Distinguished Lecturers to discuss issues of injustice and forgiveness

February 26, 2014

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Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson

PLATTEVILLE, Wis.­­­ — The University of Wisconsin-Platteville will host two presenters as its 2014 Distinguished Lecturers on Wednesday, April 2. Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton will give their hour-long presentation starting at 10 a.m. in the Williams Fieldhouse followed by a 30-minute question and answer period. Consistent with the recommendations of the Student Senate, Academic Staff Senate and the Faculty Senate, Chancellor Dennis J. Shields has cancelled all classes, labs, lessons and campus organized activities on April 2, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Thompson was a 22-year old college student when a man broke into her apartment, put a knife to her throat and raped her. After a sketch was made, a line-up identification, and a trial, testimony and memory led to a life sentence for Cotton. Years later it was discovered that the DNA from the crime did not match Cotton, leading to an unlikely friendship as Thompson reached out to him with an apology. The two worked together to produce a New York Times best selling book “Picking Cotton.”

Thompson now works as an advocate for judicial reform and the healing power of forgiveness. Together, they have successfully lobbied state legislatures to change compensation laws for the wrongly convicted, abolish the death penalty, revise police eyewitness line-up procedures and for many other causes. Both Thompson and Cotton are married with children and live with their respective families in North Carolina. Together they will share their story: A shocking crime; a devastating miscarriage of justice; one man’s fight for truth; one woman’s struggle to recover; and two lives forever connected; their true story of forgiveness and hope.

“Students should understand that our judicial system is run by humans, which means it isn’t perfect,” said UW-Platteville Provost Mittie N. Den Herder. “In our system, there is the possibility of error. It is important to understand bias and how that can affect judgment. When you have experienced a wrong, you don’t need to carry around anger, hatred and bitterness; you can forgive and build something better out of it. It takes a lot of energy not to forgive and not to admit a mistake and apologize.” 

Cotton and Thompson’s story exemplifies the healing power of restorative justice, a theory that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. Students and faculty received the chance to explore restorative justice through The Currents of Restorative Justice conference that was held at UW-Platteville last November.

UW-Platteville has hosted a Distinguished Lecturer each spring since 2002. Past notable speakers have included former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and oceanographer and discoverer of the Titanic Dr. Robert Ballard. Distinguished Lecturers are nominated by a committee and must be proficient speakers who will address an important issue. A campus-wide survey is then conducted to decide which of the nominated speakers will present.

“I want to thank Chancellor Shields and the faculty who, through Faculty Senate, were able to cancel classes during the presentation so that students and faculty may have the opportunity to go,” said Den Herder. “All participants should come to the presentation and plan to stay for its entirety. A lot of learning comes from the question and answer session, and I encourage all members of our UW-Platteville campus to attend.”

Written by: Angela O’Brien, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194, obrienan@uwplatt.edu

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