Fall 2014 Assembly Series features broad range of voices and perspectives, tackles timely issues

Series begins Sept. 8 with ‘Covering’ author Kenji Yoshino


In the wake of civil rights and social justice issues that have emerged from the situation in Ferguson, Mo., surrounding the death of African-American teenager Michael Brown, the Washington University in St. Louis Assembly Series will feature this fall presentations by several eminent civil rights scholars and authors.

Among them are Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who will speak Wednesday, Sept. 17; Roderick Ferguson on Monday, Sept. 29; and Patricia Williams, who will give the first of three talks on Tuesday, Sept. 30. (For more information on related programs and perspectives surrounding the issues in Ferguson, visit Wash U Voices.)

Prominent authors will book-end the series, beginning Monday, Sept. 8 with Kenji Yoshino, author of “Covering,” the selection of the university’s First Year Reading Program and concluding with best-selling novelist Curtis Sittenfeld on Nov. 12.

All Assembly Series events are free and open to the public, though seating may be limited due to venue constraints.

Sept. 8 Kenji Yoshino
“Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights”
7 p.m., Graham Chapel

When the Class of 2018 arrived on campus late last month, students carried a copy of the First Year Reading Program selection, “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights,” by legal scholar Kenji Yoshino. They were ready to begin their intellectual initiation into the Washington University community. Incoming students received a copy of “Covering” this summer, and on Aug. 22, they brought their insights and questions to facilitated discussions surrounding the book’s main themes.

On Monday, Sept. 8, students will have the opportunity to discuss the concept of covering with Yoshino himself when he visits campus for a day of student-related activities that includes delivering two public talks.

Yoshino will first appear at noon in Anheuser-Busch Hall’s Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom, as part of the School of Law Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series, then again at 7 p.m. in Graham Chapel for the Assembly Series. Both are free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the evening lecture.

In “Covering,” Yoshino urges readers to consider the act of “covering,” why it’s done and how it harms a person’s individuality.

Every society has rules of conformity, and every culture has its own set of valued attributes. The pressure to conform, or at least to “tone it down,” is a powerful force. Yoshino argues that the teenage boy who wants to study ballet but goes out for the football team instead is “covering”; the gay woman who is out but never brings her partner to work-related events is “covering.” Many have more than one cover, as does the author himself.

It is this more subtle form of discrimination that Yoshino contends is as much an assault on our civil rights as the more severe and obvious ones that are illegal. His point — that covering is a potential threat to hard-won civil rights — is considered revolutionary by many.

Part autobiography and part legal discourse, “Covering” includes much of Yoshino’s personal journey as a gay Asian-American and is his impassioned plea to understand what people lose when they sacrifice aspects of their true nature to fit in.

Yoshino, JD, is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University, where he specializes in constitutional law, civil rights law, and law and literature. Prior to this appointment, he taught law at Yale and Harvard universities. The Rhodes Scholar earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his law degree from Yale.

In addition to “Covering,” he has published “A Thousand Times More Fair,” which uses Shakespearean stories to illustrate contemporary problems of justice.

Co-sponsored by OUTLaw and the American Constitution Society in the School of Law.

The remainder of the fall Assembly Series schedule follows. The Assembly Series website will be updated soon with further information regarding speakers and programs.

Assembly Series Schedule

Jack Devine

Sept. 16
“The Importance and Ethics of National Intelligence”
5 p.m., Steinberg Hall Auditorium
Background information

Sherrilyn Ifill

Sept. 17
“From Brown to Ferguson: The Unfinished Business of Civil Rights”
Noon, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom
Background information

Roderick Ferguson

Sept. 29
“The University and the Combinations of Heart and Mind”
5 p.m., Umrath Hall Lounge
Background information

Patricia Williams

Sept. 30
“Love in the Time of Identity Wars: Anatomy of Short Lives”
Noon, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Courtroom
Background information

Carl Hart

Oct. 10
“Demystifying the Science of Drug Addiction: Neuroscience, Self-discovery, Race and U.S. Drug Policy”
11 a.m., Graham Chapel
Background information

Gautam Yadama & Mark Katzman

Oct. 13
“Fires, Fuel and the Fate of 3 Billion”
5 p.m., Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom
Background information

Stephen Prothero

Oct. 23
“Why Liberals Win: America’s Culture Wars from the Election of 1800 to Same-sex Marriage”
7:30 p.m., Knight Hall, Emerson Auditorium
Background information

Christoph Irmscher

Oct. 27
“Talking about Race in 19th-century American Science: Louis Agassiz and his Contemporaries”
4 p.m., location to be determined
Background information

Eric Kandel

Oct. 28
“The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present”
5 p.m., Graham Chapel
Background information

David Shneer

Nov. 4
“Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War and the Holocaust”
5 p.m., location to be determined
Background information

Nasrine Seraji

Nov. 7
“As a Woman I Have No Country, as a Woman My Country Is the World of Architecture”
6:30 p.m., Steinberg Hall Auditorium
Background information

Curtis Sittenfeld

Nov. 12
“An Evening with Curtis Sittenfeld”
6 p.m., Simon Hall, May Auditorium
Background information