Pulitzer Prize-winning author slated to speak



Madeline Bruce, Features Editor

As part of its “#MakeChange: Stand up, Speak out” speaker series, Gannon University’s College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (CHESS) will welcome award-winning writer, journalist and social entrepreneur Maria Karagianis to campus from Monday through Thursday of next week. Karagianis is a former Boston Globe writer and editor, as well as the founder of the nonprofit Discovering Justice.
While at Gannon, Karagianis will speak on a number of social justice issues she has witnessed and covered first-hand. She will speak with multiple classes, Alternative Break Service Trip (ABST) leaders and the greater Erie community during her visit, the height of which will be her keynote speech at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the Yehl Ballroom.
Social justice issues are at the core of this year’s CHESS speaker series, said Ann Bomberger, Ph.D., who coordinated Karagianis’ visit. It is designed to empower students, faculty and the Erie community to believe they can create social change.
“It’s easy for people to believe that they can’t have an impact on a broader society,” Bomberger said. “The series is designed to showcase inspiring stories of regular people who have worked for social justice, and to provide opportunities for students to engage with issues that matter to them.”
Karagianis’ work is very much aligned with this year’s theme. Attending a women’s college in Boston in the late 1960s, she experienced and participated in much of the social upheaval of the time. She participated in marches for women’s rights, civil rights and anti-Vietnam efforts.
“It was an astonishing, incredible time in America with massive movements of social reform,” Karagianis said.
Participating in social justice movements was extremely common during Karagianis’ young adulthood. Students spent so much time marching in demonstrations that most students earned their degree through pass-fail, and Karagianis said she has no transcripts from when she graduated. Witnessing such great social reform while in college inspired her to continue working for the causes she marched for during that time.
“It was a time when social justice was ‘it,’” she said. “A lot of young people became enlivened to the idea of working to make a better society.”
After college, she went on to work for the Boston Globe, where she was a part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize gold medal in 1975 for covering the violence in Boston caused by a federal court order to desegregate public schools. She was then sent to South Africa, where she covered apartheid and reported on the civil war in Zimbabwe.
Karagianis’ speaking events at Gannon will cover a number of topics derived from her experiences as a journalist and social activist during her lifetime. At 7 p.m. Monday, she will discuss the beauty and terror in Lesbos in an event sponsored by the Office of Global Support and Student Engagement on the second floor of Beyer Hall.
In 2016, she visited the Greek island of Lesbos after an acquaintance at her daughter’s wedding asked her to travel there to cover the refugee crisis. She decided to go as a civilian witness instead of a journalist. This, she said, would allow her to experience every aspect of the crisis, not just the parts the government wanted her to see while they kept the ugly parts hidden.
While there, Karagianis was able to speak to the inhabitants of the island, who said that the crisis was ruining their economy because tourism, the main source of their income, was declining. She also was able to sneak into one of the refugee camps on the island, where she said she saw things she wished she hadn’t. This terror, mixed with the blue Mediterranean skies and sandy beaches, is the basis for her talk titled “Beauty and Terror on Lesbos: A First-Hand Account of the Refugee Crisis.”
“The beauty and terror of it is that the island is beautiful, and inside the refugee camps is horrifying,” Karagianis said.
She will also be talking about apartheid in South Africa, “real” and “fake” journalism and how to build a nonprofit, a topic that stems from her role in founding Discovering Justice in Boston. The organization is based in the U.S. courthouse in Boston and teaches civics and democracy education to children and young adults, many of whom are from disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Students from a wide variety of majors and disciplines will be able to hear Karagianis speak in their classes. She will talk to students in liberal core history classes, students from the School of Public Service and Global Affairs, journalism students and social work students,
“I’ll be on the lookout for Maria Karagianis’ visit to campus since she has a lot of experience in field,” Claudia Herrero, sophomore public service and global affairs major, said. “I’m interested to learn more about how we as students can become involved in our communities.”
Karagianis’ visit to Gannon is part of her role as a Woodrow Wilson fellow. She travels to a few colleges across the country each year and spends a week there as a visiting scholar. She said that she’s looking forward to learning about Erie and Gannon.
“I’m always honored to go places I might not go and talk to smart professors and students,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to travel and share stories.”
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