The Week in Review
By Athenaeum Fellows Sarah Sanbar ’17 and Michael Grouskay ‘17
Nirupama Rao, career diplomat and former Indian ambassador to the U.S., spoke about her life and career in diplomacy. Ambassador Rao served in the Indian Foreign Service from 1973 to 2013, serving as Indian Ambassador to China, Sri Lanka, Peru, Bolivia, and the USA, as well as serving as the Indian Foreign Secretary and first woman spokesperson of the Indian Foreign Office.
In her talk, Ambassador Rao’s presented some of her knowledge and insights gathered throughout a career in the Foreign Service. She began by discussing some of the challenges of being one of the pioneering women of the Indian Foreign Service, and aspects of feminist foreign policy. Ambassador Rao then went on to discuss some of the challenges and benefits of her various postings, providing a glimpse into the life of a diplomat.
One student asked about the future of India’s relations with Pakistan. She replied that despite recent scuffles at the border, she felt optimistic about the future, since there were still several opportunities for increased economic and diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Ambassador's Rao's talk is viewable online.
Syaru Shirley Lin, former Goldman Sachs partner turned academic, presented the findings of her most recent book, Taiwan’s China Dilemma: Contested Identities and Multiple Interests in Taiwan's Cross-Strait Economic Policy.
Lin presented the complicated economic relationship between China and Taiwan, and explored how the political climate relating to economic policy was linked to national identity. She argued that as more Taiwanese identify primarily as Taiwanese (as opposed to Chinese, or both) and the national identity becomes more fractured, economic policy tends to be more radical or extreme. She also presented the costs and benefits of the options available to Beijing in dealing with Taiwan.
During the question and answers, a student asked whether China would ever accept Taiwan as an independent nation. Lin replied that it was unlikely, because it would never be accepted by domestic public opinion, although there were possibilities for the creation of a federal system.
Ms. Lin's talk is viewable online.
Linda Hervieux, journalist and author of the book “FORGOTTEN: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, At Home and At War” spoke in honor of Veterans Day.
Her talk traced the story of the 320th Battalion, the only African-American division of the U.S. Army to land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Hervieux talked about soldiers like Bill Dabney, Waverly Woody Woodson, and Wilson Caldwell Monk. Men who, despite their valorous service, never received recognition, medals of honor, or mention in pop culture depicting the war until the 1990s.
At the end of the talk, several servicemen and women who had attended the talk expressed their gratitude and appreciation for Hervieux’s work. One person asked about the treatment of African-American soldiers whilst in the United Kingdom, and Hervieux explained that that was actually where the soldiers learned that race hatred and segregation was not a natural state – a lesson they brought home with them and used to fuel the civil rights movement.
Andre Clewell and Marc Brody '83 spoke about their experiences working in the field of environmental restoration and conservation.
Specifically, they focused on their efforts to restore giant panda habitat in Sichuan Province China, in cooperation with local environmentalists and government officials. One of the main points highlighted by Clewell is that environmental restoration is the process of repairing a trajectory of biodiversity that has been compromised by human activity. In China, this process has involved destroying invasive vegetation, replanting overgrazed areas and removing man-made features.
During the question and answer session, a student asked about the relationship between the government and environmental advocacy. According to Brody, in the United States, the government has historically taken a leadership role when it comes to environmental causes, however non-governmental organizations and individuals have also been extremely influential.
Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna's government department spoke at the Athenaeum in a special pre-election event on Monday, November 7.
Pitney's talk focused on the unprecedented nature of the 2016 Presidential Election, and included his predictions for both near and long term outcomes. Using aggregate polling data, and his own interpretation of voting trends, he predicted that Hillary Clinton would receive 49% of the vote, and Donald Trump 44%.
Professor Pitney concluded his talk by noting that regardless of the election's outcome, the near future of American politics will likely continue to involve substantial deadlock and polarization.
Steven Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College, spoke about the phenomenon of increasing antipathy in the American electoral process. According to Schier, over the last several decades, a rise in polarization, popular discontent, and low social capital voters, has lead to the deterioration of consensus government in the United States.
In the question and answer session, one student asked about the role of social media in American politics. In response, Schier noted that the ability of individuals to share news and information on social media, regardless of accuracy, has played a major role contributing in the divisiveness of electoral politics.
Professor Schier's talk is viewable online.
Andrew Jacobs presented an insider’s look at the challenges of the foreign journalist reporting from China.
Jacobs has been covering China for over 20 years, beginning with his contributions to coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. He witnessed the post-Mao economic liberalization and transformation of Chinese society, and provided the audience with the account of the country’s transformation through the lens of a journalist.Jacobs discussed everything from Chinese protest laws, to the denial of visas to foreign journalists, to the plight of oppressed minorities, such as the Uigher people.
