Political comity is goal of speaker series


Ali Smith, Arts & Leisure Editor

The English Honors society Sigma Tau Delta hosted a speaker series event on Oct. 7 that was part of the political program Respect + Rebellion.

The organization’s goal is to raise awareness, through speakers and events, that in a politically polarized country, political and social conversations are important to help build understandings of our peers, our world and our society, but in a respectful and constructive manner, which is hard to come by.

The organization’s website notes, “America isn’t about a people who look and think alike, we’re a country about big ideas and the embrace of clashing opinions to make the big ideas better ideas. We thought higher education deserved a better speaker series if we’re going to keep doing all that.”

English professor Douglas King, Ph.D., is a member of this organization and said the Oct. 7 event was an important one for college-age students to participate in, as he believes there is a lot of hesitancy when it comes to students sharing their political views in the classroom for fear of being wrong, judged or unintentionally offensive when discussing sensitive topics.

“It was really important the way the two speakers were able to demonstrate their differences,” said King. “They are able to disagree completely and still remain friends.

“Too many people are shutting each other out and canceling each other.”

Anna Brink, a senior English major and president of Sigma Tau Delta, said she welcomed such an event.

“I don’t think civil political conversations happen enough amongst people my age,” she said. “We all get fired up and shut down.”

Gannon’s guests were Geston Pierre and Berny Jacques, lifelong best friends and children of Haitian immigrants.

Both speakers have roots in Haiti, but their families immigrated to the United States, specifically Naples, Fla., at a young age. They have been friends since middle school, having so much demographically in common in a predominantly white community, and both of their families fled to the United States to escape the political instability and violence in Haiti.

Although they have a lot in common, they disagree on most everything politically, besides the fact that they love America.

Pierre was born in Florida and is a pastor and a Democrat who also classifies himself as a jokester and a salmon-snob.

Jacques was born in Haiti and is a practicing lawyer who is running for public office in Florida. He is a Republican and community leader and considers himself a decent golfer and aspires to be a Ralph Lauren Polo model.

Before the event, Brink had the honor of attending a dinner in Old Main with the speakers, King, Walter Iwanenko, Ph.D., provost and vice president of Student Experience, and other members of the Gannon English department. Here, the host group had the opportunity to give the speakers an idea of what Gannon and its students are like.

Brink said it was a great opportunity to have Jacques and Pierre visit campus.

“As a student who is still forming my political views, it was truly helpful to see how a civil conversation about politics can take place between two people,” she said.

The speakers offered students and university figures ideas about social media engagement and how to further political and social discussions on campus, especially in articles for The Gannon Knight newspaper and its podcasts.

King commented on the speakers’ experience at Gannon, as it was their first visit here, and they are used to speaking in much larger settings.

“Both the guys were very impressed with Gannon and our hospitality and our campus,” said King. “We gave them a nice tour of campus and they were thrilled with the vibe of the people who came out and asked questions.”

Speakers answered and debated a series of questions, prepared by King and several Gannon students. Questions focused on Critical Race Theory, immigration, mask and vaccination mandates and abortion, among other topics.


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