It's been said that one day at Oberlin is like an entire week somewhere else. As I near the end of my first semester, I've come to believe that's true. I have several events to choose from practically every night -- I often have to give up one to go to another! One of my favorite parts of Oberlin so far has been the huge variety of speakers that visit campus. I'm a big fan of lectures, and there are endless opportunities to attend them here! I thought I'd share some of the most poignant talks I've heard this semester (in no particular order). This doesn't even begin to include the number of fantastic student-led workshops and faculty panels that I've had the privilege of attending, not to mention the wonderful guest lecturers that have visited my classes.
Dodai Stewart, director of cultural coverage at Fusion and former deputy editor of Jezebel
Dodai Stewart came to Oberlin as part of a journalism symposium hosted by The Oberlin Review, where I work! She spoke about the dedication and drive it takes to be a journalist, as well as the importance of imagination. I was particularly struck by her point that objectivity is a lie -- there's usually a bias or a point of view in writing, and that's not a bad thing! She told us to stop pretending we are neutral, because journalism needs people who tell the truth and aren't afraid to use their position for activist purposes.
Another part of the symposium was a panel of recent alumni that now work in journalism, consisting of Rani Molla '08, who has worked at the Wall Street Journal; Alanna Bennett '13, who works at Buzzfeed; and Alice Ollstein '10, a reporter at ThinkProgress. Alanna and Alice were both Oberlin bloggers while they were here! It was incredibly inspiring to see these alums working as journalists; it reminded me how many possibilities and opportunities exist post-Oberlin, especially in the field in which I hope to work.
Reproductive Justice 101 with Maria Miranda of New Voices Cleveland
Students United for Reproductive Justice brought the amazing activist Maria Miranda to campus to educate students on the core values of reproductive justice. We learned that the movement was founded and is led by women of color, and that it focuses on many more issues than abortion. Maria spoke extensively on what it means to be a good ally, which is something I've been thinking a lot about at Oberlin (maybe that's a topic for another post).
She also explained that local and global communities are inextricably linked. One of my favorite takeaways from this event was that "the ability of any woman to determine what happens to her body is directly related to what is happening in her community." Intersectional, community-based efforts are absolutely central to what reproductive justice is and what it means. This workshop reminded me that I need to be conscious of the space I take up in the movement and make sure that I am helping to amplify the voices that need to be heard, specifically the voices of women of color.
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, Palestinian doctor, professor, peace activist, and author
Dr. Abuelaish doesn't just preach peace -- he lives it too. In 2008, three of his daughters and one of his nieces were killed in his Gaza home during an air strike. Instead of turning to anger, he decided to devote his life to fostering peace. Dr. Abuelaish has written an award-winning memoir called I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. Oberlin was so excited to have him visit; Craig Lecture Hall was absolutely packed with people!
One of Dr. Abuelaish's major points was that evil flourishes when good people do nothing. To him, violence and hatred are diseases that often result from trauma. Like any diseases, they should be both treated and prevented. Therefore, we must take responsibility and make sure that no one around the world is suffering. He focused on the interconnectedness of humanity, saying that peace is a way of life, and the peace of all humans is linked. "I am not healthy as long as you are not healthy; I am not peaceful as long as you are not peaceful," he said.
Dr. Abuelaish reminded the audience that, though activism starts by talking about issues, that's not the end goal -- it's the means to an end. We ultimately want action. I have been thinking about that a lot since his talk, both in my work with student organizations and in response to readings about activism and direct action in my Introduction to Comparative American Studies class.
Zadie Smith, author
Zadie Smith gave the first convocation lecture that I was able to attend, as I unfortunately missed Bryan Stevenson due to a work conflict. After her convocation, I wrote a journal entry for my Introduction to Writing Fiction class about Zadie's concept of creative refusal (that rebelling against the status quo is central to creating original work). Here's an excerpt:
What I promise to take from your idea of creative refusal is a refusal to shut down, to be any less emotional than feels true to me, a refusal to censor myself. Vulnerability is rebellion. I want to be nothing less than honest with my words, to seek approval from no one, to center my writing in truth.
I came to Oberlin to write, but sometimes I lose sight of the joy that propels me to create new work. The wisdom of people like Zadie has been invaluable in centering me and reminding me why I write.
These are only a few of the incredible lectures I've heard over the last few months. Some of my other favorites include Isa Noyola (who spoke about the murders of trans women of color, as well as her work advocating for trans women in immigrant detention centers) and Martine Rothblatt (who co-founded SiriusXM Radio and helped create a robot version of her wife). I encourage you to research all the people I've mentioned, as they all taught me so much. If you're interested in learning more about speakers at Oberlin, here's a link to the events calendar's section about lectures.