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Westminster focuses on racial issues during 'Just Mercy' speaker series week

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Posted on Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Before first-year students set foot on Westminster’s campus for the fall 2020 semester, they were given their first homework assignment: Read the memoir “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson.

For the next several days, Sept 20-29, students in the College’s First-Year Program’s Inquiry core course can participate in a series of “Just Mercy” events tying back to their required summer reading book by Stevenson, an attorney and founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. The book depicts Stevenson’s experiences as a young lawyer, who fought to address injustices in the criminal justice system, including the case of Walter McMillian, a black man from Alabama who, in 1988, was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit.

“By choosing ‘Just Mercy’ as our common reading for first-year students, and holding these events, we hope to encourage students to reflect on contemporary injustices and the roles that individuals can play in seeking to address them,” said Dr. Shannon Smithey, professor of political science and coordinator of Westminster’s First-Year Program. “This reflect several core principles of Westminster's mission—to help students develop competencies, commitment and characteristics that have distinguished human beings at their best, to acquire a knowledge of self and society, and the human relationship to God, and to develop and demonstrate moral and ethical commitments to others.”

“Just Mercy” events include:

•    “The Cross and Capital Punishment” at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 20, featuring the Rev. Stacy Rector, Presbyterian minister and activist. The event will be held at the Anderson Amphitheater.

•    “Television Man” book reading by author and Westminster College Professor of English Dr. David Swerdlow, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, in Berlin Lounge.

•    “Defiantely Marching: Ida B. Wells, Black Women and the Women’s Suffrage Movement” lecture featuring Westminster College Associate Professor of History Dr. Angela Lahr, 12:40 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, in Hoyt Science Center 101.

•    “The Chemistry of Lethal Injection” lecture featuring Westminster College Assistance Professor of Chemistry Dr. Patrick Lackey, 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Hoyt Science Center 101. Also available via Zoom.

•    “37 Years of Injustice” lecture featuring Pittsburgh juvenile lifer Ricky Olds, 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Anderson Amphitheater. At age 14, Olds was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole after being convicted as an accomplice to murder. Olds was paroled in 2017, after nearly 38 years in prison, after the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.

•    “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Westminster,” a virtual community discussion with Westminster College Associate Dean of Student Affairs Candace Okello, 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 25, via Zoom web conferencing.

•    Showing of “Do the Right Thing,” the 1989 Academy Award-nominated Spike Lee film that explores racial tensions in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, on the campus quad, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, in Mueller Theater and the Witherspoon Room.

•    Showing of the 2019 film “Just Mercy” starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27, in Mueller Theater and the Witherspoon Room.

•    Student Government Association sponsored Civil Dialogues discussing the book and movie “Just Mercy.” Virtual session will be held at 6 p.m., Monday, Sept. 28. An in-person session will take place 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, in Berlin Lounge.

•    “We Are Here: Black Identity in White Spaces” featuring Jordyn Kee, a 2017 Westminster College alumna, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, via Zoom.

For more information about any of the sessions or to gain access to virtual events, please contact Dr. Smithey at 724-946-6247 or