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Lecture elicits mixed reactions

National best-selling and Pulitzer Prize winning authors fell short of expectations, according to a few students who attended their Sept. 21 lecture. Wheaton College, in conjunction with Opus: The Art of Work, Department of Politics and International Relations, Tiffany Memorial Fund, Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE), Gender Studies Program, Human Needs & Global Resources (HNGR) and Globus, welcomed Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn to present “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” in Coray Gymnasium. Kristof — a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times — and WuDunn — the first Asian-American to win a Pulitzer Prize and a former business editor at The New York Times — are a husband and wife duo who use journalism and activism to report and advocate for human rights. Wellknown for their three best selling books: “China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power,” “Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia” and, more recently, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” Kristof and WuDunn are highly sought after public speakers. Many students who attended were excited about the event, and the audience, which was too large for Coray, spilled over into Barrows Auditorium. Many students gave positive feedback about the event afterwards.

However, some Wheaton students were less enthusiastic. Junior sociology major Jenna Yount had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with Kristof. When asked about it, she said, “It wasn’t helpful,” and that she couldn’t pinpoint “what the point of the round table was.” Yount was disappointed by the discussion after having read the book, which she described as “fantastic and absolutely amazing.” Yount said that during the event, the speakers “didn’t (say) anything I didn’t already know; there was no new information.”

As a sociology major, Yount felt that the information covered could be found in any “basic sociology or anthropology class.”

Photo Credit: Kirkland An
Photo Credit: Kirkland An

Prisca Tuyishime, junior psychology major and HNGR student, was also at Kristof’s round table. She echoed Yount, saying, “I didn’t get any information that I didn’t already know,” and said that some of his responses were “very vague.” She described the round table as a “very generalized over view.”

Senior political science major and EVP of college life Iskar Smith, who was also present at the round table discussions, had similar opinions, but said more about evening event itself. “The deeper issue for me was a Christopher Columbus savior complex view of poor people,” he said.

Smith describes himself as a “city kid,” but said that “as a black man from the city, my normalcy gets treated as a miracle,” with the subliminal message being “the success of poor black people depends on the charity of white people.” For this audience in particular, Smith thought this message could be especially dangerous, “because you have all these people here who are older, wealthy and white, who are going to think, well now, I need to go save a city kid.” Smith said that success doesn’t “depend on charity, it depends on justice” and warned against “conflate(ing) charity with justice.”

While the event was logistically a success for the college, it left some wondering, “How do we do it — how do we make a difference?” Freshman George Turkington told The Record that as a Christian institution, having people like Kristof and WuDunn come in and talk about social justice issues is “as close to Christianity as you can get, but it’s like Christianity without Christ.”

Likewise, Yount remarked that the event “didn’t have the Christian aspect of humility … (and) if you are doing that type of work and you don’t have the view that everyone is made in God’s image, then you can easily fall into paternalism and ethnocentrism.”

Kristof left college students with these words: “My advice would be really to find a way to step outside your comfort zone — it could be to travel or to volunteer (but find a way) to get out of your comfort zone.” Students with further comments or questions about the event can post to the following link provided by Opus.

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