Published on February 1, 2024 by Diamond Nunnally  
Cristo Rey High School Visit
English professor Timothy Sutton leading a seminar for Holy Cristo Rey Catholic High School students. (Photograph Courtesy: Lee Trepanier)

Local high school students are getting a sneak peek into the lives of Samford University students, thanks to a new joint program between Howard College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Political Science and Samford’s Office of Student Success and Diversity.  

The program, An Unjust Law is No Law at All, was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." The students attend three Saturday morning seminars with Samford faculty to engage in college-level course work about the civil rights movement. They read and discuss critical civil rights cases and primary texts from Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Aquinas, Josef Pieper, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi. 

"This is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to spend time with college faculty who are experts in their fields and learn the importance of the civil rights movement and nonviolent protest," political science chair Lee Trepanier said. "It also makes students aware that Samford is an attractive option for them for college."   

“We are always eager to fund development grant projects that support our mission and work at Samford University,” said Denise Gregory, associate provost of the Office of Student Success and Diversity. “Dr. Trepanier’s enthusiasm and desire to provide this program is essential in the work we do in the community.” 

Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School students are the first participants of this new program. Fifteen of them have already completed the first two seminars and are slated to complete the last one on Feb. 2.  

"I have been working with Holy Family Cristo Rey High School for the past year to explore the possibility of working with them," Trepanier said. "Dr. Gregory, who sits on their board, has been instrumental in making introductions to the high school's principal, teachers and staff." 

With Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School serving underserved and underrepresented communities in Birmingham, Trepanier said this program supports Samford's Christian mission by "reaching out to our community and providing support for those institutions who are pillars of their neighborhoods.” 

“It has been rewarding working with Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School in bringing their students on campus and discussing the topic of civil rights and nonviolent protest,” Trepanier said. “The students read prominent texts to understand the Christian underpinning of civil rights as rooted in natural law. We plan to continue this partnership with Cristo Rey as we set out to expand this program at Samford.” 

"Samford was a fun experience and I would absolutely want to participate again," high school freshman Brynna Serna-Perez said. "Engaging with college professors was pretty cool and the lessons we were taught gave me a different perspective on them and opened my mind to other people's point of view. I've learned that it's ok to have an opinion on things, and it's good to have open discussions."

This program is funded by a Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy grant that promotes programs actively engaging communities in religiously informed and civically engaged topics. Trepanier said this is a pilot program that will eventually be funded by the Teagle Foundation for an even greater project promoting a liberal arts education to underserved and underrepresented communities. 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.