People You’ll See In Your Lecture

The Stenographer:

This person started typing the second the professor said “hi.” This is the person making that loud keyboard sound ALL THE FUCKING TIME. This person sure as hell is making up facts to make note of because WHY WOULD YOU COPY THE ENTIRE SYLLABUS IF ITS POSTED ON CANVAS??

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Know your Lecture Board candidates: Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors

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From left to right: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi

In July 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted from the charge of second-degree murder of 17 year-old Treyvon Martin. In response, Alicia Garza, an organizer and special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, took to her Facebook page to write a “love letter” to the black community, and a plea for all to recognize that “black lives matter.” Her friend, Patrisse Cullors, head of an advocacy organization for incarcerated people, repeated the phrase from her own social media accounts, adding a hashtag.

Opal Tometi, executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, remembers reading Garza’s post after leaving a screening of Fruitvale Station and hearing that Zimmerman had been acquitted:  “Within this formation Alicia basically said, ‘Hey, we need to come together to understand this moment and provide some shared guidance, a reading, as well as a call to action for our people.’ Black Lives Matter is how she’d been talking about it. That really resonated with me.”

Together, the three women made #BlackLivesMatter a national mantra, dubbed by many the start of a second civil-rights movement. While the hashtag began as a way to promote demonstrations and rallies around the country in response to police brutality against black individuals, today Black Lives Matter is an organization with 26 national chapters. “Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our de-humanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society” reads the organization’s website.

Although the movement began in response to the issues of police brutality, today Black Lives Matter is fighting for a greater cause, that “goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.” Garza describes the organization and phrase as, “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

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Junot Díaz talk discusses social activism in academia

Presented by the Brown Center for Students of Color’s Heritage Series, Junot Díaz came to Salomon auditorium Saturday night for a conversation about social activism in academia. Open to the public, the lecture was the keynote talk for the 2015 Latinx Ivy League Conference at Brown. The event was organized by the Latino Heritage Series Programmers, Lehidy Frias ’17 and Kiki Tapiero ’17.

Junot Díaz is the author of DrownThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and This is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller. Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated with his family to New Jersey when he was six years old. Díaz currently teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is an outspoken voice for social activism and justice.

Ignoring the lectern set up for the event, Junot Díaz walked up to the lip of the stage. He explained, “I do have comments prepared, you don’t get as nerdy as me and not come ready to roll,” but that he wanted to switch the order of the lecture, given what has happened this week on campus. Díaz transformed the structure of his lecture into a discussion, having students’ questions direct the conversation. Here is what we talked about:

With people who don’t seem to care, you must approach a conversation with compassion.

Díaz explained that “nothing is more politicized than the status quo,” and that many of us grow up weaned on status quo mentality. “Back then, when someone resisted the status quo, we were troubled by it. Remember how uncomfortable we were, how quickly we wanted the conversation to change.” Díaz reminded the audience that “we are not born activists,” and that it’s easy to forget how “messed up we used to be.” As such, Díaz explained his baseline for these types of conversations “always starts with compassion,” and that you must remember that the person you are angry at might have been you once.

Graduating is an act of defiance. 

One student asked Díaz how one might deal with racist and oppressive professors, given a situation where the instructor and student are in such an imbalance of power, with the instructor in control of the student’s grades and view of the world. Díaz explained that we must wrestle with the idea that this has “never been a safe space for us.” Díaz continued, “Where is safe? Where you’re from? Your neighborhood? You’re bugging if you think you’re safe in your home. We fight to get to college, thinking it will be a safe space, only to find out it was a lie.” Díaz explained, “You must recognize that we are in an educational system of deep scarcity. A couple students of color get in, and the door is shut.”

Díaz addressed the students of color in the audience: “My goal is that as many of you will graduate. There’s a million at home holding down the fort. The bench is full. We don’t need one more of you home, holding home down. We need you to be here, and to graduate. You survived growing up black, brown, yellow, Indigenous, and survived. This shit is cake… There are two options, fight or kneel. Our ancestors spent a lot of time kneeling, so we would have a chance to fight.”

