Webster community reflects on Peter Sargent’s impact
Published in The Journal
Senior stage management major Gabby Galvan remembers Peter Sargent always attended technical rehearsal to give students feedback before the opening of a Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts show.
When rehearsal began for the Conservatory’s play “Bomb-itty of Errors” the week following Sargent’s death, Galvan said while students knew he had passed, they still expected his presence.
“We all kind of expected him to walk in the building and be like, ‘Ha ha, I was joking,’” Galvan said. “It was really weird because we were like, ‘He would usually be here. He’s not here. What now?’”
Sargent started his career at Webster in 1966 to run the lighting and design stage management program. A year after his arrival, he founded the Conservatory of Theatre Arts. He then became the founding dean of the Webster University Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts in 1995.
Earlier this year, he stepped down from his position and worked as a faculty member in the lighting and design stage management program. Sargent passed away Nov. 27 at 82 years old.
Chair of the Conservatory of Theatre Arts Dottie Marshall Englis worked with Sargent for almost 40 years. She said Sargent would be remembered for his dedication to students.
“He was always one of the first people, if not the first person, in the office,” Englis said. “He was one of the last people to leave at the end of the day. He was truly dedicated to what would be best for the students. That was always the first thing he thought of.”
Meeting the man in plaid
When students and faculty first met Sargent, one trait stood out. Nicknamed “the man in plaid” by the Webster community, Englis said Sargent’s colorful outfits showcased his personality.
“He never got lost in a crowd,” Englis said. “It’s colorful and kind of happy. It kind of reflects Peter’s consistently positive take on life.”
Galvan remembered students would question Sargent when they thought he was not wearing his favorite pattern.
“There were times when we would see him, and he wasn’t wearing plaid,” Galvan said. “We were like, ‘Peter, where’s your plaid?’ He would pull up his pant leg and have plaid socks on. He’s like, ‘It’s there.’”
During his time at Webster, Sargent watched students’ auditions both at conferences around the country and at the university. Galvan remembered Sargent was recognizable in plaid even while conducting interviews outside of Webster.
Sargent was Galvan’s first contact at the university. When he met her for the first time during her interview at Webster, she said Sargent welcomed her with a hug.
Sargent’s emphasis on family during their first interaction, Galvan remembered, made her choose Webster over another school she was considering.
“Peter made it sound so much like you won’t be with your actual family, but you’ll be with ‘our family,’” Galvan said. “That’s what [the Conservatory] is. We’re not a group. We’re a family.”
More than an administrator
Chair of the Department of Music Jeffrey Carter was hired by and worked under Sargent for 11 years. Carter said he viewed Sargent as both a mentor and a father figure during his time at Webster.
Carter said Sargent was one of the most humane people he has ever met. He remembered Sargent always approached interactions with kindness and consideration.
“He was kind to everybody,” Carter said. “He cared deeply about people’s success.”
Musical theatre graduate Austin Jacobs said he and his twin brother would not have finished school at Webster if it were not for Sargent. The children of a single parent, Jacobs said they almost had to put their degrees on hold during their sophomore year due to financial reasons.
“We called Peter,” Jacobs said. “He sent out some emails and found the scholarships my brother and I needed to return to school.”
Jacobs remembered his story was not unique. He said Sargent often advocated for students who could not afford to attend Webster’s program.
Galvan took two classes with Sargent during his time as a professor in the program. She said during class, students would talk about the shows they were working on, and Sargent would give them advice on different issues they encountered.
Galvan said Sargent’s advice in class was helpful when approaching difficult problems. Most of her opportunities to learn from Sargent, however, were during conversations outside of class.
“His teaching style was, ‘Learn by your own mistakes,’” Galvan said. “He’d help you after you made those mistakes. He’d give you the guidance that you needed when you asked for it.”
A lasting legacy
In a statement from the university, President Julian Schuster said Sargent left a lasting impact at Webster.
“Peter left a legacy, a precious gift we must preserve, nurture and grow,” Schuster said. “He defined art at Webster: flamboyant yet very modest, jovial, yet perceptive and thoughtful, and most importantly, kind and warm – a friend, indeed.”
Carter said Sargent’s legacy at Webster is shown through the people whose lives he touched. He said 13 generations of students, as well as faculty, were impacted by Sargent.
For Carter, this impact lies in the way he treats others. Carter said this change was directly influenced by the kindness he saw Sargent give toward him and others at the university.
“He took time to quietly teach me,” Carter said. “I think I’m safe in saying the way that I deal with a lot of people in my life now is softer and gentler than it was when I came here.”
Galvan said Sargent always stressed the importance of remaining humble and being kind to everyone she met in her career. She considered Sargent the center point in a large network of alumni who continue to be helpful for current students.
When graduates came back to St. Louis, Galvan said they would make a trip to Webster specifically to speak with Sargent.
“It was like everybody had come home and they were all saying ‘hi’ to Grandpa,” Galvan said. “Everybody wanted to tell him what they were doing. Everybody wanted to make sure that he knew they’re thriving because of what he taught them.”
A university spokesperson said Webster is working with the family to plan an on-campus memorial. A date has not been set.
Immigrants face hardships at US-Mexico border wall
Published in The Journal
Editor’s note: Due to the current political climate and protection of sources in the story, The Journal has given a source an alternative name. Sources spoke in Spanish through a translator.