The question and answer session ended with Professor Pei, who asked Jacobs what he thought were the three most encouraging transformations he has witnessed as well as the three most discouraging transformations. Jacobs replied succinctly, answering that the three most positive changes he had witnessed were the increased visibility and importance of environmental issues, an increased protection of animals’ rights, and the relaxation of the one child policy. Three discouraging trends were the state of ethnic and minority relations, the lacking legal sphere, and the restrictions on the media.
Mr. Jacob's talk is viewable online.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of the history of race and public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School, unpacked some of the social, historic, and cultural contexts behind the nature and system of policing in black America.
One particularly fascinating aspect of Muhammad's talk was his discussion of some of the statistics that are used to tell the story of black crime in America. He argued that many of these statistics paint incomplete, presumptive, and misleading pictures of incarceration. For example, it is often cited that black men in Massachusetts are five times more likely to serve time than their counterparts in Mississippi. What this doesn't reveal, however, is the fact that white men in Massachusetts are ten times more likely to serve time than their counterparts in Mississippi.
The talk concluded with a question from a student, asking what we can do moving forward to help the system. Muhammad's answer was rather bleak, answering that it would be a long and slow process of transforming both the system and ourselves, that may or may not even be possible.
Professor Muhammad's talk is viewable online.
The Rose Institute’s Ballot Initiatives panel can be viewed online.
Joseph Dauben ‘66, is a professor of history and history of science at the City University of New York. He presented on the interesting union of three subjects; Marx, Mao, and the field of abstract mathematics.
Dauben, a CMC alum from the class of ‘66, began his presentation with his academic career at what was then Claremont Men’s College. The audience followed him on his life path from CMC to Harvard to Berlin, and finally to China. Professor Dauben then discussed how during the cultural revolution, Chinese officials had placed the field of mathematics under scrutiny and suspicion for being a construct of the bourgeoisie, aloof from the concerns of common men, and essentially useless in an agrarian society. Yet the discovery and translation of the mathematical manuscripts of Karl Marx brought in a fresh new approach to the field of abstract mathematics—this time, a Marxist one.
Professor Dauben's talk is viewable online.
Loren J. Samons is a scholar of classical history from Boston University. His focus rests in the history of Greece in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., with particular interests in Athenian politics and imperialism
Samons talked about the nature of democracy in ancient Athens, specifically focusing on the role of populism during the rule of Pericles during the 5th century BC. According to Samons, the Athenian empire grew substantially under Pericles' leadership, ultimately establishing itself as one of the most powerful and influential states in the region. Nonetheless, Athens' populist policies were ultimately too expensive to be sustainable; by the end of Pericles' rule, the city was facing significant economic hardship.
During the question and answer session, one student asked about the extent to which ancient Athenian political developments resemble those of the present day. In his response, Samons noted that few truly new phenomenon exist in history, and that many aspects of the modern political environment could also be found in the era of Pericles.
Professor Samon's talk is viewable online.
The Athenaeum hosted the only foreign correspondent of a major news source dedicated exclusively to coverage of ISIS, Rukmini Callimachi. Her talk, titled “Notes From the Field: How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror Under the World’s Gaze” examined the history and context of the rise of ISIS.
During her talk, she generalized ISIS’s methods of violence into three main categories: directed attacks, true lone wolf attacks, and remote controlled attacks. She then went on to discuss how Western officials and intelligence failed to draw connections between perpetrators of terror and the Islamic State. Callimachi argued that this failure (be it intentional or not) led to improper responses, and the minimizing of the ISIS threat - two factors that ultimately facilitated ISIS’s rise.
A student quickly followed up with an inquiry as to what some reasons may be for downplaying ISIS’s significance and reach. Callimachi replied by pointing out Obama’s promise to get the USA out of two wars, which he did, and his possible unwillingness to get the USA involved in the Middle East yet again. She then pointed out that to this day, the government has not released the content of the San Bernardino bombers phone, nor have they released the recording of his 911 call in which the perpetrator pledged allegiance to ISIS. Callimachi concluded by emphasizing the need for transparency in an open democracy, and the role of the media in pushing governments to give the people the transparency they deserve.
Ms. Callimachi's talk is available for viewing here.
The Athenaeum hosted a debate watching evening which culminated in a panel discussion featuring faculty and students and can be viewed here.
The student debate on the presidential race hosted by the Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy can be viewed here.
The Trump Phenomenon Panel can be viewed here.
