Introducing the 2015 Fall Assembly Series

Issues of race, social justice among topics presented in Washington University's signature lecture series

It has been a year since “Ferguson” entered the collective consciousness of the nation and became a cultural touchstone concerning the racial divide still plaguing America. On the Washington University in St. Louis campus, what followed the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting death of Michael Brown was a year of examinations and conversations, many of which exposed serious fractures in our governing institutions.

Last year, the Washington University Assembly Series and its campus partners tackled this issue head on. This fall, the university’s signature lecture series — which has, since 1953, brought some of the most important voices in contemporary society to campus — reflects this continuing interest with five programs that delve into issues of race and social justice.

Kicking off the series is the appearance of social scientist Melvin Oliver, PhD, who will help the university welcome back to Arts & Sciences the Department of Sociology. Topics in science, history, literature and entrepreneurship also are represented in the lineup.

All Assembly Series programs are free and open to the public, although there may be occasions when public access will be limited. Visit for the complete schedule, and look for a new website this fall, which will contain more information about the series and its programs, as well as be a source for updates and changes to the program.

The 2015 fall schedule:

Wednesday, Sept. 16

Melvin Oliver, “Income and Wealth Inequality”

4:30 p.m., Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom

Oliver’s long and distinguished career has been devoted to understanding and addressing the complex factors that contribute to deep racial disparities in wealth.

He is best known for his pioneering study, together with sociologist Thomas Shapiro, PhD, that revealed the deep divide that exists within our culture that keeps African-Americans from receiving the same opportunities as whites for building wealth. In their research, Oliver and Shapiro make the distinction between “income,” defined as a standard of living, and “assets,” broadly defined as savings, investments and inheritances that provide opportunities for advancing or enriching a life.

The result of their research was the seminal 1995 book, updated in 2006, called “Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Equality.”

Oliver is the SAGE Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he also serves as executive dean of the College of Letters and Sciences and as professor of sociology. In addition to his tenure in academia, Oliver, who earned his doctorate in sociology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in 1977, served for several years as vice president of asset building and community development for the Ford Foundation.

Read: An interview with Oliver, “Race: The Power of an Illusion,” PBS
Read: Oliver’s Washington Magazine profile

Monday, Sept. 21

Claudia Rankine, “Citizen: An American Lyric”

7 p.m., Graham Chapel

Claudia Rankine’s book of prose poetry, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” was published last year near the time of Brown’s death in Ferguson. Through a combination of essays, poems and images, Rankine ruminates on “micro-racist” moments in life that build up and get stored in the unconscious, creating a compilation of unintentional slights from people who don’t recognize their actions as racist, leaving the author (and reader) to figure out how to cope with them.

“Citizen” is this year’s First Year Reading Program selection for the Class of 2019. The book, recipient of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, is a reminder that the “post-racial world” remains a long way off. (This is the First Year Reading Program lecture).

Listen: Rankine reads excerpts from “Citizen”

Watch: Rankine addresses racism in the wake of the Charleston tragedy

Thursday, Sept. 24

Rebecca Ginsburg, “Why Universities Should Be in


4 p.m. Hillman Hall, Maxine Clark & Bob Fox Forum

“By educating them we make a real impact in our communities and to the well-being of society at large.”

By “them,” Rebecca Ginsburg, JD, PhD, is referring to prison inmates, and her statement expresses not just something hopeful but the result of everyday experiences. Ginsburg, associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also teaches at the Danville Correctional Center, a medium-high security facility operated by the state of Illinois. While her teaching and research interests are broad, they are united by a common theme of social justice.

Since 2006, when she co-founded the Education Justice Project, she has continued to expand the initiative. (This is the James E. McLeod Memorial Lecture.)

Watch: EJP students talk about the impact of learning

Read: A blog entry from an EJP student

Friday, Sept. 25

John Chisholm and Ronald Simpson-Bey,

“Redefining Justice In America”

6 p.m., Edison Theatre

The keynote event for the Brown School’s Smart Decarceration Initiative will feature two individuals who are making a positive impact on prison reform.

In 1986, Ronald Simpson-Bey was convicted of assault with intent to murder and was locked away to serve a life sentence. Twenty-four years later, thanks in part to his own legal research, his conviction was overruled. Since being freed, he has worked tirelessly to advance prison reform efforts, most recently through JustLeadershipUSA, an organization with the ambitious goal to halve the nation’s correctional population by 2030.


Since being elected in 2007 as district attorney of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, John Chisholm, JD, has implemented a host of initiatives designed to make the correctional system more fair, more just and more humane. He is committed to helping reverse mass incarceration policies and redress racial inequalities in his community.

Brought together for this program, they will consider what it will take to implement real justice under the law and transform inmates into productive citizens.

Moderating the conversation will be Glenn E. Martin, founder and director of JustLeadershipUSA. A leader in the criminal justice reform movement, Martin is frequently called upon by national news outlets to weigh in on related issues.

Read: The Smart Decarceration Initiative

Friday, Oct. 9

Jennifer Eberhardt, “Visual Attention and Racial Bias in

Policing and Criminal Justice”

11 a.m., Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom

Psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD, associate professor at Stanford University, investigates how subtle racial biases are interpreted in the brain. Her research reveals the extent to which racial imagery, and subsequent judgments based on imagery, suffuse the culture and influence different actions and outcomes for blacks and whites within the criminal justice system.

