Spring speaker series fosters talks of peace, justice

Staff Report

This semester the University of Dayton welcomes three distinguished guests as presenters for the UD Speaker Series.

Sister Jamie T. Phelps, a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Sister Helen Prejean, a member of the Congregation of Saint Joseph and Anna Deavere Smith will give talks corresponding with the 2014-2015 UD Speakers Series’ theme, “Perspectives on Peace.”

As UD’s annual the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative speaker, Phelps will discuss “the MLK legacy and its contemporary implications for the social justice mission of the local and global church,” according to a UD press release.

Phelps’s work in theology has earned her national recognition. She has worked for 50 years in a variety of faith-based positions and today is the director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana.

“To see the world overcome race, class, gender, interpersonal and international divisions would fill Sister Phelps with endless solace and peace of mind,” says her official website. “She dreams of the day she can look at society and say ‘See how they love one another.’”

Phelps’s presentation will be “very relevant to the issues that have been going on on campus,” junior Alyssa Roeckner said, referencing the on-campus protests following the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.

Phelps’s presentation will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 in the KU Ballroom. The event will also include a tribute to Paul Marshall, SM, a former UD rector who passed away previously this school year, according to UD’s website.

The second speaker is Sister Helen Prejean, a fervent advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking,” which has also been made into a highly-acclaimed movie.

“Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty” is about the beginning of Prejean’s prison ministry. In 1982, she entered into correspondence with the convicted killer of two teenagers. She visited him on multiple occasions and acted as his spiritual adviser until his execution, according to Prejean’s website.

Since 1984, Prejean has counseled prisoners as well as families of murder victims. She also educates the public about the death penalty.

“The death penalty is one of the great moral issues facing our country,” says Sister Prejean’s website, “yet most people rarely think about it and very few of us take the time to delve deeply enough into this issue to be able to make an informed decision about it.”

She has accompanied six prisoners to their executions.

Prejean’s talk will be at 7 p.m.,  Feb. 26 in the RecPlex.

The third speaker will be Anna Deavere Smith, a playwright, actor and professor.

Smith has appeared in “All My Children,” “Rachel Getting Married” and the TV series “The West Wing,” among other shows and movies.

Smith also stages solo performances which explore the different communities and identities throughout America.

Inspired by Walt Whitman’s idea “to absorb America,” Smith has traveled the nation for years and interviewed thousands. She performs vignettes about those she encounters during her travels.

According to the TED biography of Smith, this “ground-breaking” style of theater,“blurs the lines between theater and journalism, using text from real life encounters to create gripping portraits.”

In 2012, Smith received a National Humanities Award from President Barack Obama.

Smith’s presentation will be at 7 p.m., March 26 in the KU Ballroom.

UD Speaker Series is intended to act as a “catalyst for purposeful and critical discussion of contemporary issues through dynamic public presentations,” according to UD’s website.

“When students attend, we hope they do so with an open mind,” Kathleen Webb, chair of the UD speaker series said. “Students should expect to be challenged to think about the topic in a new way.

“They should feel free to ask questions at the end and engage the speaker in a dialogue.”

“Each speaker brings a different set of experience and credentials. They also vary in style. Some have a traditional style, presenting from a podium, some prefer a more relaxed style. Last year one speaker sat in a chair on the stage and her presentation was more conversational. This spring, one of the speakers is an actor and will likely perform as part of her talk,” according to Webb.

The events are free and open to the public. No ticket is required.