Symone Sanders visits Webster for spring Virtual Headliner Series

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Symone Sanders, who serves as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ senior advisor and chief spokesperson, spoke to Webster students on Jan. 11.

On Jan. 11, Webster students cracked open their laptops to join in Webster University’s Spring 2021 Virtual Headliner Series with Symone Sanders as guest speaker. Sanders is the senior advisor and chief spokesperson for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The event was offered as part of a speaker series hosted by Webster’s Campus Activities and was paid for by the Webster University student activities fee.

Sanders, 31, has been active in politics since her adolescence. She previously chaired for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s Emerging Leaders Committee and is a former member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.

She broke into the Democratic Party’s political scene at the young age of 25, when she became the national press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. A soon-to-be White House staffer, Symone Sanders is the principal for the 360 Group LLC., a political consulting firm for businesses, individuals, campaigns and candidates. Sanders is also a frequent political commentator on CNN.

Jennifer Stewart, the director of the Office of Student Engagement, worked with Webster’s Campus Activities to bring Webster students the headlining event.

“One of the things we want is people who are interesting,” Stewart said. “We want young people with stories to tell.”

The event was moderated by Sarah Hill, the Webster Student Government Association President. The event began with Hill’s brief but flattering introduction for Sanders . After Sanders’ provided her own introduction, Hill conducted a Q&A segment with Sanders before the floor was opened for audience questions.

Sanders spoke at length on her history of advocacy and political career. She went into detail about her first meeting with Sen. Sanders.

“When a United States senator calls you,” Sanders began, “you pick up the phone.”

Symone Sanders’ retelling of the meeting was humorous and informative, highlighting the disagreements she and Sen. Sanders had during their interview.

“The conversations he was having on the trail were the conversations me and my friends were having,” Sanders said on what compelled her to want to work for Sen. Sanders.

The overwhelming majority of the Q&A segment had a positive and unifying message. Topics included striving for success, the fight for racial justice, Sanders’ personal experiences as a Black woman in Washington D.C. and being true to yourself. However, Sanders spoke to Webster students a mere four days after the Capitol Hill attack which left the nation traumatized; Sanders urged the Webster audience to “unify,” echoing sentiments from President-elect Joe Biden’s messaging on the divisions in the United States.

“[Those that do not share your beliefs] have a perspective,” Sanders said. “Their perspective matters.”

Sanders said no matter the venue, from Facebook to in-person dialogue, Americans should want to find a place where they can have constructive conversations.

Despite the upbeat attitude, one audience member asked if advocating for extreme unity is, in itself, dangerous. Sanders responded with an event from her political career, in which Politicon attempted to book her for a debate with Milo Yiannopoulos. Sanders referred to Yiannopoulos as a “white supremacist” and recounted her staunch rebuke of Politicon.

“I called them and asked, ‘Why in the world would you think I would sit down next to a white supremacist?’” she recalled.

The Q&A segment concluded on a message of hope, as Sanders spoke on Biden’s plans to heal racial divides. Hill and Stewart insisted moderators will attempt to keep the positive messaging of these events moving forward.

Webster University’s next virtual headliner will be Michael Steele, a political analyst for MSNBC and former RNC chair, on Feb. 4.

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Caleb Sprous
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