The Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium announced its 2019 speaker series on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
The speakers will include: Shannon Watts, a gun control activist and the founder of Moms Demand Action; Kenan Thompson, a comedian and Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast member; Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent; and Farida Nabourema, a Togolese social activist and blogger.
In an interview with The News-Letter, MSE Programming Chair Dave Taylor, a junior, and MSE Finance Chair Siena DeMatteo, also a junior, discussed the symposium’s theme this year, “The Butterfly Effect.”
“In our present age of social media and globalization, small actions really manifest themselves quite quickly,” DeMatteo said. “And that was something we had definitely thought about in the spring in deciding what our theme for the fall would be.”
Taylor said that Watts, who spoke on Wednesday night in Shriver Hall, exemplifies the idea of the butterfly effect.
“Working originally in the business sector, she would never have imagined that she would have been getting into gun activism with Moms Demand Action and Everytown,” Taylor said.
Thompson’s career, Taylor said, has also snowballed in a similar way, as Thompson started in small roles before eventually gaining widespread fame on SNL. Thompson will be speaking in Shriver Hall on Oct. 15.
“He started out in sketch comedy. He was on Kenan & Kel. He did a variety of acting before he came on Saturday Night Live where he initially just started out in these small comedy roles,” Taylor said. “He’s now, I believe, the longest tenured cast member in Saturday Night Live history and has had a monumental impact on the show.”
Taylor also noted the wide-ranging influence that reporters like Acosta can have on the political stage, referring to an incident in November 2018 when the White House suspended Acosta’s press pass.
“Just through his work, [Acosta] was able to eventually become the chief White House correspondent, and through his reporting, specifically during the Trump era, but just in general, his individual actions now reverberate across the entire media landscape and have a huge impact,” he said. “I’m sure you saw the video where he was thrown out of the press briefing room with Trump.”
MSE is partnering with other Hopkins organizations for support in hosting Nabourema at Hopkins on Nov. 20, Taylor wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“We’re very excited to partner with the SNF Agora Institute and the Foreign Affairs Symposium to bring Farida Nabourema to campus,” Taylor wrote.
Nabourema had been scheduled to speak as part of the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) last spring, but was unable to attend.
Sophomore Ryan Ebrahimy, a programming director on FAS, told The News-Letter that his organization was working with the SNF Agora Institute in order to co-host Nabourema’s talk with MSE.
“The [SNF] Agora Institute specifically recommended Farida; they’re bringing her in and we co-sponsored the event,” Ebrahimy said. “The [SNF] Agora Institute does a lot of work in fostering dialogue in regards to democracy and preserving democracy abroad and Farida is a great example of that. She’s leading the Togolese pro-democracy movement.”
DeMatteo remarked on Nabourema’s relevance to the democratic world.
“She’s been in exile for 10 years and her outlook on the democracy movement in Togo is really something that I think is relevant to other countries in the world,” DeMatteo said. “And speaking even to an audience in Baltimore, I think a lot of what she’s experienced and what she has to say would be of interest.”
As both Nabourema and Acosta are figures in media and journalism, DeMatteo discussed why she felt they both contributed valuable and unique perspectives.
“Acosta is very much tied to domestic politics and social media broadcasts and things online, but Farida’s approach is quite different from his,” she said. “It’s interesting to hear a more informal stream such as her personal voice as opposed to Acosta working for a major organization like CNN. Those are two very different audiences and means of sharing a message.”
DeMatteo also explained that she was most excited to go see Thompson’s lecture this year.
“SNL is my favorite TV show and really, the only one that I watch. I’m excited to see him in person and get to interact with him,” she said.