Former Obama administration official to visit UMass Lowell and discuss gun violence

Bryan Gomez
Connector Contributor

UMass Lowell will be hosting its XXIII Panasuk Symposium, which is an academic conference for researchers to present and discuss their work. Together with academic or scientific journals, conferences provide an important channel for exchange of information between researchers.

This year the symposium will be feature Peter Cunningham, a former Obama administration official, talking about gun violence. Cunningham along with other professionals will be convening on Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Inn & Conference Center.

Cunningham is the executive director and founder of Education Post, a nonprofit communications organization focused on improving the state of public education. He served as assistant secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama Administration.

Prior to that Cunningham led communications for Chicago Public Schools.

“Cunningham is a transformative speaker and will have a lot to inform us on about gun violence with his valuable perspective on policy,” said education professor Stacy Agee Szczesiul. “The goal is to educate and inform.”

Szczesiul said she believes the efforts of this symposium are to provide an interesting and dynamic conversation to target scholars to get involved in the debate of social injustice, ethics and morality in the real world.

“We are to provide students with a deeply transformative experience – intellectually, socially and personally,” said Szczesiul, who has been at the university for more than a decade.

She and her colleague Phitsamay Uy have had the pleasure to oversee many symposiums and to alter the tone of the campus and address concerns that may be out of the reach of a normal classroom lecture.

“The issue is the so much information but it’s about getting the students the information they need, to have a wide net of information given and let the students cypher through it and create ideas and challenge the current situation at hand,” she said.

Szczesiul said that Cunningham will focus on gun violence and students of color.

“The underlying issue sits amongst the harsh rules and enforcement on students of color,” she said.

She said that a student of color is more likely to be punished severely in his or her school by school officials than that of their white peers. Cunningham sees that the issue has stemmed by students’ first experience with authority figures.

“The exclusionary discipline policies are imposed harshly and therefore allow easier access to bring weapons to school,” Cunningham said. “But identifying those students that deserve and need the second chance or fresh opportunity could be beneficial in many ways.”

Also featured in the symposium will be principal of Woburn High School Jessica Callahan, who is commemorated for successfully preventing a gun incident in this recent year that did not make it to the media. She was able with her resources and team to handle the situation.

“Due to the swift efforts and diligence of principal Callahan she prevented a situation from occurring and handle it in the best way possible by informing authorities and without the attention of media and acted with instinct to protect the students of the high school,” Szczesiul said.

Callahan said that as adults and as scholars we need to value these types of symposiums and encourage one another to be a part of the debate, but as well as share information. “Awareness and development of adolescent minds to feel comfortable is key,” she said.

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