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Tom Costello (left) and Justice Hill are the professors behind the “90 Minutes Series,” offered at 8 p.m. Wednesdays in Morton Hall 201.

Tom Costello (left) and Justice Hill are the professors behind the “90 Minutes Series,” offered at 8 p.m. Wednesdays in Morton Hall 201.

Zahara Pruitt, a senior majoring in journalism, moderated the Sept. 14 “90 Minutes Series” with community activist Yvonne Pointer.

Zahara Pruitt, a senior majoring in journalism, moderated the Sept. 14 “90 Minutes Series” with community activist Yvonne Pointer.

Spoken word artist Lemon Andersen talks with students following his “90 Minutes Series” event on Oct. 12.

Spoken word artist Lemon Andersen talks with students following his “90 Minutes Series” event on Oct. 12.

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This special Compass series highlights the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.

Two Scripps professors use speaker series to tackle nation’s social justice issues


In an effort to foster public discussions on America’s most polarizing social issues, two Scripps College of Communication professors created the “90 Minutes Series” this fall. 

The series is the brainchild of Thomas Costello, visiting professor in communication studies and chair of the Scripps College Diversity Committee, and Justice Hill, assistant professor of journalism. 

The series has brought nationally renowned speakers to Ohio University’s Athens Campus on Wednesday nights in Morton Hall 201 to discuss politics, racism, sexism and other global topics. 

Costello said the series exposes students to people who have faced major adversity or who have seen bigotry and discrimination happen for others, but have stepped forward to address those social and cultural wrongs.

He said these are people who have experience dealing with important issues that most people don’t like to talk about in public. 

“The ‘90 Minutes Series’ is a great opportunity for the students to learn outside the classroom,” Costello said. 

HOW THE SERIES BEGAN

Costello said the initial idea for the “90 Minutes Series” began in March when he and Hill collaborated to bring Dr. Khalil Muhammad from Harlem, New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to campus for a candid discussion on the mass incarceration of black males. He said the success of that event, which packed the Baker University Center Ballroom, fueled them to pursue hosting more events like that this year.

“Until this school year, Tom and I had been programming events ad hoc where we just brought people in to talk about various topics. Then we said how about we just make this a formal program, meaning that we would go out and solicit money from sponsors,” Hill said. “Once we got the money, it was easier to negotiate with people in terms of the cost for bringing them to campus.” 

Near the end of spring semester, Hill said the two of them began looking at a list of potential speakers who they knew would be interesting.

“We tried to pick speakers who could be promoted individually,” Hill said.

A LOOK AT THE PAST SPEAKERS 

Hill said the series has been great so far because of the quality of the discussions on important topics. He highlighted some of the speakers who have already visited campus.

“Our first speaker of the year was Detroit News columnist Stephen Henderson, who talked about urban issues which directly relates to the killing of black males,” Hill said. “Then we had Cleveland civil rights activist Yvonne Pointer, who talked about urban issues and how she overcame the loss of her teenage daughter who was murdered by a stranger on her way to school. The third speaker was Heaster Wheeler, former director of the largest NAACP chapter in the United States in Detroit. These talks related directly to diversity and inclusion.” 

Hill also highlighted earlier appearances by Lilliana Cavanaugh, executive director of the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission, and Lemon Andersen, a spoken word artist from New York who despite being incarcerated three times, now works as a script writer in the television industry. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer Charlie Savage discussed war and the Obama administration on campus in mid-October.

Taylor Allen, a senior communications studies major, said the series encompasses the emotions of the speakers and reminds us of the power that forms when we begin to embrace our differences rather than running from them.

“In a way, you feel as though you are sitting down with an old friend over a cup of coffee,” Allen said. “They tell their stories in a way that makes you feel like you were actually there alongside them, which helps when discussing difficult subjects.”

THE ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW STYLE WORKS

Sarah Oleksy, director of residence life in Housing and Residence Life, said that one of the things that makes the “90 Minutes Series” discussions enjoyable and effective is the one-on-one interview style that is implemented each time.

A different student moderator is selected each week to lead the discussion with the guest speaker. That one-on-one interview is always followed by a question-and-answer period with the audience. 