Brandi Hoffine '09 and Michael Shear '90 are two CMC alums who have made their career in political journalism. They spoke in a panel moderated by CMC Professor Zach Courser.
Hoffine currently works as a spokesperson for the White House, and Shear has been a correspondent for the New York Times for the last six years. During the panel discussion, the two spoke about their respective roles on both sides of the political journalism process, and the unique way in which the White House communicates with the press.
One topic that came up during the question and answer session was the White House's decision to control its own messaging through Facebook and other forms of social media. In Shear's perspective, this phenomenon is likely to continue during the next presidential administration given that both major candidates have demonstrated a tendency to aggressively control their own media presence.
Ms. Hoffine and Mr. Shear's panel discussion is available for viewing here.
CMC student-led Free Food (for Thought) podcast team interviewed Ms. Hoffine and Mr. Shear. Interviews are available at Free Food (for Thought).
Stanford's Andrew Walder asked why despite creating China's first unified modern national state and initiating its industrialization drive, did Mao leave China divided, backward, and weak?
Walder is a professor and political sociologist who spoke about Mao Zedong's leadership of China during and after the cultural revolution. One of the things Walder focused on was the way in which Mao's policies changed over time; during the early years of his rule, they were successful in uniting China and securing its borders, however, later on they had brutal humanitarian and social consequences.
During the question and answer session, one student asked Walder about the extent to which Mao was aware of the consequences of his policies during the cultural revolution. According to Professor Walder, Mao's confidence in his ideology was sufficient for him to ignore the widespread famine and mass casualties that resulted from his policies.
John Prendergast is a world famous human rights activist and scholar active in Africa.
Prendergast talked about his experiences working in the human rights field, both inside and outside of government. One of the primary points of his talk was the relative accessibility of global financial institutions to known war criminals and violators of human rights. According to Prendergast, states can and should prevent war criminals from accessing these institutions.
Another focus of Prendergast's talk was the use of celebrities to convey messages about human rights. Prendergast described his personal experience working with well-known celebrity activists such as George Clooney in an effort to reach larger audiences.
The Athenaeum hosted a vice-presidential debate watching evening.
Pat Crowley '02, insect cuisine pioneer and founder of Chapul, spoke about introducing insects into western cuisine, making inroads in the food world, and breaking down cultural barriers towards a more sustainable food system.
Crowley described his experiences following his graduation from CMC, including his time working in water resource management which helped shape his decision to enter the world of sustainable agriculture. Since 2011, his company, Chapul, has produced and sold cricket-flour bars. According to Crowley, one of the biggest challenges he has faced is overcoming public psychological barriers, however by minimizing the "gimmick" factor of his bars, he has started to normalize insect consumption.
At the end of the talk, Chapul bars were made available for members of the audience. Flavors included Aztec (dark chocolate, coffee, and cayenne) Matcha (matcha tea, goji, and nori), Thai (coconut, ginger, and lime), and Chaco (peanut butter and chocolate).
Mr. Crowley's talk is available for viewing here.
Geoffrey Giles, professor emeritus and scholar of groundbreaking research and writings on the Allied occupation of Germany, spoke about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany and in post-war, occupied Germany.
In his talk, Giles discussed his extensive research on the subject of the persecution of Jewish homosexuals during the holocaust. Among other things, he noted that Jewish homosexuals living in Nazi Germany typically faced two sets of separate punishments and judicial processes: one for their homosexual identity, and another for their Jewish background. According to Giles, typically the punishments for homosexual behavior fell within Germany's conventional judicial system, whereas those of a Jewish background were sent to concentration camps.
During the question and answer session, one student asked about the fate of Jewish homosexuals following the collapse of Nazi Germany. Giles responded by describing the appalling treatment of homosexuals in post-war Germany, noting that even after concentration camps were liberated, many homosexual former prisoners faced further prosecution.
Professor Giles' talk is available for viewing here.
Spoken word poet Kelly Tsai, an award-winning spoken word poet, actively engages—and believes in the power of the arts—to leverage and effectuate social change, offered up her eclectic poetry.
Tsai performed nine of her poems, one of which was in the form of a voice over to a short, animated film. She opened the show with a poem titled “Self-Centered,” which portrayed the world as if it was centered around and catered to five foot two inch tall tattooed Asian females. Much of the performance addressed issues of cultural identity, feminism, and immigration reform. The audience was actively engaged, snapping, cheering, and clapping.
The performance was followed by a question and answer session. One student asked how she managed to have such a confident stage presence, and how she gets over her fears. Tsai responded with grace, and encouraged the student to think that their performances are about more than themselves and their fear. Rather, when performing, it is important to think about the message you are giving and how someone in the audience may really need to hear it.