For example, Eberhardt has shown that people jump to negative conclusions when shown black faces vs. white faces, and that having stereotypical black facial features correlates with tougher jury verdicts, longer prison terms, more death sentences and erroneous identifications. (This is the Chancellor’s Fellows Lecture.)

Watch: Eberhardt summarizes her work

Read: “The Biased Eye,” NPR

Monday, Oct. 12

Elisabeth Lloyd, “The Orgasm Debate: How Social and

Theoretical Biases Lead Us Astray”

4 p.m., Location TBD

“Underlying biases exist throughout science, but surely nowhere in as extreme a form as in research into female sexuality.”


For decades, scientists have disagreed over the evolutionary purpose of the female orgasm, or whether there is one.

In her book, “The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution,” Elisabeth Lloyd, PhD, the Arnold and Maxine Tanis Chair of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University Bloomington, examines the existing theories from an objective perspective and presents an argument for the unpopular but scientifically solid theory that the female orgasm has no evolutionary purpose whatsoever. (This is the Thomas Hall History of Science Lecture.)

Read: “The ideas interview: Elisabeth Lloyd,” The Guardian (U.K.)

Read: “Understanding Orgasm,” American Psychological Association

Wednesday, Oct. 21

Anca Parvulescu, “Can Wolves Laugh? Modernist

Laughter in the Magic Theater”

Noon, Women’s Building, Formal Lounge

Anca Parvulescu, PhD, professor of English in Arts & Sciences with a joint appointment with the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities (IPH), will use Hermann Hesse’s novel, “Der Steppenwolf,” as well as a contemporary video installation, to consider the role of laughter in modernity.

In her talk, she will raise the question of whether Hesse’s faith in the promise of laughter is a relic of the past or whether it is still available to us as a potential resource.

Her talk is the final of three lectures that comprise this year’s Humanities Lecture Series: “Questioning Comedy: Politics, Theater, Laughter.” The series opens Oct. 7 with Timothy Moore, PhD, the John and Penelope Biggs Distinguished Professor of Classics, delivering the lecture, “The Paradox of Politics in Ancient Comedy.” On Oct. 14, Joseph Loewenstein, PhD, professor of English and director of the IPH, follows with “Shakespeare’s Dream of Politics.”

All three programs will be held at noon in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge. For more information, visit

Read: A review of Parvulescu’s book, “Laughter: Notes on a Passion”

Thursday, Oct. 29

Christine Souffrant, “The Power of Small Moves”

4 p.m., Lecture

5 p.m. Panel Discussion

Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom


When Christine Souffrant, a Haitian immigrant who grew up in a family of street vendors, saw how the earthquake of 2010 had devastated the vending trade, she created a company to digitize the industry and develop a global market. Vendedy, Souffrant’s social enterprise, dubbed “EBay meets Etsy for street vendors,” makes it easy to access products that are sold on streets and bazaars around the globe. (This is the Olin Fellows Lecture.)

Wednesday, Nov. 4

Jay Winter, “Memory and the Sacred: the Holocaust and

the Armenian Genocide”

5 p.m., Umrath Hall Lounge

“In many ways, (the Armenian genocide) shows that the old idea that war is politics by other means is outdated in the 20th century. War is hatred by other means. And in this case, hatred means extermination. The First World War was the biggest war ever to date. The Second World War was bigger still. It’s not an accident in my mind that both of them were marked by genocide. This is the logic of the brutalization of total war.”

So states imageJay Winter, PhD, the Charles J. Stille Professor of History at Yale University, in the 1997 PBS special, “The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century,” which he co-created and for which he served as chief historian.

Winter uses his knowledge of 20th-century European history to examine the psychological impact of that history on people and on nations. He is interested in studying how a nation remembers its wars and its repercussions, and how it chooses to memorialize it. (This is the Holocaust Memorial Lecture.)

Friday, Nov. 6

Paul Farmer, “In the Company of the Poor”

7 p.m. Lecture
8 p.m. Booksigning

NOTE LOCATION CHANGE: 560 Music Building, 560 Trinity Ave., University City *


“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”

This statement from Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, the Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University, serves as shorthand for the mission statement of Partners In Health, the organization he helped found three decades ago to advance the belief that health is a human right.

With a growing team of health-care professionals, volunteers and donors, Farmer is spreading his philosophy of social justice and quality medical care to the most destitute parts of the world. (This is the GlobeMed Lecture, sponsored by Student Union.)

* Visit here for information regarding bus shuttle service between the Danforth Campus and the 560 Building;

Visit here for 560 Building directions and parking information.

Read: “In the company of the poor,” Partners in Health blog

Monday, Nov. 9

Meghan Daum, “Truth in Writing”

5:30 p.m. Lecture/Reading
6:30 p.m., Booksigning

Hillman Hall #60 *


Meghan Daum writes about serious matters, but that doesn’t mean her novels, essays and columns cover only depressing topics. Rather, they cover real life – the heartbreak and the humor — in all its complicated glory.

In her newest collection, “The Unspeakable,” for example, she writes about her feelings of kinship with lesbians, how it feels to live through a life-threatening illness, and the love of a good dog. She uses moments from her life to explore broader issues of the day in a new or different way, but always with respect for the truth. (This is the Woman’s Club of WU Lecture.)

Listen: “For one essayist, the ‘unspeakable’ isn’t off-limits,” NPR

Read: “Meghan Daum on Writing What Nobody Will Say,” New York magazine

* Visit here for directions to Hillman Hall​