Skip navigation

University Forum Series Schedule set for 2019-2020

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 03:59pm | By: David Tisdale

An activist, a journalist, an author, a historian, a science writer, and an entrepreneur are in the lineup of The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) fall and spring University Forum series for 2019-2020. 

To celebrate the passage of a constitutional amendment securing women’s right to vote, University Forum has joined with Hattiesburg’s 19th Amendment Celebration Committee to bring these speakers – all women - to the Hattiesburg campus, incorporating the theme "University Forum: A Year of Speakers; A Century of Progress.”  

“A hundred years ago, women across America spoke out and demanded that their right to vote be recognized. Each of these women demonstrate the power of women’s voices in shaping contemporary conversations about issues that affect our lives, from school violence to global pandemics to sexual harassment,” said Dr. Andrew Haley, director of University Forum. “Although this year’s Forum was inspired by the past, the topics our speakers will be talking about will change how you think about the future."

The schedule of speakers, their presentations, and program locations includes the following:

Fall 2019

*Sept. 17: Samantha Fuentes, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and activist, “Conversations with Samantha Fuentes: Uplifting the Voices of the Silenced,” Bennett Auditorium, 6:30 p.m.

On Feb. 14, 2018, 17 people lost their lives after a gunman opened fire on the students, faculty, and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many more were wounded, including Fuentes. She was left with shrapnel permanently embedded in her legs and behind her eye, and currently manages symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

But Fuentes’ story of strength and courage began before surviving one of the deadliest school shootings in United States history. Fuentes has endured bullying, racist attacks, physical abuse, and domestic abuse. Transforming tragedy into action, she has become an advocate for those who have been silenced and works to remind us that we have the power to change the world.

*Oct. 29: Tena Clark, Grammy-winning producer and entrepreneur, “Southern Discomfort,” Bennett Auditorium, 6:30 p.m.

Clark, a Mississippi native and USM alumna, is a Grammy-winning producer and entrepreneur. Clark began her career as a drummer and engineer in rural Mississippi before she was discovered by Stevie Wonder. Over the course of her career, Clark has written and produced for Aretha Franklin, won a Grammy for her work with Natalie Cole, and has collaborated with artists such as Leann Rimes, Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, and Maya Angelou. A pioneer in the field of creating sound for corporate branding, she is the CEO and chief creative officer of DMI Music & Media Solutions and has developed promotions for McDonald’s, AMC Theatres, and Walgreens. 

In addition to her work in music, Clark is a civil rights activist and a champion for women’s rights. Her recent memoir, Southern Discomfort, is a “Southern gothic tale of growing up in 1950s Waynesboro, Mississippi, a lesbian raised by a womanizing father, an alcoholic mother, and a household of African-American help whom she’d sooner call family.” (Kirkus Review)

*Nov. 12: Sonia Shah, science journalist, “Pandemic,” Thad Cochran Center Ballrooms, 6:30 p.m.

Shah is an investigative journalist who writes about science, human rights, and international politics. Her work has been published in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalScientific American, and Foreign Affairs. Shah’s most recent book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, explores the origins of epidemics and draws parallels between the story of cholera and the pathogens that threaten humankind today. 

Pandemic was a finalist for the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science/technology, the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the National Association for Science Writers’ Science in Society Award. It was also a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. Shah has been featured on CNN and her TEDTalk, “Three Reasons We Still Haven’t Gotten Rid of Malaria,” has been viewed over one million times. Shah is currently working on her fifth book, The Next Great Migration.  

Spring 2020

*Feb. 11: Angie Thomas, author of young adult fiction, “The Hate U Give: Finding Your Activism,” Thad Cochran Center, 6:30 p.m.

A Mississippi native, Thomas writes young adult literature. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was a New York Timesbestseller and won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor, a William C. Morris Award, and was on the National Book Award Longlist. In 2018, a film adaption of The Hate U Give, was released starring Amandla Stenberg. Thomas’ second novel, On the Come Up, was published in February 2019 and is already slated to be adapted into a film.  Thomas, a former teen rapper, places authenticity and visibility at the forefront of her work. In her novels and speeches, she champions diversity in literature and the politics of finding one’s voice. 

*March 24: Dr. Marjorie Spruill, historian, “Votes for Women: The Story of the Nineteenth Amendment,” Bennett Auditorium, 6:30 p.m.

A professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Spruill is a historian acclaimed for her work on the American women’s rights movement. Her book, New Women of the New South: The Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States, explores the lives of eleven of the most prominent leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the South and their views on race and states’ rights. Her most recent book, Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights, delves into the rise of the modern women’s rights movement in the 1970s and the way it contributed to the polarization of American politics. 

Dr. Spruill is a former USM history professor and served as the University Forum director from 1986 to 2000. She is the first University Forum director to be asked to return as a Forum speaker. 

*April 7: Jodi Kantor, Pulitzer-winning journalist, “Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement,” Bennett Auditorium, 6:30 p.m.

In October 2017, investigative journalist and author Kantor helped ignite a movement. She was part of a reporting duo that broke the story of decades of sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a prominent figure in the film industry.  Their work helped spark the #MeToo movement and has led to new laws and standards of accountability concerning sexual harassment.  

In 2018, Kantor, along with her colleague Megan Twohey and the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.  Kantor has written about the aftermath of the Weinstein story in She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement. Previously, Kantor covered Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, and wrote a best-selling book, The Obamas, that delved into the behind-the-scenes challenges Barak and Michelle Obama faced as they became President and First Lady. Kantor is currently a contributor to “This Morning” on CBS.

University Forum is presented by the USM Honors College. Learn more about University Forum and view the upcoming schedule at