Ms. Tsai's performance is available for viewing here.
The Athenaeum hosted a debate watching evening which culminated in a focus group conversation with pre-selected students. This insightful focus group discussion was (unfortunately) not recorded.
Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, is an attorney specializing in incarceration policy. Wagner discussed some of the unexpected consequences that result from the United States' high rates of imprisonment.
Wagner talked about his research into some of the most unjust aspects of the American penal system including prison gerrymandering, excessive calling fees for prisoners and their families, video-visitation, and inefficient sentencing policies.
One student asked whether increasing funding for public defender offices might help reverse some of the trends that Wagner talked about. In response, Wagner said that it would help in a lot of ways, especially at the county jail level because many states don't allow public defenders into the process until after bail is set.
Mr. Wagner's talk is available for viewing here.
CMC student-led Free Food (for Thought) podcast team interviewed Mr. Wagner. The interview is available at Free Food (for Thought).
Writer and activist Yolo Akili Robinson discussed “toxic” black masculinity in America and its effects on mental and emotional health.
Robinson began his talk in a fairly unorthodox way. He had the audience close their eyes, breathe, and center themselves and see what they are feeling in order to bring people “out of their heads and into their hearts.” Robinson continued on to discuss how toxic black masculinity, racism, homophobia, and the patriarchy contribute to mental health problems, depression, anxiety, violence, and substance abuse issues in black communities.
Through 5 personal stories (Dontae’s Story, Limp Wrists and the Legacy of Trauma, Everything is Emotional Except my Rage, Policing the White Imagination, and Gay, Bi, Woman or GNC - Toxic Black Masculinity remains largely unbothered), Robinson illustrated various ways in which the toxicity of masculinity manifests itself, and illustrated some of the ramifications of this manifestation. Following each story, he invited members of the audience to share their own experiences with similar themes. He concluded his talk with visions for the future of black masculinity in America, insisting that masculinity must transform itself to acknowledge its privilege, value emotions, and teach men to define their self-worth through their character, not their accomplishments.
Mr. Robinson's talk is available for viewing here.
Acclaimed novelist, short story writer, and essayist, Laila Lalami, who was born and raised in Morocco, talked about the experience of living as a Muslim in the West's "Gray Zone".
Lalami focused on ISIS's coining of the term "the Gray Zone" which refers to metaphorical space occupied by Muslims who "have not joined the ranks of ISIS or of the crusaders." She stressed that the vast majority of Muslims exist within the Gray Zone, however extremist groups and some misguided politicians in the United States both seek to eliminate it.
A student asked Lalami a question about the challenges of speaking on behalf of Muslim women around the world. In response, Lalami explained that the experience of more than half a billion women is far too difficult to generalize, particularly taking regional and cultural differences into account.
To a full house, comedian Kyle Cease performed his signature “Evolving Out Loud” show, which combines comedy, life coaching, and transformation in an un-scripted and interactive performance.
Cease interspersed his standup bits with anecdotes and wisdom he had gathered throughout his life. A common theme throughout was his idea of happiness. He spoke of his journey to realizing that saying “when this happens, I’ll be happy” is an unsustainable model. Instead, Cease proposes we must train ourselves into accepting that we are complete as is and the source of our happiness must come from within.
The show concluded with Cease bringing a student who had asked him a question onto the stage.The student had asked how Cease copes with the moments when you feel discouraged and unhappy that something you had wanted doesn’t happen or goes wrong. Cease challenged the student, and the audience, to try to accept and acknowledge all emotions you may feel rather than try to tell yourself you should not be feeling sad, angry, or anxious. Instead, Cease proposes we must fall in love with not knowing and open ourselves to all opportunities and potential before us.
Darius Wallace, the renowned actor, writer and director from Memphis Tennessee, performed a one-man show, where he portrayed 14 characters who influenced Frederick Douglass, reconstructing the Douglass’s spirit, leadership, and march toward freedom.
Wallace's characters included figures from Douglass's time as a slave in addition to those he encountered after his escape. More than just a dramatic portrayal of the horrors of slavery, Wallace's play highlighted some of the most important and striking moments from Douglass's journey to becoming a writer, orator, and abolitionist.
Among the many questions posed during the question and answer session, one student asked about Wallace's decision to incorporate selections from Shakespeare's The Tempest into the play. In response, Wallace described the thematic connections to Frederick Douglass's story as well as his own personal appreciation for Shakespeare's works. Another student asked a question about Wallace's approach to recreating Douglass's voice, given that no recordings exist. Wallace responded that it's possible to replicate some of Douglass's diverse vocal patterns using context clues and historical descriptions of his voice.
