YMCA forum looks at how to turn morals into actions

By Noah Lenstra

During this week’s YMCA Friday Forum, the oldest continuously running lecture series on campus, Steve Shoemaker will pose one of the oldest questions perplexing humankind: what impels us to try to do good, and why is it often not successful?

Rebecca Guyette, YMCA programs director, said the lecture will examine how human beings move from conceptualization to action. Shoemaker hopes to show “how difficult it is to do the right thing” by discussing texts as diverse as Hebrew scripture and Marylinne Robinson’s recently published Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Gilead.”

Shoemaker’s lecture is the culmination of a semester-long examination of “Conscience in Action,” in which individuals as diverse as John Brady Kiesling, an ex-diplomat in the Bush administration who resigned in protest of the U.S.’s involvement in Iraq, and Kathy Kelly, a grass-roots activist pledged to spread pacifism, spoke.

“If you look at all of these speakers, they’ve all done something to act on issues of conscience,” Guyette said.

Shoemaker, who Guyette said is “one of the most highly regarded religious clergy in this community,” has volunteered with the YMCA since 1982. He became YMCA’s full-time executive director in 1999.

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Shoemaker said thelectures themselves are not overtly Christian.

“We’re always concerned about values – morality, ethics and social, political, environmental issues,” Shoemaker said.

“I can get much more information, especially the key points, about topics by attending a talk rather than spending several hours reading about them,” said Sathish Gopalakrishnan, a graduate student and YMCA committee member.

Students, faculty members and members of the community attend the lectures, but Guyette said said she would like to see more students going to the lectures.

“Once students start going, they keep going,” she said.

One of the difficulties in attracting students are the noon time lectures. When the lectures started in 1929 there were no classes on Friday afternoons, something that has changed dramatically during the 76 years the forums have continued.

Despite this, Guyette still encouraged students to attend.

“It’s one of the most rewarding times of the week … Most people by Friday afternoon are burnt out, but I get this resurge of energy because everyone’s chattering and talking about this new topic,” Guyette said.

The lectures are free, and students can purchase a lunch for $3 and the general public for $5.50.

“The YMCA offers very good Thai food during the talks but that is not something that might cross a student’s mind,” Gopalakrishnan said.

For those who can’t make the lectures, they are rebroadcast the following Monday at 6 p.m. on WEFT 90.1 FM.

In the spring semester, the Friday Forums will head in a different direction, looking at “Democracy at Risk,” both domestically and abroad.

The first speaker is Amnesty International USA Executive Director Bill Schulz, who will speak Friday, Feb. 3, 2006.

The theme was chosen to get people thinking about the international effects of the government before the elections in the fall, according to Guyette.

“In general, the Friday Forums are designed to deal with the pertinent issues of our time,” Shoemaker said. “We try to predict six months ahead of time what … we think are the important issues that people need to think about.”

The forums usually bring speakers from across the county and the globe, as well as community and student leaders.

“We have a phenomenal committee of very aware, connected individuals. … Support is growing, not waning,” Guyette said.

As an example, this fall the YMCA brought Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, a woman whose sister, brother-in-law and their unborn child were murdered.

“Instead of saying ‘an eye for an eye’ she founded Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, and works against the death penalty,” Guyette said.

“It is the direct contact and personal touch that helps people understand issues beyond the realm of rhetoric alone,” Gopalakrishnan said.