Skip to Content

COVID-19 Conversations

In a time of social distancing and school closures, The Riley Institute's new video series brings Furman — and the world — into the homes of students through video chats with notable leaders.

The Riley Institute's Center for Critical Issues "brings the world to Furman" by hosting a diverse roster of speakers on campus each year. While our events are on hold due to COVID-19, we're bringing the world to the fingertips of our Advance Team, a select group of Furman students interested in government and public policy, through our new video series COVID-19 Conversations.

Each week, a few members of the Advance Team sit down for an intimate, virtual conversation with a past speaker to discuss the coronavirus's impact on life's many dimensions.

Eric Spitler, former Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, shares his perspective on the differences between the Great Recession and the evolving financial implications of COVID-19 while students inquire about the virus’ impact on the Federal Reserve and the demand for universal basic income legislation.

It was just six years ago that the Ebola virus swept across Liberia, where Deborah Malac was actively serving as U.S. ambassador. In that time, Malac played an important role in coordinating the U.S. response to the epidemic in the West African country. Revisiting what she learned as a leader during the outbreak, Malac shares why she believes transparent communication remains important as ever in the fight against COVID-19.


Episode Three: Angela Maria Kelley on Immigration

As the global community seeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, countries have imposed strict travel restrictions and shut down their borders. In the United States, the health crisis has complicated the nation’s long-standing immigration debate. Angela Maria Kelley, who currently serves as the senior strategic advisor for immigration at the nonprofit Open Society Foundations, is working to address these evolving immigration challenges firsthand.


Episode Four: Rep. Neal Collins on South Carolina’s Response Efforts

As South Carolina moves toward reopening, legislators like Rep. Neal Collins are weighing concerns on both sides of an intensifying debate about public health and the economy.

Collins, a 2004 Furman graduate who represents District 5, speaks with Advance Team members about what the state is doing to expand testing and meet the needs of students and teachers as well as communities of color.


Episode Five: Jessica Taylor on American Federalism

Varying COVID-19 response efforts have illuminated the complex relationship between federal and state powers. Jessica Taylor, Senate and Governors Editor for The Cook Political Report, has been closely monitoring the actions of governors as they’ve emerged as prominent voices on the national political stage during the pandemic.

Taylor, a 2007 Furman graduate, sat down with members of the Riley Institute's Advance Team to discuss the trends she has observed as well as the issue of voting by mail in the 2020 presidential election.

Episode Six: Jonathan Kubakundimana on What the Pandemic Means for U.S. Prisons

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have had the opportunity to practice a variety of social distancing measures that grant them the level of safety they desire, but that hasn’t been the case for those serving time in prison.

As several U.S. correctional facilities have become COVID-19 hotspots, one Furman University alumnus is addressing the impact of the coronavirus on the prison population firsthand. Jonathan Kubakundimana recently sat down virtually with three members of the Riley Institute’s Advance Team.

Ever-changing information during the COVID-19 pandemic has created a tall order for public health leaders across the country: How do you convince everyone to heed safety guidelines when collective action is required to slow the spread of a virus with a high transmission rate?

As the director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Departments in Virginia, Dr. Danny Avula has dedicated his work to understanding why certain communities are harder hit by COVID-19 than others. He sat down with three members of the Riley Institute's Advance Team to shed light on the social determinants of health that not only play a role in disease outcomes but also influence how different communities respond to the pandemic.

Episode Eight: Superintendent Russell Booker on the Challenges that Lie Ahead for Reopening Schools

When states began mandating stay-at-home orders during the early days of the pandemic, few organizations pivoted as quickly as schools did. Teachers and administrators across the country had to suddenly account for how they were going to provide remote instruction to thousands of students in a matter of days. The task was made even more challenging by the fact that many students lack the internet access that is required to do their homework and rely on school meals to meet their nutritional needs.

The experience for Russell Booker has been no different. After serving as the  Superintendent of Spartanburg County School District Seven for the last decade, Booker has dedicated his time to meeting the new needs of students and coordinating a district-wide response to COVID-19 before retiring from his post on June 30.

Episode Nine: Entrepreneur Basil Bacall on the Pandemic’s Impact on the Hospitality Industry

The word “pivot” gets tossed around a lot these days. Every business sector has had to quickly adapt its operational model to meet both safety and financial concerns, but the hospitality industry has had to ponder one of the biggest questions of them all: How do you stay afloat when your business is dependent on getting people in the door?

Basil Bacall, President and CEO of Elite Hospitality Group, is no stranger to the pivot. In his early days as an entrepreneur, Bacall repositioned a financially distressed asset into an award-winning, profitable hotel. Now he owns nearly two dozen hotels and real estate properties in metropolitan Detroit.

Episode Ten: Bryan Stirling on How S.C. Prisons are Managing COVID-19

Managing a pandemic from inside a prison presents its fair share of complications. How do you manage communal spaces? What can be done about the educational and social programs crucial to the well-being of people who are incarcerated? How do you handle mass testing when results slowly trickle in?

These are all questions that Bryan Stirling, director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, has given a lot of thought to since March. Earlier this month, he sat down with members of the Advance Team to share his perspective on the challenges that are currently mounting inside the state's prisons.