The University of Southern Mississippi will host seven influential scholars, artists, activists, and scientists in 2016 and 2017 as part of its featured lecture series, University Forum and the Armstrong-Branch Lecture. From an actress whose beloved characters have become part of our cultural legacy to a scientist who wants to change how we think about humans’ origins, this year’s speakers are guaranteed to spark conversations.
The University Forum opens an exciting year of world-class speakers Tuesday, Sept. 13 when Dr. Victoria Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones, speaks at 6:30 p.m. in Bennett Auditorium. In 2003, Vikki Bynum, who traces her roots to southern Mississippi, published a definitive account of the Jones County, Miss. revolt against the Confederacy. Last summer, her book was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey as the rebellion’s leader, Newt Knight. In her talk, Dr. Bynum will examine the legacy of Knight’s rebellion and the racial politics that have shaped our memory of the past, from the Civil War to our own times.
Forum’s fall schedule continues Tuesday, Oct. 18 with Bryan Stevenson, one of the nation’s leading advocates for criminal justice reform. Stevenson is a founder of the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Ala. In 2012, he argued before the Supreme Court to end mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by children, and he continues to seek changes in the criminal justice system that will replace retribution with mercy. He is the author of the bestseller Just Mercy, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction, and was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1995 and the Olaf Palme Prize in 2000. He will speak at Bennett Auditorium at 6:30 p.m.
The final speaker of the fall series is familiar to anyone who watches CNN. Juliette Kayyem is a former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and a leading security analyst. In 2010, she worked closely with state and local governments to coordinate the response to BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and this year she published Security Mom, a plea for common-sense responses to the security challenges facing every American in an era of global terrorism. She will speak a week after the presidential election on Tuesday, Nov. 15 in the Thad Cochran Center Ballrooms.
Dr. Andrew Haley, associate professor of history and director of University Forum, is understandably excited about the coming year. “Our theme is ‘Civil Words’ and, as we have done in the past, we want to spark discussions about our changing world and bring everyone in southern Mississippi into the conversation.”
That conversation will continue into the spring semester. On Tuesday, Feb. 21 the Armstrong-Branch Lecture Series, named after two Southern Miss heroes who broke the color barrier when they enrolled at the University in 1965, will feature actress and activist Jasmine Guy. Guy won six consecutive NAACP Image Awards for her role as Whitley Gilbert on the television sitcom A Different World. Today, Guy directs as well as acts on stage, on film, and on television. She is author of a 2004 biography of Afeni Shakur, Black Panther activist and mother of rapper Tupac Shakur.
The spring semester will also feature three outstanding Forum speakers. On Tuesday, Feb. 7 Neil Shubin, the host of PBS’s Inner Fish, will delve into the evolutionary origins of both humans and fish. On Tuesday, March 21 Kristen Soltis Anderson, a frequent contributor to ABC’s election coverage, will explore how millennials are making a difference in American politics. And on Tuesday, April 11 University Forum will end the year with award-winning journalist and documentarian Sebastian Junger. The author of A Perfect Storm and War and the director of Restrepo and Korengal will speak about his newest book, Tribe, a challenge to Americans to do more for military veterans.
“All of these speakers, whether they were inspired by politics or what they saw under a microscope or their experiences on a battle field, challenge us to see our own experiences through a wider lens,” Dr. Haley said. “I’m especially excited by the partnerships that Forum has forged over the past year to bring the best speakers to the largest audiences. As part of a new first-year reading experience at Southern Miss, Honors College and Lucky Day students spent their summer reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and will engage in group discussions to prepare for his Forum address.
“Forum has also worked with the Department of Biological Sciences to bring Neil Shubin to campus and his talk will be accompanied by a host of Darwin Day events. Similarly, the Dale Center for the Study of War and Society has helped to make Sebastian Junger’s visit possible, and will assist in reaching out to southern Mississippi’s large community of veterans so they can be part of our conversation on war and its aftermath.”
More than 3,000 students, faculty, and friends of the University attended Forum and Armstrong-Branch events last year, and Dr. Haley expects this year’s lineup of cutting-edge speakers will bring even larger audiences. “You can go online and listen to a TED Talk, but you can’t ask questions,” Haley observed. “Even with five or six hundred people in the audience, Forum and Armstrong-Branch lectures give you a chance to engage nationally renowned speakers one-on-one.”
University Forum is presented by the Southern Miss Honors College. For more information about University Forum and the Armstrong-Branch Lecture, visit https://www.usm.edu/honors/university-forum.