraightTalk free of charge and will receive CLP credit for each event they attend. More information can be found at