Published on September 3rd, 2020 | by University Communications


Saint Leo University to present ‘Courageous Conversations’ series, examining social justice issues

Join the conversation! Saint Leo University will present a six-part series, Courageous Conversations, examining social justice issues. This free, virtual discussion will look at topics included in Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, from different perspectives across multiple disciplines. The first session will focus on race and racism and is set for 7 – 8 p.m. (ET), Thursday, September 17, via Zoom.

The public is invited, and it is not necessary to attend all sessions, but everyone is invited to do so. Faculty and staff are asked to encourage students to join in the conversations.

Examining this narrative of Just Mercy through a variety of lenses will provide a forum to discuss issues of race and racism; the impact of socioeconomic status; ethics and America’s criminal justice system; the structure and role of nonprofit organizations; how religion and spirituality shape perceptions of and interactions with the criminal justice system; as well as juvenile justice; education; and mass incarceration.

The university community created this series in response to a message from Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese, university president, said Dr. Holly Atkins, chair of the undergraduate education program, who is organizing the series. In May, following the death of George Floyd, Senese made several calls to action in his message: “We are all members of this society, and we must connect our work to teach to serve and to make a difference in our communities. I believe we should no longer be comfortable with or unaware of the racial disparities that exist in justice, health care, education, housing, and a myriad of other areas. We can and must make a difference.”

Dr. Ebony Perez, chair of the undergraduate social work program, encouraged faculty in the College of Education and Social Services to join her in initiating subcommittees to further social justice issues.

Courageous Conversations will continue throughout the academic year. The schedule includes:

  • September 17, race/racism, facilitator Dr. Eileen O’Brien, associate chair of the Department of Social Sciences and professor of sociology;
  • October 15, social work/social justice, facilitators Dr. Ebony Perez, chair of the Department of Undergraduate Social Work and assistant professor of undergraduate social work, and Christina Cazanave, director of field education and instructor of undergraduate social work;
  • November 19, criminal justice/ethics, facilitator Charlotte Braziel, instructor of criminal justice;
  • January 21, business/nonprofit organizations, facilitator Dr. Pamela Lee, director of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program and associate professor of management;
  • February 18, religion/spirituality, facilitator Dr. Marc Pugliese, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and associate professor of theology and religion.
  • March 18, education, facilitator,  Dr. Fern Aefsky, director of graduate studies in education and professor of educational leadership.

The book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which also was made into a popular movie that now is available on cable and online, was selected for the series because it “invites inclusive, multiple perspectives,” Atkins said. “We felt a text with a spiritual perspective would have an advantage as it would fit with our Catholic identity.”

All sessions will be 7 – 8 p.m. (ET) via Zoom, For more information, contact Nikki Heister, special programs manager, Department of Public Safety Administration, at

The views expressed during this event are those of the speaker/presenter and do not necessarily represent the views of the university.

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