Fulfilling America's Promise: Racial Equity and Justice is 2017 Lee Honors College's lecture series

Speakers who work to make a difference in the world and who are expected to encourage and inspire others to take practical steps toward a more just society will offer their insights at Lee Honors College's fifth annual Spring Lyceum Lecture Series.

Beginning Jan. 18 and running through April 12, this year's theme is Fulfilling America's Promise: Racial Equity and Justice.The afternoon lecture features topics, such as Women in the Civil Rights Movement, racial bias in law enforcement, and activist tools you can use. The series culminates with a keynote, “An Evening with Ms. Sybrina Fulton,” activist and mother of Trayvon Martin at Chenery Auditorium on March 29.

Jane Baas is Associate Dean of the college and, as acting interim Dean through the end of the year, was involved in planning the lecture series. The Honors College recently welcomed a new Dean at the first of the year, Dr. Gary Bischof. Bischof spent 12 years as a faculty member in the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology at WMU prior to his new position with the Honors College. He holds a PhD from Purdue, a Masters from Virginia Tech, and an undergrad in Philosophy from Bethany College, WV.

Bischof says that the impetus for the spring 2017 series around racial equity and justice manifested well before the 2016 election but he acknowledges, “the timing is good for the facilitation of civil discourse around issues of racial equality and social justice given where we are in our nation's history.”

“It is possible that some individuals may learn methods to pursue sustained social justice work related to a response to the current political climate,” Bischof says. This year's series came from a desire to help students and others in the community with examples of sustained, impactful social justice work. 

That work is particularly important now. Baas says, “In discussion this past summer, Honors College staff noted that with each media firestorm, many people seemed to work toward improving situations for the short term, but did not seem able to sustain that work in order to effect true transformation.” In addition to providing information, another goal of the lecture series is to encourage people to take practical steps toward making our society more just.

“I believe there is considerable anxiety and uncertainty about what the U.S. will be like under the new federal administration,” Bischof says. “Based upon the content and tone of the presidential election cycle, there is good reason for cause for concern. This current generation of students tends to exhibit more anxiety than previous generations, and the election process has added to that anxiety, especially for those with marginalized identities,” he explains.

While America is supposedly founded on fair and equitable treatment of all people, history, and present-day experiences -- especially along racial lines -- tell a different story. Race is a key driver of inequality. According to the Lecture website, “Scholars and activists who dedicate their work to promoting equity and justice point out that all Americans are impacted by systemic racism, and that only sustained attention can fulfill the promise of justice for all. This series features speakers who work to make a difference and who will encourage (and inspire!) us all to take practical steps toward a more just society.”

The most anticipated lecture of the series is the keynote with Sybrina Fulton, activist and mother of Trayvon Martin. Fulton created The Trayvon Martin Foundation, a social justice organization committed to ending senseless gun violence, strengthening families through holistic support, S.T.E.A.M. education for women and minorities, and mentoring. Through that work, Fulton is an example of the type of sustained social justice work the lecture series hopes to inspire.

The keynote evening, at Chenery Auditorium at 7 p.m. March 29, will include remarks by Sybrina Fulton and a discussion between Fulton and WMUK's Earlene McMichael. There will also be an audience question and answer period.

The evening is expected to last approximately 90 minutes, and tickets are not required. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Chenery Auditorium accommodates 1,500 people and is the second largest venue in Kalamazoo. Baas says that based on previous experiences with high profile speakers, they expect there will be more than enough seating for interested campus and community members.

The rest of the weekly lectures will take place at the Lee Honors College lounge on the main campus of Western Michigan University on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. Lectures are free and open to students, staff, faculty and the general public. Lunch is not provided, but the audience is welcome to bring brown bag lunches.

Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer, living in Kalamazoo. You can find her at her website, kathivaleii.com.

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