Mr. Wallace's performance is available for viewing here.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Jack Rakove, a professor of history, political science, and law at Stanford University, discussed constitutional originalism, and outlined what he thought were some of the greatest challenges to such an interpretive framework.
Rakove raised some very interesting and relevant points during his talk about historical originalism, linguistic originalism, and originalism as a means of judicial constraint. For example, when trying to interpret a historical document, such as the Constitution, are we to attempt to reconstruct through textual meaning the intention of the authors or the understanding of the ratifiers themselves? What kinds of textual and contextual (such as transcribed debates or contemporary philosophers) can be used as evidence?
Students demonstrated their interest by asking thoughtful and insightful questions. One student asked about the applicability of originalism and trying to ascertain the founders’ intents on matters they would have had no knowledge about, such as technology. Rakove replied that there is no point in bringing a founding father out of the past, unless we are to give him the information and rationale on which we are basing our interpretation, and, since we cannot do that, originalism has less and less a place in our rapidly evolving world.
Professor Rakove's talk is available for viewing here.
CMC student-led Free Food (for Thought) podcast team interviewed Professor Rakove.The interview is available at Free Food (for Thought).
Celebrated chef, restaurateur, food celebrity, lawyer, writer, and clothing designer, Eddie Huang kicked off the fall 2016 season to a full house. After speaking for about 30 minutes, Huang generously took about an hour of questions from the audience.
Huang, for whom food is a gateway into his Chinese heritage, talked about food as politics and food as identity. Huang believes that food is often the one thing immigrants can hang on to, even when language and history dissipate. He also stressed the power of food as bringing people together saying that when people with differences sit down at a table together over a meal and listen to each other, barriers break down.
Students asked many compelling and nuanced questions for Huang. In response to a question about how and when Huang accepted and embraced his own Asian heritage, Huang concluded his thorough answer with this aspirational advice, “Find out what your identity means to you. Harvest that. Foster that.” An international student asked, “What is American food?” Huang’s response rang out proudly: “American food is the food of immigrants. It’s a beautiful thing built around tolerance, ingenuity, and integration.”
CMC student-led Free Food (for Thought) podcast team interviewed Mr. Huang.The interview is available at Free Food (for Thought).
Week of February 29, 2016
by Athenaeum Fellows Henrietta Toivanen '17 and Xuan Yeo '16
Monday, February 29: Shahzad Bashir, a professor in Islamic Studies at Stanford University, took his Athenaeum audience on a journey in the Islamic timespace. His focus was on exemplifying the diversity of Islamic perceptions about temporality through two significant cultural monuments – a mihrab in Isfahan, Iran, and a minaret in Kudus, Indonesia. His key argument is that studying these cultural markers, and the history behind them, tells us a different story about Islam and enables us to shift away from the traditional orientalist approach to the study of the religion. Overall, he emphasized that Islam is not a unified concept or a single narrative, but contains diversity and complexity that the current scholarship on Islam often fails to capture.
Tuesday, March 1: Having spent more than half his life in Israel, where a serendipitous turn of events led him to the study of Bedouin history and culture, Clinton Bailey shed light on how the culture of the Bedouins affect politics in the Middle East today. In particular, Bailey's talk addressed the impact of Bedouin culture on both the politics and theology of Islam, and how that has continued to have serious ramifications today, not least of which is the intractability of the Sunni-Shia divide. Professor Bailey ended his talk with suggestions – based on his insights about the Bedouin culture – for U.S. foreign policy concerning the multitude of problems in the Middle East.
Wednesday, March 2: damali ayo, an author, artist, and speaker on racial issues, considers her medium of expression to be people, which was visible in the way she engaged her audience and shared her own life. She emphasized that college campuses are unique places to create new narratives about race, as they offer a contained environment where people can together imagine what an ideal world would look like. She also offered concrete advice on how we can foster understanding between people from different ethnicities, and ultimately end racism in society. In her view, the key is to understand that race is a fundamentally personal and intimate issue that affects us in every moment of our life, and ending discrimination requires us to engage both our feelings and our thoughts in the dialog surrounding racism.
Thursday, March 3: Following the landmark ruling by the Supreme Court last year guaranteeing the rights of same-sex marriage, there has been debate about whether that decision would open the door to more radical marriage reform. Professor Stephen Macedo argued that it will not, pointing out that the way marriages stand today in the eyes of the law works particularly well for same-sex marriage, but not for other "items on the slippery slope" like polygamy, adult incest, and the dissolution of marriage as we know it. In his mind, there are strong constitutional, moral, and utilitarian reasons underpinning the stability of marriage; we should, therefore, do more as a society to encourage and support the institution of marriage.
