Behind the headlines: Spring 2015 Assembly Series to tackle difficult issues

Series kicks off with sociologist, urban planner Xavier de Souza Briggs

Ebola. Ferguson. Charlie Hebdo. ISIS. Gay Marriage. Words often seen in headlines today serve as linguistic shorthand for the world’s most significant issues.

The Washington University in St. Louis Assembly Series, the university’s premier facilitator for presenting outstanding speakers for more than 60 years, continues to bring distinguished experts, scholars and newsmakers to campus. The series — always free and open to the public — explores universal concerns such as the issues today’s headlines grapple with, while it aims to promote deeper discussions across the university.


For the spring 2015 semester, speakers have been chosen for their expertise, insight and ability to present a singular, informed perspective. Also lending voices are Washington University faculty, many of whom are sought nationally and internationally as experts on subjects ranging from the cultural fallout of the Ebola epidemic, to the repercussions of and responses to Ferguson, to establishing St. Louis as an entrepreneurship hub.

The schedule kicks off at noon Thursday, Jan. 22, with Xavier de Souza Briggs, PhD, who will deliver the lecture “Toward a Just and Inclusive America.” The talk is the Center for Social Development (CSD) 20th Anniversary Lecture and will take place in the Brown School’s Brown Hall Lounge.

Briggs is a leading authority on economic opportunity, racial
and ethnic diversity, and innovation in urban areas within the United States and
around the globe. He is on leave from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to serve as vice president for the Ford Foundation’s Economic Opportunity and Assets division.

“Briggs is renowned for his groundbreaking research as a sociologist and urban planner as well as for his ability to develop innovative, practical solutions to address many of our societal ills,” said Michael Sherraden, PhD, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor and founder and director of the CSD.

“An early funder of CSD, the Ford Foundation is a unique resource for innovative people and institutions worldwide, and has made major contributions toward reducing poverty and injustice, promoting asset development strategies, and fostering democratic values and international cooperation,” Sherraden said.

Briggs’ books have won many awards in the social sciences fields. His most recent publication, “Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty,” (2010) won best book of the year from the National Academy of Public Administration. His earlier works include “Democracy and Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities across the Globe,” (2008) and “The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America,” (2005).

This is Briggs’ second leave from MIT to serve the public. In 2009, he was tapped as President Barack Obama’s associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he was responsible for setting policy and making budget/management decisions for several cabinet-level agencies.

Briggs earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Stanford University; a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University; and a doctorate in sociology and education from Columbia University.

Briggs’ lecture will be live-streamed at .

In addition to the CSD, co-sponsors for this program are the Brown School’s Policy Forum; the Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series in the School of Law; the Weidenbaum Center on Economy, Government, & Public Policy; the Department of Sociology in Arts & Sciences; and the Law & Social Work Society.

Four subsequent programs of the spring 2015 schedule
are listed below; the remainder of the schedule will follow in the Washington University Record and on the Assembly Series website.

For more information and updates, visit or call 314-935-4620 .

Assembly Series Spring 2015 schedule


Panel: “Marriage Equality and the GOP”
6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, Graham Chapel
Featuring Meghan McCain, Gregory T. Angelo and Fred Karger. Moderated by Jill Stratton
WU College Republicans Presentation

Three pro-marriage equality Republicans will express their views about their party’s stance on the subject. McCain, author, media pundit and daughter of Sen. John McCain, is an outspoken ally of the LGBT community; Angelo is the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans; and Karger is a political consultant, gay-rights activist and the first openly gay presidential candidate. Stratton, associate dean for undergraduate education, will moderate the panel.

This program is funded by Student Union and is part of the SU Speaker Series.


Reza Aslan
6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17, Graham Chapel
WU Foreign Policy Engagement Lecture

Aslan is an acclaimed religious scholar and author of several New York Times bestsellers including “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” He has appeared frequently in the media to help explain the rising threats of extremist groups such as ISIS, particularly since the Jan. 6 attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. As he told CNN’s Don Lemon recently: “Europe is facing nothing short of an identity crisis … there have been these seismic changes on the continent, culturally, racially, religiously, politically. And that’s resulted in this intense anti-immigrant and, more specifically, anti-Muslim backlash.”

This program is funded by Student Union and is part of the SU Speakers Series.


Ta-Nehisi Coates
7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, Graham Chapel
WU Political Review Lecture

As national correspondent of The Atlantic, Coates is known for his thought-provoking takes on culture, politics and social issues, and since this summer, he has become better known as the author of the Atlantic cover story, “The Case for Reparations.” Coates begins the 15,000-word article with this statement: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

This program is funded by Student Union and is part of the SU Speakers Series.

Abumrad (left) and Krulwich

Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich
4:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 26, Graham Chapel
“Celebrating Curiosity — Celebrating Arts & Sciences”

Arts & Sciences at Washington University is a many-splendored thing, and throughout the week of Feb. 23-27, it is hosting “Ampersand Week,” offering opportunities to experience the joys of the liberal arts. The week will culminate with a presentation by Abumrad and Krulwich, whose syndicated public radio program Radiolab is a long-running Peabody Award-winning show that explores topics of a scientific and philosophical nature. Their presentation is free, but tickets are required. Information concerning Ampersand Week events and ticket information for the Radiolab program will be available in early February at