Second annual Ifill forum slated for November 14


The Ifill wing at Simmons.

Abby Vervaeke, Managing Editor

On Wednesday, October 7, Simmons announced that the second annual Ifill Forum will take place virtually on Saturday, November 14 from 3 to 4 p.m. The forum’s topic of discussion will be “Facing the Hard Truths.” 

Friend of the late Gwen Ifill and Washington Post columnist Michele Norris will moderate a conversation between Ava DuVernay, writer, producer, director and founder of Array Now, and Sherrilyn Ifill, Gwen Ifill’s cousin and president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.   

PBS NewsHour White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor will present the 2020 Gwen Ifill Next Generation Award to DuVernay. Alcindor received the award in 2019. 

“I am so looking forward to this year’s Ifill Forum. Each year, we aim to carry on Gwen Ifill’s legacy by bringing key national voices into conversations that matter,” wrote Brian Norman, dean of the Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities, in a statement to The Voice. “This year, we get to hear from women who are providing much-needed moral clarity and leadership to a nation amid a racial reckoning.” 

Following panel discussion, President Lynn Perry Wooten will lead a community conversation on moving from discussion to action. The conversation will be limited to Simmons students, faculty, staff and alumni. 

“In many ways, 2020 is all about overcoming difficult challenges, and that’s part of the reason why the Ifill Forum theme of ‘Facing Hard Truths’ is so timely. This year has tested all of us with the global COVID-19 pandemic and devastating incidents of continued racial injustice,” wrote Wooten in a statement to The Voice. “And in just a few weeks, Americans will vote in the most important presidential election of our lifetimes. But I also believe that when we confront hard truths, challenges and crises — as difficult as they are — provide opportunities for leadership and change.”

The first Ifill Forum was not free of controversy. NBC News Education Correspondent and Simmons alumna Rehema Ellis expressed disappointment in the lack of questions from the audience and the fact that the event was not streamed online for the broader Simmons community in a comment on a Voice article in October 2019. 

“As we celebrate the announcement of the Gwen Ifill stamp there’s sadness that my alma mater has again failed to truly honor her.

At the first Simmons Gwen Ifill Forum October 19th there was a heartfelt remembrance and award ceremony but, the event stunningly failed to live up to Gwen’s legacy.

She believed in speaking truth to power and asking tough questions even when it made people uncomfortable. She believed in breaking down barriers to create opportunities for black people long denied. But as I witnessed at the forum, there was no truth spoken about the lack of diversity that defined the selection of the first dean of the Ifill College. The truth is there were no blacks in the final pool of candidates for the dean’s job. No questions were allowed from the audience and Simmons Alumnae office confirmed there was no streaming of the event for community engagement. This, at a college with “Media” in its title, honoring a woman who gained widespread acclaim as a broadcast journalist.

The truth is, Simmons University, the custodian of Gwen’s legacy, has repeatedly betrayed a trust. Those at the top should be held accountable.

Rehema Ellis UG ’74; HD ‘00

Former Simmons Corporator”

The Voice was not able to reach Ellis for comment on the second Ifill Forum. 

Although this year’s forum will be streamed and open to the public, it’s unclear if the event would have been streamed if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic or if Ellis will attend. 

In his statement to The Voice, Norman mentioned this year’s digital format, noting that, “with the move to a digital format, we can expand our vision of public engagement as Simmons becomes part of the national conversation.”

Editor’s Note: Abby Vervaeke previously worked for the Ifill College as the Dean’s Fellow for Social Media and Communications. She managed the Ifill College’s social media during the first Ifill Forum.