Spring 2024 Events

Each year, the Robert Nusbaum Center sponsors educational initiatives that both engage the campus community and reach beyond the University to invite the larger public into exploration of religious, racial, and ideological differences.

Many events are arranged in collaboration with local organizations and faith communities, and through partnerships with various Virginia Wesleyan departments and student organizations.

Speakers’ perspectives are intended to invite civil discussion and dialogue, but don’t necessarily reflect the policy or position of Virginia Wesleyan University. Please join us for these special opportunities to build bridges of understanding between people of different worldviews.

All Nusbaum Center events are free, open to the public, and are held on the VWU campus, unless otherwise specified.

A Jew, a Christian, and Spiritual Audacity: The Leadership of Allies during the Civil Rights Era
Justine L. Nusbaum Lecture

Thursday, February 15
7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Brock Commons
Michael Panitz, Ph.D.

"At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses…. The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses." With these words, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel established himself as a critically important ally of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Moreover, as a Jewish ally of the Civil Rights Movement, Heschel reminded Americans of all colors and creeds of the importance of direct action or activism. As he expressed it, "When I marched in Selma [Alabama], I felt my legs were praying."

Michael Panitz, Ph.D., has been Rabbi at Temple Israel, Norfolk, since 1992. He completed his Ph.D. in Jewish history at Jewish Theological Seminary in 1989, he researches and publishes regularly on Jewish history and theology, and he has taught as an adjunct professor at Virginia Wesleyan for 25 years. His leadership in interfaith dialogue was instrumental in establishing the Nexus dialogues at Virginia Wesleyan and in his being honored with the Humanitarian Award of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. 

This annual endowed lectureship pays tribute to the life of Justine Nusbaum, a local humanitarian who was born in 1900 and whose compassion and generosity reached people of diverse religions, races, and nationalities.

How Democracy was Destroyed from Within: Interwar Germany, Hitler, and the Rise of Fascism

Thursday, February 22
Noon – 1:00 p.m.
Brock Commons
Sara Sewell, Ph.D.

On November 8/9, 1923, Adolf Hitler led the Nazi Party in a failed insurrection in Munich. Known as the "Beer Hall Putsch," the attempted coup marked an effort to topple the nascent German democratic republic. One hundred years ago in spring 1924, Hitler was tried and convicted of high treason. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but by December 1924, he was released. While he was incarcerated, Hitler penned his semi-autobiographical political treatise, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which laid out Nazi or fascist ideology. This presentation will explain how and why the Germans dismantled their own democracy.

Sara Sewell Ph.D. is Professor of History and has been at VWU since 2002. Her research has focused in particular on German history, communism, fascism, and the Weimar Republic.

C.S. Lewis, Leadership, and Laughter: Narnia and Teaching Middle School Students

Thursday, February 29
Noon – 1:00 p.m.
Brock Commons
Caroline Joseph, MAT, Cary Joseph, MAT, Terry Lindvall, Ph.D., and Bill McConnell, Ph.D.

In a world where TikTok is alluring, where Instagram can reduce attention spans, and where almost every student struggles with issues relating to their identity, Caroline and Cary Joseph show how humor can be an effective tool in the classroom, as it engages, excites, motivates, and creatively distracts students. Their father/father-in-law, Terry Lindvall, Ph.D., joins them in showing how the thought and wit of C. S. Lewis—even when it is 80 years old—provides helpful insights even in 2024. Join us as these three reflect on education and humor in their book Laughter from Narnia: Teaching Laughter to Middle School Students, and as Bill McConnell, VWU’s Director of Teacher Education, offers additional insights and a response.

Cary Joseph, MAT, and Caroline Joseph, MAT, have worked as fresh, innovative, and caring seventh-grade English teachers at Old Donation School for the Gifted, where they have had plenty of opportunities to recognize what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom. Their co-author, Terry Lindvall, Ph.D., has recognized the value of laughter in his teaching and work at VWU, and in his relationship with his daughter and son-in-law. Bill McConnell, Ph.D., is the Director of Teacher Education at VWU and taught for Chesapeake Public Schools for 18 years in three different schools before he came to VWU.