Isabella crossed the border wall from Mexico into the U.S. at 14-years-old with her older sister. She said crossing a river became the most terrifying part of her journey.
“It was very high in some cases and I didn’t know how to swim,” Isabella said. “[My sister and I] were walking inside the water holding hands.”
The Pew Research Center estimates as of 2016, 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States. Benjamin Johnson, a history professor at Loyola University who specializes in North American borders, said the border wall remains ineffective when stopping illegal immigration.
“I don’t think anyone who studies the border takes it seriously as a device that’s actually going to stop or control people or things from crossing the United States,” Johnson said.
Jana Jeffords attended the Donald Trump Make America Great Again Rally in Murphysboro, Ill., and is a supporter of the border wall. She said she thinks people should cross legally to prevent potentially dangerous people from entering the United States.
“You can’t trust everyone, and just to let people come over in droves and not have any kind of regulation is not good,” Jeffords said. “You don’t know who you have coming, and you’ve got to protect your family.”
Sacrificing for a new life
Isabella said she and her sister paid someone to help them cross the border after seeing her parents struggle. She said she and her sister were hired for housework upon entering the U.S.
“I saw my father’s struggles to feed us, to clothe us, to give us school,” Isabella said. “That was the reason for [my sister and I] to come here.”
Leticia Guzman is the media coordinator and organizer at Border Angels, a nonprofit organization campaigning for issues surrounding the U.S-Mexico border. The organization provides assistance to immigrants crossing the border and helps them adjust to life in the U.S.
Guzman said migrants enter the U.S. for a better quality of life. She said they weigh the cost of staying in their home countries versus the cost of a dangerous trip to the U.S.
“They know that there’s opportunity here, and they know that there’s opportunity for their children,” Guzman said. “So they would make that sacrifice because, I guess you could say, it’s just a different life here compared to where they’re fleeing from.”
Camila entered the United States legally 30 years ago with a visa. She said she met her husband and started a family with two children in the U.S. However, the loss of her visa meant she returned to Mexico, and she said she crossed the border illegally as a result.
Camila said when she crossed the border, she brought her two other children from Mexico with her. She said the journey felt difficult because they often walked for long periods of time at night.
“I thought about my children that were [in the U.S.], and I would ask for the help of God,” Camila said. “I would tell God, ‘Help me cross because I want to see my children.’”
Johnson said migrants cross the border because of violence, oppression or lack of economic options in their country. He said he understands why migrants would move to a country for the promise of a better life.
“If I put myself in their position and fear for my life, or especially my children’s life, and think that we’re going to be safer, that we’re going to be able to eat or to make a decent living or get an education somewhere else, then I understand that motivation,” Johnson said. “I think it’s one of the reasons why migrants have always come to the United States.”
Guzman said migrants crossing the border face issues such as dehydration and sickness. She said women migrants often hire a smuggler for protection when crossing the border because of potential danger.
“A lot of people don’t end up in the right hands, and they get hurt or in dangerous circumstances,” Guzman said. “There was a woman that I have talked to that had to really load up on birth control because of how common it is to be raped out in the crossing routes.”
Isabella crossed over the border again, four years after her initial journey to the U.S., after returning to Mexico to visit her family. She said her sister did not return with her.
Isabella said she felt terrified the second time when she crossed the border via an inner tube.
“There was a lot of people along the river, bad people wanting to do something harmful,” Isabella said. “I was fearful but nothing happened. They did follow us, but nothing happened.”
Starting a new chapter
Camila said when she first came to the U.S. alone, she did not know anything about the country. She said it was difficult to find resources that would help her obtain citizenship.
Guzman said navigating the U.S. is difficult for migrants who do not have family members to help decipher what steps to take once they enter the country. She said not knowing how to become a U.S. citizen remains one of the reasons the undocumented immigrant population remains high.
Isabella said her sister returned to Mexico after four years, leaving her the only member of her family in the U.S. However, she said her reason for staying changed.
“My life changed because I got married,” Isabella said. “I have three children. So now, my motive is different because now my family is here.”
Jeffords said when she thinks of people coming over the border, she becomes fearful. She said while she understands immigrants founded the U.S., she worries about the values of people coming to the U.S.
“I’m sure that a lot of them are generally nice people wanting to come and better their families because that’s where we all come from,” Jeffords said. “But it honestly kind of scares me a little bit because there’s so much terror going on.”
Johnson said looking at the underlying issues of why people choose to immigrate, such as foreign policy issues and drug use, could limit the amount of people seeking a better life in the U.S.
Johnson said in history anti-immigration politics and nativism arise every time there is an influx of an immigrant population. He said the only difference is who the rhetoric is directed at.
“We’ve seen this story before,” Johnson said. “We’re just reading a new chapter in that larger story.”
Camila said she currently has Lawful Permanent Resident status and is working toward her citizenship. Isabella said she is unable to obtain citizenship because she cannot afford to.
Isabella said she fears going out and being caught by Border Patrol because of her status. She said she is at risk anywhere she goes.
“It’s a sense of going out and not knowing that I’m going to come back to see my children because I’m at risk,” Isabella said. “Anywhere that I am, the Border Patrol can be there.”