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8 things we learned at An Evening with David Sedaris

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David Sedaris, humorist and essayist, came to the swanky Providence Performing Arts Center Monday night for a reading of new and past works and a book signing. Sedaris is the author of the bestselling personal essay collections Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and also frequently contributes to The New Yorker magazine and blog. With a stack of books and papers under his arm, Sedaris wandered onto the massive PPAC stage to read, teaching us a few things:

1. Tumors make good turtle food. Sedaris had a benign fatty tumor in his side called a lipoma. He had taken a liking to a particular snapping turtle, which had a growth on his head, near his house in Emerald Isle and came to the conclusion that he had to feed his tumor to the turtle. He went to a doctor who said he could take the tumor out, but could not give him any removed body parts due to Federal law. Sedaris had the tumor removed in the middle of the night by a fan who approached him at a book signing, who explained that while she was not a surgeon officially, she learned it for a year in med school. After his trip to her clinic after the show, Sedaris kept the tumor in his freezer for almost a year, as the turtles were hibernating. But, when springtime rolled around and he returned to Emerald Isle, Sedaris discovered that his favorite snapping turtle had died over the winter. Sedaris somewhat reluctantly fed the tumor to other turtles in the area, and they gobbled it up!

2. Sedaris is a local litter hero. As described in his 2014 essay in The New Yorker, “Stepping Out”, Sedaris loves his FitBit. When he first got it, he loved it so much that he started picking up trash on his long walks, upping his self-imposed litter-patrol shifts to about nine hours a day, around 60,000 steps, and about 20 – 25 miles. Sedaris shared that he once collected garbage for 30 miles in one day, taking him 11.5 hours. Sedaris has collected so much garbage around his village in West Sussex, England that the local council has named a garbage truck after him and he was invited to Buckingham Palace last May to meet Queen Elizabeth II. 

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Brown Lecture Board Presents: George Takei  

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This week, the Brown Lecture Board hosted Mr. George Takei, renowned actor and activist, for a speaking event on campus. Most famously known for his role as Hikaro Sulu in the series Star Trek, Mr. Takei has recently emerged as one of the most prominent advocates for LGBT rights in the country and has garnered a massive following on social media.

The event was hosted in Solomon and began at around 7:00 pm. I arrived a few minutes before they opened the doors, so I was able to watch the slowly filling the lecture hall turn into a buzzing audience before Mr. Takei took the stage. Just a few minutes after the hour, Mr. Takei walked out to a big round of applause, bouncing as he walked up to the podium with a huge grin on his face, brandishing the trademark Vulcan salute.

Mr. Takei’s skills as an orator and an entertainer were clear from the beginning. He moved around, spoke eloquently and clearly, and held the audience at attention through his storytelling. Starting contextually, Mr. Takei began the lecture by saying that he had lived through a harrowing part of American history: the forced internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The son of Japanese-American immigrants, at the age of 5, Mr. Takei was forced to leave his California home and relocate to a camp in Arkansas. Due to his young age, living in the camps became a normal part of life, and he even said he had fond memories of living in Arkansas. Having to take communal showers, line up for meals, and go through the routines of life in an internment camp became standard living practices. However, he would not be in Arkansas for long. Because of his parent’s principles, they refused to admit a former allegiance to the emperor of Japan, and he was forced to move yet again, this time to a much harsher internment camp.

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Sarah Koenig lecture discusses story-telling and Serial

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This afternoon, Sarah Koenig spoke in Salomon about her career in radio and journalism, and on the power of storytelling. The lecture was presented by the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, as one of the final events celebrating Women’s History Month. Koenig, a journalist and radio producer, has worked at The East Hampton Star, ABC News, The New York Times, and This American Life. Perhaps most notably, she hosted and produced Serial, a spin-off to This American Life. Serial  debuted in October 2014 at No. 1 on the iTunes charts, and was the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads.

Serial, a 12-part weekly non-fiction podcast re-investigated the murder of Hae Min Lee, a teenage girl who disappeared in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 13, 1999, and whose body was found a month later in Leakin Park. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested and convicted of her murder. The podcast closely reexamined the details of Lee’s disappearance and Syed’s subsequent trial through interviews with many of the relevant persons to the crime, including Syed, and painstaking review of relevant phone records and court documents.

Although Koenig originally expected a modest 300,000 listeners, Serial erupted into a cultural sensation. It gained an ardent fan base, prompting a popular subreddit of listeners debating possible theories, as well as a December Saturday Night Live parody of the podcast, starring Cecily Strong and Amy Adams. To date, Serial has amassed 6.5 million listeners, a number completely unprecedented in audio storytelling and podcast industries.

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