Week of February 22, 2016
by Athenaeum Digital and Social Media Team Charlie Harris '19, Samy Lemos '18, Alicia Tsai '19, and J. Camilo Vilaseca '15 and Athenaeum Fellows Henrietta Toivanen '17 and Xuan Yeo '16
Monday, February 22: Robert Whitaker, an award-winning journalist, focused on the burden of mental illness in society in his speech at the Athenaeum. He focused on describing a counter-narrative that has started to emerge in the academic community regarding the effectiveness of psychotropic drugs in treating psychiatric conditions. First, he illustrated the traditional narrative that is based on the chemical imbalance theory of psychological disorders, and then pointed out that the scientific literature on this contains many surprising results, particularly with regard to the long-term outcomes of psychotropic medication. By illuminating this paradox, Mr. Whitaker aimed to inspire the audience to question the traditional narrative and consider alternative forms of care in the sphere of mental illnesses.
Tuesday, February 23: The night's program was part of the installation of Professor Catherine Reed as the McElwee Family Professor of Psychology and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College. With the McElwee family in attendance, Professor Reed gave a fascinating presentation about how our brain integrates our touch, attention, and learning abilities – as well as the repercussions this could have on fields ranging from academia to the production of consumer technology. Professor Reed commented on how she had been motivated to embark on her area of research to find the answer to why her sister was a better swimmer than she was, even though they shared many physiological similarities. With a slight tone of irony, she told us that even though her research has so far yielded no definite conclusions, it lets us know for certain that the difference is "in the brain."
Wednesday, February 24: Warren Meyer, an entrepreneur and author on climate-related issues, focused on the debate surrounding catastrophic man-made global warming in his Athenaeum speech. He addressed several key challenges in the current climate change theory, with a particular focus on its assumption of positive feedback loops. He conveyed an alternative perspective through presenting models that also include negative feedback loops, which lead to a more stable climate system in the long term, and provide a lower estimate of future temperature changes. Overall, his key point was that it is possible to be more conservative about the theory of man-made global warming, without being a climate change denier.
Thursday, February 25: Growing up, Dave Zirin's room was, in his words, a shrine to the sports stars of his time. While he had always been a big sports fan, it was not till later in his life that he began to seriously consider how sports and politics collided. But once he started doing so, he discovered that sports and politics have intersected for as long as professional sports have existed. In addition to giving us a fascinating overview of how sports stars like Muhammad Ali and Serena Williams have used their celebrity status to advance the causes they care about, he also addressed several difficult topics. In particular, with respect to the issue of sexual assault, Zirin acknowledged that there needs to be a drastic change to a culture on many college campuses that often allow male athletes guilty of sexual assault to walk away scot-free, and provided some of his views on how such a change could materialize.
Week of February 16, 2016
by Athenaeum Digital and Social Media Team Charlie Harris '19, Samy Lemos '18, Alicia Tsai '19, and J. Camilo Vilaseca '15 and Athenaeum Fellows Henrietta Toivanen '17 and Xuan Yeo '16
From a current parent (and former U.S. secretary of energy) to a sitting ambassador, from U.S. prisons to Hollywood’s portrayal of Africa, this week’s Athenaeum speakers covered a range of interesting and relevant issues.
Monday, February 16: Former Secretary of Energy and U.S. Senator from Michigan Spencer Abraham P’19 spoke on the future of the energy sector in America. His talk was the final event of Parents Weekend 2016 and was well attended by many CMC students and their parents. Secretary Abraham, who was in office from 2001-2005 under President George W. Bush, spoke about the changes America’s energy sector has undergone since his time in office. He repeatedly emphasized that two underlying assumptions of his time in office, that the U.S. economy benefited from low oil prices and that energy independence was unattainable, were no longer true. He spoke about the increasing safety of nuclear power and recommended that its share of the United States energy composition be increased. His most emphatic point came when he stated in no uncertain terms that “natural gas is our friend” and lauded it as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to coal for power generation. In his closing message he spoke directly, sincerely, and eloquently to the younger generation present at his talk and told them that to make an impact in politics they had to be prepared to lose some battles and to always respect others regardless of their political views.
Tuesday, February 17: Edward Latessa, a national eading expert on the issue of recidivism, shared humorously about the changes he believes have to be made to correctional programs to more effectively reduce recidivism, In particular, he mentioned that programs in the U.S. tend to be rather one-size-fit-all, with little attention paid to differences in risk levels (high-risk individuals being those more likely to recidivate) among those going through the programs. He believes great strides can be made in reducing recidivism if correctional facilities and/or programs took differences in risk levels into account. However, he also acknowledged that has to be done in conjunction with other policies, such as reducing rates of incarceration to begin with.
