The Athenaeum debuts virtually with stellar fall lineup

When the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum’s speaker series kicks off its fall 2020 season next week, it will do so with a focus on pressing national issues—the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight for racial justice, the national election, and data security—front and center of an impressive fall lineup.

It’s where CMCers expect the Ath to be, at the nexus of impactful, topical, and thought-provoking engagement, all leading to the vigorous exchange of ideas from community members. True to form, the Ath’s virtual exploration this semester will deliver on “its longstanding commitment to student learning and growth,” said director Priya Junnar.

“The Ath is so integral to the CMC experience—not just for students, but for everyone in the community. It’s part of the College’s DNA,” said Junnar, who spent the summer finding and curating top-notch speakers.

“This fall, I want to make sure that the Ath continues to be a presence in the life of the College by offering a vibrant, in-the-moment, and memorable program.”

The first two weeks alone feature prominent speakers and scholars: Award-winning writer David Eagleman (September 9), acclaimed neuroscientist and author of “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain,” will discuss “The Science of Lockdown: What Happens to Our Brains in Isolation?” Ibram X. Kendi (September 14), historian and author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” his New York Times bestselling memoir, will share thoughts and ideas on the elements of an anti-racist society—how to build it, how to engage with it, and how to live it. And in a moderated conversation, prominent legal scholars Akhil Amar and Steven Calabresi (September 17), will explore and debate a wide array of issues raised by originalism—the interpretation of the Constitution based on its original meaning.  

This semester, the 2020-21 Ath Fellows—Christopher Agard ’21, William Frankel ’21, and Nandeeni Patel ’21—will take on more prominent roles as interviewers, Junnar said. Pivoting from the typically intense social demands of the role to a virtual environment allows the Fellows to engage the speaker in moderated and targeted conversation. On Ath evenings, the Fellows will introduce the program and interview the speakers, as well as curate questions from the audience and help out behind-the-scenes. 

The fall lineup also features luminaries, such as Peter Rice, chairman of Walt Disney Television, who will discuss the television business, trends over time, and his own career path; and journalist Cary Aspinwall, a past Pulitzer finalist who will detail her reporting for The Marshall Project on how a recent Supreme Court decision will affect tribal citizens in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

CMC faculty members will lend their expertise and talent throughout the series, including presidential campaign scholar Jack Pitney, who will preview Election 2020; renowned poet Henri Cole, who will read from his latest collection, “Blizzard”; Lily Geismer, who will discuss suburban strategies of both major parties over the last 50 years and explore the possibilities and drawbacks of appealing to suburban voters (especially for the Democrats); and Minxin Pei, who will weigh in, post-election, on the tenor and possibilities of U.S.-China relations in the next presidential administration. 

CMC alumni are also well-represented, including Elizabeth Wydra ’98, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, who will take part in a discussion on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, led by history professor Diana Selig; and Dan Crowley '10, global head of Trust & Safety and Data Protection at Quizlet, who will lead a presentation on data privacy and digital platform content moderation.

Most weeks, the Ath will feature two evening events beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific Time. Because the programming will be virtual, the audience will be broader, and can include not only students, but also parents, alumni, and friends who are invited to join through a protected Zoom webinar format. 

In consideration of students in different time zones who are unable to join the event in real time, all events will be recorded and available to CMC students, faculty, and staff for some period of time after the event. 

For the full schedule, visit

- Anne Bergman