Dr. Dennis Simon, professor of political science and founding member of the Tower Center for Political Studies, touched countless lives during his time at SMU. For him, the most important part of his job was taking students on the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done as an instructor at Southern Methodist University, and it’s also something that’s made me terrifically proud of the students at SMU,” Simon said in the beginning of his TEDxSMU Talk on the Pilgrimage in 2014.
In honor of his memory and in order to continue his legacy, the Tower Center will allocate $1,000 a year to the Pilgrimage to help support students who want to go on the journey.
Simon led the Pilgrimage for seven years, taking students and community members across the South to visit “shrines of freedom” over spring break.
MacKenzie Jenkins, SMU junior and HCM Tower Scholar, went on the Pilgrimage with Simon her freshman year — the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March.
“His passion carried on to his students. It’s like having little seeds of hope in the room,” Jenkins said. “He pours so much into his students.”
She said she came to SMU knowing she had to take his civil rights class, but his enthusiasm on the trip confirmed it.
“He was a really amazing man, really funny and he’s going to be so missed,” she said.
Listen to Professor Simon’s TED Talk on the Pilgrimage here>>
Dominique Earland, a senior majoring in biology and human rights, was inspired by the Pilgrimage to organize an alternative break trip to Selma, Alabama. The trip focused on concepts from Simon’s class and Earland hopes to have it named for Simon once the funding is secured to make it a recurring trip.
“He played an important role in my life and where I see myself going,” Earland said. “The fact that he loved American history and was able to convey the truth of that time period and the political power of the Civil Rights Movement inspired me.”
Earland said Simon taught her how important it is to continue to reflect on that time period and the impact so many people made — people he referred to as soldiers.
“We were so fortunate to have such a great leader and friend in Dennis Simon at the Tower Center,” said Tower Center Executive Director Luisa del Rosal. “We couldn’t think of a better way to honor his legacy than to give to the Pilgrimage he was so passionate about.”
Read more about Dr. Simon’s impact at SMU here>>