Wednesday, February 18: John Prendergast, a human rights activist and best-selling author who has worked for peace and social justice in Africa for 30 years, gave insight into the distinctions between how Hollywood and the broad media portray the African continent versus the reality and the whole truth about the African continent and its people. Throughout his talk, Prendergast focused on the importance of partnering with Africans as equals in an interconnected group, and the initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Having such an experienced and open-minded speaker at the athenaeum was truly an honor, and students surely had much to take away from tonight.
Thursday, February 19: In light of some of the rhetoric that has surrounded the upcoming presidential elections, it is perhaps unsurprising that His Excellency Miguel E. Basáñez, the Ambassador of Mexico, cited political polarization in the U.S. as one of the biggest issues that might hamper U.S.-Mexico relations in the years to come. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic with regard to U.S.-Mexico relations, and believes that healthy relations—particularly in the realm of trade and economic—would do both parties good. During his speech, Ambassador Basáñez also called on Latin Americans—of whom Mexican-Americans constitute a significant majority—to make their voice heard in American politics and to play a more active role in shaping U.S. foreign and public policy.
Week of February 8, 2016
by Charlie Harris '19, Samy Lemos '18, Alicia Tsai '19, and J. Camilo Vilaseca '15
Athenaeum Digital and Social Media Team
This week at the Ath, we heard from four academics on a wide variety of issues, ranging from experiences on college campuses to the political primaries and even back to Greek mythology.
Monday, February 8: Dr. Ravi Aysola ’96 shared a powerful personal narrative of his time at CMC. He spoke about his experiences as a student with disabilities and the compassion he received during his years here. He spoke about the murder-suicide committed by a classmate and friend of his as a result of this classmate’s paranoid schizophrenia. In the aftermath of this tragedy Dr. Aysola discovered the depths of compassion as he grieved with his peers. He then shifted to talking about how this compassion he received and learned about at CMC has shaped his work as a healthcare worker. In particular his time at CMC has led him to push for smarter end of life care focused on compassion rather than prolonging suffering.
Tuesday, February 9: After months of debates, polls, and punditry, the primary season has begun! On Tuesday night, Zachary Courser ’99 gave students insight into the Iowa caucus results and the significance behind these numbers. The panel discussion also analyzed the up-to-the-minute returns from New Hampshire on election night. Students who attended this evening program also had the chance to Skype with a journalist who was in the newsroom working on headlines.
Wednesday, February 10: Professor Ruby Blondell of the University of Washington delved into the complexities of the mythical Pandora. In Greek myth it is Pandora, the first woman, who brings evil into the previously carefree world of mortal men. To illustrate her arguments, Blondell used representations of Greek mythical figures found mostly on ancient Greek urns to build her case that Pandora’s story was a means by which Greeks made women emblematic of the complexity of good and evil in human life. As misogynist as it is, Pandora’s story is not just about good and evil, but about the inextricable presence of both in human life.
Thursday, February 11: As CMC continues to find its way forward from last semester, Dr. Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, reminded us of the importance of liberal arts education. Dr. Roth outlined four main pillars advocating for a liberal education: Liberate, Animate, Cooperate, and Instigate. Liberation, according to Dr. Roth is the rejection of self imposed immaturity. Our mistakes should be mistakes of enthusiasm, but not of bigotry. To animate means to go out and share in the world. We should not simply be trapped in our ivory tower with the expectations that have been imposed on us. We need to distract ourselves, because in distraction we find knowledge. Cooperation means we must learn to work as a community, because without that, we breed narcissism at best, and isolationism at worst. When we instigate, we reject the education that has been imposed on us, and we begin to incite change. We should reject the homogenized education that existed prior to college, and we should make the world alive again.
Week of February 1, 2016
by Charlie Harris '19, Samy Lemos '18, Alicia Tsai '19, and J. Camilo Vilaseca '15
Athenaeum Digital and Social Media Team
The week was another strong week at the Ath, including a visit from a renowned poet, a documentary film-making alumni duo, a leading intellectual on race law and race relations in the United States, and a foreign policy expert.
Monday, February 1: Pulitzer Prize winning poet Louise Glück read a selection of her work. She noted that it was impossible to give a complete sense of her work since her poems are intended to be read in collected volumes. Nevertheless, the crowd was riveted by her precise and evocative readings. The highlight for many was the long piece “October” which was written as a reflection on the September 11th attacks. The poem did not directly address the attacks but rather it offered a more general commentary on the grief that haunts a person after a tragic event. In the question and answer session, many students asked about Ms. Glück’s writing process, which surprisingly turned out to be less regimented than many expected. The evening of poetry was received by a packed house of students and faculty who enjoyed hearing the poet read her works.
