On Wednesday, May 4, Gustavus will be hosting the 31st annual MAYDAY! Peace Conference. The controversial discussion topic will be “Executing Justice: Debating Capital Punishment.” Open to students, faculty and the local community, the MAYDAY! Peace Conference will be an exhilarating event to watch.
Founded and sponsored by Florence and the late Raymond Sponberg of North Mankato, Minn., the annual conference was created to help educate and inform the community about issues related to human rights, social justice and global peace. This year’s topic will address the international debate of capital punishment, asking: “Is this a humane practice?
Unique to this year’s event, the conference will have two speakers debating the issue. Sister Helen Prejean, an outspoken critic of capital punishment and author of the critically-acclaimed book Dead Man Walking, will give the keynote address Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. in Christ Chapel. Robert Blecker, professor of law at New York Law School and highly regarded advocate of the death penalty, will present the afternoon keynote address at 1:30 p.m. in Alumni Hall.
Both speakers have befriended those on death-row. Their different perspectives will provide much to think about over the course of the conference. Mimi Gerstbauer, associate professor of political science and head of the peace studies program at Gustavus, praises the two keynote address speakers as “phenomenal, eloquent, knowledgeable and extremely passionate” in their work for shedding light on the social, political, religious and cultural implications of capital punishment.
Though this conference will serve as a forum for public discourse, Richard Leitch, associate professor of political science and collaborative committee chair of the conference believes, “The objective is to educate the community about something we believe is important. We are not going to come up with solutions. … We just hope for moments of enlightenment.”
The much talked about International Students Panel Discussion will take place from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. in the Heritage Banquet Room. Eight students from different countries all over the world will be discussing the views of capital punishment from the perspective of their native country.
Interestingly, four of the students are from countries for capital punishment and four students are from countries that are against capital punishment. Other conference events include a book signing session and an oratory contest for high school students. Prior to the conference, on May 2 and 3, a film adaption of Sister Prejean’s Dead Man Walking and Blecker’s documentary film Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead will be shown in Olin Hall.
One of the new features of this year’s conference will be the utilization of technology to reach a broader audience. Sophomore Political Science Major Eric Halverson has had a great hand in making the conference more accessible to the community.
Halverson has worked on creating the Gustavus site banner as well as a Facebook page for the MAYDAY! Conference. Even greater yet, footage of the first keynote address will be shown in a live stream on the Gustavus website. The conference as a whole will be posted on YouTube at a later date.
Halverson is “inspired by a sense of competition with the successful Nobel Conference technological capabilities” and believes that the new technology will make the events of the conference more accessible to the community, help spread awareness on capital punishment and help the community take away a comprehensive understanding of the aims of the MAYDAY! Peace Conference.
Halverson explains, “When the focus is not on creating peace, we have a perspective problem. … The basis of all value in the world is humanity and each other.”