Q Union Fellows Wrestle with Hard Questions

Dr. Stephanie Bennett coaches the Q Union fellows on their speeches.Three students selected as Q Union fellows will train to speak about tough topics with grace and poise in front of their peers this fall.

The “Q” stands for questions, and the thinking behind the union is that Christians need to get together to talk about the hard questions, said Dr. Stephanie Bennett, professor of communication and media ecology and the students’ speech coach. Students selected for the program will give nine-minute, TED Talk-style speeches from a Christian perspective.

The 2019-2020 fellows are Andrew Mercantini, a politics, philosophy and economics major; Jessica Lykins, a communication major; and Josmery Botello, a psychology major.

Bennett challenges students to go beyond the classroom to see how their topics fit into the culture.

“We can’t just blurt out an opinion,” Bennett said. “We have to build the tools to let our voice be heard. That’s what we do with the Q.”

Q Ideas, a Nashville-based nonprofit that helps Christians recover a vision to renew and restore their culture, launched the Q Union programs to engage college students. For the fourth year, PBA fellows will give their speeches in October in the DeSantis Family Chapel. Students in Q Union programs at several other universities around the country will deliver their talks simultaneously, mixing their students’ live talks with broadcasts by nationally-known personalities.

When the fall semester starts, Bennett will meet with students at least once a week to help them hash out their ideas. In September, students will move from crafting their speeches to practicing their delivery.

“Every aspect of speech-making is involved in this coaching relationship,” she said.

Mercantini’s subject is how the biblical concept of beauty is removed from modern thought and how that redefines one’s view of God and of man.

Botello is passionate about immigration, inspired by her own experience emigrating from the Dominican Republic as a young child. She loves to start conversations and isn’t afraid to ask people to discuss topics that make them uncomfortable. The Q Union is a great platform for that, she said.

“People lose sight of the reality of the real stories that people have,” Botello said. “How can we sit and talk about this, especially as Christians? We’re called to a greater standard.”

Lykins will explore the consequences of companies such as Facebook controlling public discourse online. Because this occurs in the private sector, the otherwise public communication has “been subject to censorship, and it’s been abused,” she said.

In the age of “runaway social media,” the Q Union forums foster civility, Bennett said.

The fellows will attend a large conference where they mix with pastors, educators and politicians — culture leaders and shapers. They are challenged and “enter into the conversation,” Bennett said.

The 2018-2019 fellows talked about the misunderstanding of feminism and de-throning the god of efficiency. Madison Hedegard, a junior communication and philosophy major, described replacing efficiency with a life of intentionality. She is “well-prepared for the world and the workforce in general” because of her Q Union experience, she said.

“I really learned that I was passionate about speaking,” Hedegard said. “It does play an important role in society.”

Communication major Mariah Kent ’19 spoke about the biblical interpretation of feminism and how God honors men and women. Afterward, a stranger came up to her in a coffee shop and thanked her for sharing her interpretation of a subject she’d heard a lot about. Overall, the experience taught Kent to take risks and be bold.

“We’re not all that different, and there’s room for compassion,” Kent said. “We all have different struggles and we all have to die to self every day.”