Tuesday, February 2: Inspirational CMC 2012 alums Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple are pioneering a new style of documentary filmmaking where they immerse themselves in the subject matter. With one film already on Netflix, the founders of the non-profit production and impact studio Living on One have produced a second film that highlights and humanizes the Syrian refugee plight by focusing on a few specific refugees at the Za’atari camp in Jordan. As the first filmmakers to be fully embedded in the camp, Ingrasci and Temple provided an intimate look at one of the world’s most dire humanitarian crises. Video clips interspersed with their Athenaeum comments evoked tears from many in the audience. Not only did Temple and Ingrasci raise awareness about the Syrian refugee camps, but also stressed the importance of treating all humans with equal respect. A full screening of their movie Salam Neighbor: Life in a Syrian Refugee Camp was screened immediately after the talk.
Wednesday, February 3: Professor Randall Kennedy from Harvard Law School addressed persistent racial issues or race “lines” in our society. In a period of student activism on college campuses including on our own, Randall challenged the audience to imagine the “promised land” that Dr. Martin Luther King alluded to (but did not elaborate on) in his famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. Pointedly, Kennedy outlined distinct methodologies—each with positive and downside features—for thinking about race: from "race blind" to “race-blind Constitutionalism” to “looks like America.” Kennedy ended his talk on an upbeat tone, noting that he was an optimist about race in America saying that he believes that as a country, we continue to make slow but steady progress. In the q and a, Kennedy fielded several student questions regarding his legal and personal views, as well as his take on the student activism on campuses.
Thursday, February 4: Our final speaker of the week Thomas Sanderson, a renowned threat analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. delivered a comprehensive survey on the multiple and unprecedented level of global threats. Sanderson touched on a broad range of issues, explained the research process of actually diagnosing threats around the world and recounted his experiences traveling to some of the most harrowing parts of the world.
Week of January 25, 2016
by Charlie Harris '19, Samy Lemos '18, Alicia Tsai '19, and J. Camilo Vilaseca '15
Athenaeum Digital and Social Media Team
The Ath’s first week back in session was quite an eventful one, and set the tone for what is looking to be another strong and engaging semester.
Monday, January 25: Comedian W. Kamau Bell tried to end racism in a bit under an hour. While he may not have been able to end racism completely, Kamau Bell was extremely entertaining, and advised white people to take pride in their race. This pride means the willingness to call out their own people, rather than turning the other way and ignoring race. Kamau Bell also told his own story of racism, where he was turned away from a café in Berkeley because he was talking to his white wife. His call to students in attendance was that we as inquiring and young minds must call out racism, because it won’t end unless people are willing to stand up.
Tuesday, January 26: The Ath hosted a conversation on campus resource centers designed to help diversity and inclusion. Moderated by CMC's chief civil rights officer Nyree Gray, the panel featured three speakers from the Claremont Colleges: Sumi Pendakur (Harvey Mudd), Mariana Cruz (Claremont McKenna), Yuka Ogino (Scripps). The panel was both thought provoking and emotional, and it reminded us of the importance of learning, growing, and changing around different sets of ideas. The conversation indicated that any campus resource center must be both sustainable and growth oriented, as it will serve for a space to build trust, educate, and value cultures and ideas that we may not share as our own.
Wednesday, January 27: Professor Pardis Madhavi visited from our neighbor south of 6th Street. Madhavi talked about the sexual politics that are a factor in the US-Iran Nuclear Deal. Much of her talk, even though not purposefully, helped dispel many of the myths of Iran as a strict adherent of Sharia Law. Her talk also went more in-depth on the nature of social change in Iran, and how the push by many of the youth (70% of Iran’s population is under the age of 35) has forced the government to open up more to the West. The fascinating talk helped explain much of what is happening in Iran, and how not everything is as it appears.
Thursday, January 28: Professor Colin Adams of Williams College, or as he is also known, Sir Randolph Bacon III, or Mel Slugbate, gave a rip-roaring talk on knot theory. While the subject might have at first appeared to be more math oriented then what many would have thought, the simplicity with which he was able to explain the subject, as well as the comic edge that the talk took made it one of the most entertaining talks at the Ath in a long time.
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Unless otherwise noted, lunch begins at 11:45 a.m.; speaker presentations begin at 12:15 p.m.
Evening receptions begin at 5:30 p.m.; dinner is served at 6 p.m.; speaker presentations begin at 6:45 p.m.