Faith in Action: Women Empowering Communities for Transformational Change
Nexus Interfaith Dialogue

Thursday, March 7
7:00 – 8:15 p.m.
Brock Commons
Rev. Dr. Veronica Coleman, Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill, Amanda Pine, Teresa Stanley, Areen Syed

A dynamic group of women of faith share their experiences and insights on their journeys to become agents of change in the community. These remarkable women represent diverse backgrounds and serve as a testament to the transformative power of faith when combined with intentional and action-oriented initiatives. Join us for an evening of enlightenment, inspiration, and a shared commitment to turning faith into tangible action.


  • Rev. Dr. Veronica Coleman serves as the Senior Pastor of New Jerusalem Ministries in Virginia Beach and is a  past president of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference.
  • Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill is an ordained Reconstructionist rabbi and is active in legislative advocacy through the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. She is the author of two books and editor of The Jewish Woman's Book of Wisdom.
  • Amanda Pine serves as Christian Faith Formation Director for King’s Grant Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach and co-chairs the Interfaith Alliance at the Beach.
  • Teresa Stanley coordinates the Interspiritual Empowerment Project of Virginia Organizing. She has a long history of faith-based community organizing, including social justice ministry at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Virginia Beach and with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond Office of Justice and Peace.
  • Areen Syed is a senior at Norfolk Academy and worships at the Muslim Community of Tidewater in Norfolk. She was named the 2023 Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate and uses her poetry as a tool for activism in the community.

Sponsored in partnership with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC)

There’s Something About Mary: Unusual Portrayals of the Mother of Jesus

Thursday, March 14
11:00 a.m. - Noon
The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk
Craig Wansink, Ph.D.

Registration required by March 7: Call 757.455.3129 or register online.

After looking at how the feminine is portrayed in the art of Hinduism and Buddhism, Dr. Wansink focuses on the figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the art of The Chrysler Museum. Join us to view unusual and subtle ways in which Mary was portrayed—with Jesus… and others – and discuss the roles of women, the peculiar ways in which her son was understood, and changes in theology and religious beliefs.

Craig Wansink, Ph.D., is Batten Professor of Religious Studies and the Joan P. and Macon F. Brock, Jr. Director of the Robert Nusbaum Center at VWU, and has studied at universities in Japan, Jordan, Germany, and Israel. Dr. Wansink also serves as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk.

Artificial Intelligence and Faith: A Talk and a Workshop on ChatGPT

Friday, March 15
1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Greer 155
Craig Wansink, Ph.D.
Registration required by March 1: Call 757.455.3129 or register online.

What is Artificial Intelligence? Why does it matter? How might spiritual or religious people use it to meaningfully think about their own faith in new ways?
Frequently computers, electronics, and Artificial Intelligence separate humans from each other and God. In our time together, however, we will highlight how new trends in Artificial Intelligence (specifically ChatGPT and Midjourney) create opportunities to deepen prayer life, to study scripture in new ways (Old Testament, New Testament, or Quran), and to think more deeply about faith in general.

(No background is required for this two-part workshop. Here we start from scratch. Feel free to attend just the first session or both. The first hour is an introduction to Artificial Intelligence, a reflection on the challenges it poses to religion, and the ways in which it can strengthen people in their faith life. For those who wish to stay, the second hour involves a workshop format where participants are encouraged to bring their own laptop computers to experiment together in a structured process.)

Beyond Scout’s Honor: Sexual Abuse, Leadership, and Institutional Failure

Thursday, March 28
Noon – 1:00 p.m.
Brock Commons
Douglas Kennedy, Ed.D.

In the Netflix documentary, Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America, Doug Kennedy reflected on his past, saying, “I thought Scouts was a great thing, I really did. It was Norman Rockwell. It was Mom, Pop, apple pie.” At the same time, the Scouts had a less than idyllic side. Dr. Kennedy—a VWU professor of sport and recreation professions since 1988 is an abuse survivor who firsthand experienced the institutional failure of the Boy Scouts of America, as leaders from top to bottom sought to protect their "product" and turned a blind eye to sexual abuse.  Join us for a story about the failure of leadership and the need for vigilance in all youth-serving organizations.