“This interviewing style empowers our student moderators, who have to prepare for the role by researching the guest speaker and developing a list of good questions to ask,” Costello said.

FINANCING THE SERIES

Costello said that because he and Hill had lived in the residence halls for the past three years, they knew that the resident assistants (RAs) have a programming requirement based on their values and core beliefs. 

“We told the Residence Life staff that the series would take care of the RAs programming requirement and all the RAs had to do is concentrate on getting their students to the events,” Costello said.

Hill said that in the past, the RAs would put together smaller educational programs of their own, but none of them were as big as the “90 Minutes Series.” 

“It is one less thing they have to stress on,” Hill said.

Oleksy said she liked the idea of supporting the series because it could help the RAs be more eager to participate in the community. 

“Our RAs have to participate in three educational in-services each semester and two of them are diversity related,” Oleksy said. “Tom and Justice came to us and said they could create a series of powerful presenters and speakers and they could ask the RAs to bring their students.” 

Oleksy said the “90 Minutes Series” exposes the RAs and their students to some awesome information. 

“Now the RAs can go to the discussions as part of their training and take their students with them,” Oleksy said. 

In addition to Residence Life’s financial contribution, Costello said the series received funding from many other areas. 

“Residence Life, Student Affairs, Faculty-in-Residence colleagues, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and the Diversity and Inclusion office, the Center for Law, Justice and Culture, Provost Office, and other areas donated their funds to help us pay for this series,” Costello said.

HOW THE COSTELLO AND HILL FRIENDSHIP BEGAN

Both Costello and Hill arrived back on the Athens Campus in fall 2013. 

After graduating from OHIO with a bachelor’s degree in specialized studies in 1975, Costello earned his law degree from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and practiced law for 30 years before coming back to Athens as a Glidden Visiting Professor. His previous position was president and CEO of the Detroit Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.

During his first year as a Glidden Professor, Costello didn’t have a faculty appointment, but said he gave more than 50 lectures for different colleges and programs. He also became active on campus by volunteering for many committees and groups.

Costello lives in Luchs Hall with his wife, Emmy. During their first year on campus, she was a full-time student finishing her bachelor’s degree in human relations and cultural studies.

“I was thinking I was only going to be here for one year,” Costello said. “That’s about the time I met Justice at a faculty-in-residence meeting at the beginning of fall semester.”

Hill was back in Athens for his fourth stint as a journalism professor at the University after working in the newspaper business for more than 30 years, mostly as a sports writer and editor. 

At one point in his career, he was a tenure-track professor at OHIO before leaving to re-enter the news business. He worked in public relations for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District prior to returning in 2013.

Although he has won numerous awards during his newspaper career, Hill said he is just as proud of his campus advisor of the year and University Professor awards as a faculty member.  

“It’s nice to know that my name will always be displayed on a plaque on campus for being chosen as a University Professor. I’m especially proud of that award because it’s voted on by the students,” Hill said.

Because both Costello and Hill had offices in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism when they first arrived, they said they quickly realized that they both have a strong interest in helping students learn more about social justice. 

“We are two guys who came from different places,” Costello said. “I grew up in a northern suburb of Detroit and Justice grew up in inner-city Cleveland. As I always tell my students, sometimes we are more similar than we know and if we take the time to get to know someone you’ll find that out.”

Costello said he believes that when we get to know someone well, we tend not to demonize them or attack their social identity.

“Justice and I get along because we both share a true commitment to students and their learning,” Costello said. “Justice is really good at connecting with the students and is a great role model to them.”

THEIR COMMITMENT TO THE STUDENTS 

Oleksy said both men have impressed her with their dedication to the students on campus.

“Justice is willing to put in the time and energy to connect with the residents,” Oleksy said. “He connects with the staff naturally, but I have found him to be one of the more creative faculty-in-residence. He likes to hang out and talk to the students, and he's able to relate to them in their space.”

Oleksy said Hill often sits in the lobby of Mackinnon Hall and grades papers so that he can be seen. She said she likes his willingness to get to know the residents.

“Tom excels at getting to know the residents also, but really excels at getting to know the Residence Life staff,” Oleksy said. “He embraces getting to know the staff and supporting them so that they can be more supportive to the residents.”