Douglas Kennedy, Ed.D., is Professor of Sport and Recreation Professions at VWU. In addition to being an award-winning professor and President of the Virginia Recreation and Park Society, he—on behalf of over 82,000 Survivors—was appointed by the US Department of Justice to serve as Vice Chair of the Torts Claimants Committee in the BSA's bankruptcy.

“Tell All the Truth, But Tell It Slant”: Leading Social Change through Urgency, Poetry of Witness, and Writing in the Face of Fear

Thursday, April 11
Noon – 1:00 p.m.
Pearce Suite, Batten Student Center

Solitude, tranquility, silence—these are often words that arise as one imagines a poem being written or read. However, in the poetry of those who have survived extremity, disaster, or traumatic personal or historical events, the poetic language with which they relay their experiences speaks volumes and stirs social change. Poetry of witness, coined by Carolyn Forché, “...is a mode of reading rather than of writing, of readerly encounter with the literature of that-which-happened.” Poetry is how poets present their truth to the world, and in writing what they have witnessed, poets “tell it slant,” borrowing from Emily Dickinson’s adage, and present their truth, balancing the uncomfortable and comfortable with history and experience. This presentation will discuss the power of urgency, the weight of silence, and our myriad tasks as readers to receive and understand truth.

Sara Ryan, Ph.D., MFA, is completing her first year at VWU as an Assistant Professor of English. She is the award-winning author of I Thought There Would Be More Wolves (Permafrost Poetry Book Prize 2020) and two chapbooks, Excellent Evidence of Human Activity and Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Brevity, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere.

Environmental Champions: Young Leaders Navigating Challenges and Shaping the Future

Thursday, April 18
Noon – 1:00 p.m.
Brock Commons
Cecelia Aten ’24, Maurica Bynum ’16, Mason Manley, Hunter Noffsinger

This panel discussion brings together inspiring young leaders who are making significant strides in addressing environmental challenges. Hailing from diverse backgrounds and representing various organizations, these environmental champions are at the forefront of driving positive change in the fields of environmental health, justice, clean energy, and grassroots organizing. Join us for an engaging panel discussion about the experiences, achievements, and ongoing efforts of these young leaders as they make a lasting impact in their respective fields.


  • Cecelia Aten ’24, President of Marlins Go Green at VWU
  • Maurica Bynum ‘16, ABD, MPH, REHS, CP-FS, Environmental Health Specialist with the Virginia Department of Health.
  • Mason Manley, Central Virginia Organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  • Hunter Noffsinger, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club

GreenFest: Celebrating Earth Day and Creating a Sustainable Future

Sunday, April 21
1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Brock Commons

This immersive and engaging festival for all ages celebrates sustainability, community, and the beauty of our planet. All are welcome for a day filled with music, games, service projects, educational booths, and more, as we come together to foster a sense of environmental stewardship and create positive change for future generations. Together, let’s create a brighter and more sustainable future for our community and the world.

Hosted by Wesleyan Engaged in collaboration with the Batten Honors College, Environmental Sustainability Council, Marlins Go Green Student Organization, Marlin Ministries, Robert Nusbaum Center, and Student Engagement.

GreenFest is made possible through the generous support of Dominion Energy.
Robert K. Perkins, Ph.D.


The Art and Science of Mediating Conflict: Some First Steps

Friday, April 26
3:00 – 5:00 p.m. Greer 155
Craig Wansink, Ph.D., and Kelly Jackson

Registration required by April 19: Call 757.455.3129 or register online.

Because we perceive things differently and have been shaped by different factors, conflict is normal. And frequently healthy. But why does caustic divisiveness and outrage seem to be on the rise? How can we respond to interpersonal situations that involve conflict?

Using principles from counselors, hostage negotiators, and linguists, this workshop focuses on identifying sources of conflict (in society, work, politics, places of worship, and at home) and on developing the skills that both mediate and point to “third ways” during times of conflict. This workshop focuses on four important principles and five action steps that have served us—at the Robert Nusbaum Center—in ways that make us grateful. We hope you will join us as we explore what it means to seek to be agents of reconciliation, first in our own lives and then in our home, church, or society.

Craig Wansink, Ph.D., and Kelly Jackson serve as director and associate director, respectively, of the Robert Nusbaum Center