Oleksy shared a story about a recent affinity group meeting for RAs of color. She said they met one night to talk about issues and concerns that had been affecting them. 

“Tom and Justice both came to the meeting and talked to them,” Oleksy said. “They challenged the RAs and told them they really have a chance to make a difference by getting their residents to come out and discuss some of these issues at the ‘90 Minutes Series’ events.”

Oleksy said Costello and Hill’s commitment to learning and challenging the students is awesome. 

“To see the RA's faces when Justice and Tom were talking to them – you could see their comments were clicking with them,” Oleksy said. “Even as a professional staff member, I've learned from them and I’ve shared that with them. Whether it’s from them directly or the speakers they bring in.”

Costello said he is impressed by the RAs because they serve as a counselor, mentor and friend to their students. 

“The benefit of living in a residence hall is that I get to go on rounds with the RAs to get to know the residents,” Costello said. “When they see me as an older adult coming around, they tend to listen to me and cooperate more with the RAs.”

He said that living in the residence halls is also a two-way street. 

“The expectation is that you are the one teaching the student since you have the experience and wisdom, but it doesn’t always work like that,” he said. “You quickly realize that you can learn from them also.”

WHY EVERYONE SHOULD ATTEND THE SERIES

Costello and Hill each expressed the importance of the “90 Minutes Series” to the Athens Campus and local community.

“Regular conversations about issues like race didn’t exist on this campus and that’s why we created this series,” Hill said. “This series is important work because we need to change people’s thinking about race and inclusion in this country. They are intertwined and you can’t separate them. I think too many young people, black and white, don’t know that.”

Costello said the “90 Minutes Series” is timely and since it’s once a week it gives these important discussions a venue. 

“Our challenge is to get the folks outside the choir there,” Costello said. “Many people just don’t feel like they need to go. RAs bring their residents and Justice and I bring our classes. We sent out the schedule and told the faculty that they should send their students and implement the talks into their classes.”

Senior organizational studies major Devon Allen said it is crucial for students to attend the “90 Minutes Series,” because it gives them a chance to think about social issues from a different perspective. 

“Conversations focusing on race, politics and culture can easily make people feel uncomfortable, but it is important to have them,” Allen said. “The series has given students a safe space to express their personal experiences and thoughts on these topics, while also being able to ask questions. Since attending, I have been able to reflect on my role in society and how my experiences have shaped the way I view the world.”

Costello said it’s also very important for faculty and staff to attend these talks because when their students see them there it affirms their learning. 

“One of the conversations we have is that the system has to change,” Costello said. “We advance the University by advancing inclusion, so when the system changes, we have justice.”

Costello said one of the phrases he attempts to live his life by came from Mother Teresa.  

“She said ‘Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you,’ so I guess Justice and I are doing that,” he said.

THE FUTURE OF THE SERIES

“Our plan is to continue this series in the future, hopefully fully funded by one area,” Costello said. 

As for spring semester, Hill said some interesting speakers are being pursued, including Kevin Frazier from “Entertainment Tonight” and author Darrell Dawsey, who discusses the social issues surrounding black males. 

“By the time Darrell comes, the presidential election will be over and he can discuss what the new president means for students and minorities,” Hill said. “We also plan on having a panel discussion on women in the workplace.” 

The final “90 Minutes Series” event of the fall semester features Judge Judith E. Levy discussing how the law affects LGBTQ members and women at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, in Morton Hall 201.

She was the first openly gay judge in the U.S. Sixth Circuit before joining the Federal Court as a President Barack Obama appointee in 2014.

This special Compass series highlights the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.

UCM seeks nominations for ‘Making the Difference’ series

The Ohio University community is home to a family of staff and faculty committed to inspired teaching and learning and driven by a desire to make a difference.

University Communications and Marketing’s (UCM) “Making the Difference” series focuses on OHIO staff and faculty who are making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world. 

UCM is calling on Bobcat Nation to help us share the stories of the numerous ways in which OHIO staff and faculty are making a difference every day. If you know of an individual or group of individuals who would be ideal candidates for this series, please contact Angela Woodward at woodwara@ohio.edu.