Assembly Series fall programs explore social justice, science

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, in an address to the Washington University in St. Louis community as the academic year began, said the tragedies that occurred throughout the summer “remind us the pursuit of social justice must continue.” He also said that the strong sense of community, together with the joy of exploring new ideas and different perspectives, are what makes Washington University a world-class institution.

These sentiments are reflected in the fall 2016 Assembly Series program schedule, as the lineup includes several speakers who serve as a conduit for advancing social justice. They are passionate advocates for remembering the democratic principles on which this country was founded. They are identifying crucial policy issues and leading the charge to incentivize change — sometimes through cultural understanding, sometimes through legal channels. These twin processes have helped propel progress in civil rights and will continue to do so.

The topics this fall reflect the work, both inside and outside the classroom, being conducted at the university. And many of the speakers have connections to Washington University: three are alumni; one is a professor; and two individuals are tied to a significant but overlooked piece of institutional history.

Visit for detailed profiles about upcoming speakers and their lecture topics. Visitors can contribute comments, both on the website and through the series’ social media channels. As always, Assembly Series programs are free and open to the public.

Monday, Sept. 12 


Van Jones, “Green Jobs, Not Jails: Criminal Justice Reform, Racial Equity and the Green Economy”

7 p.m., Graham Chapel (Student Union Trending Topics Lecture)

Former White House environmental adviser, CNN political commentator and social entrepreneur Van Jones will open the fall Assembly Series.

The Yale-educated lawyer has worked for two decades to advance his goals for improving the environment and tackling social justice challenges. He came into the public eye in 2008 when he was named the inaugural “green czar” by President Barack Obama. In that capacity, Jones led the inter-agency process overseeing the government’s multi-billion dollar investment in skills training and jobs development within the environmental and energy sectors.

Earlier, Jones was an outspoken advocate for the Green Jobs Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2007. He also founded Green for All, a national organization whose mission is to create green jobs in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Other social justice organizations he co-founded are the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change, both of which provide a way for people to make positive changes and reduce the negative factors that drag communities down. Jones also created a modern think tank, “Rebuild the Dream,” which seeks innovative solutions for a growing economy, as well as Dream Corps, a social justice accelerator.

Jones is the author of two bestselling books: “The Green Collar Economy” and “Rebuild the Dream.”

Monday, Sept. 19

Dean Strang, “Considering Systemic Injustice in Light of ‘Making a Murderer’: The Need for Criminal Justice Reforms”

5 p.m., Graham Chapel

Monday, Sept. 26

Brittany Packnett, “Between the World and You: Our Duty to Fight for Freedom”

7 p.m., College Hall (First Year Reading Program Lecture)

Wednesday, Sept. 28

Garth Risk Hallberg, “Organized Complexity: the Novel and the City”

6 p.m., Holmes Lounge; book signing to follow

(Note: The programming gap allows for presidential debate preparations and for fall break.)

Thursday, Oct. 20

Arsalan Iftikhar, “Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms”

4:30 p.m., Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom; book signing to follow (Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman Lecture)

Tuesday, Oct. 25

Christopher Newfield, “Why Don’t Universities Support Racial Equality?”

4 p.m., Umrath Hall Lounge (James E. McLeod Memorial Lecture)

Thursday, Oct. 27

Bill McKinnon, “Reaching the Final Frontier: NASA’s New Horizons Mission to Pluto … and Beyond!”

4 p.m., Graham Chapel

Wednesday, Nov. 2

Doris Bergen, “Holocaust or Genocide: Uniqueness and Universality”

5 p.m., Umrath Hall Lounge (Holocaust Memorial Lecture)

Thursday, Nov. 3

Tom Maier and Michelle Ashford,  “Sex in America, Then and Now: The Lasting Legacy of Masters and Johnson”

5 p.m., Graham Chapel; book signing to follow (Helen Manley Lecture)

Monday, Nov. 7

Gregory Radick, “How and Why Darwin Got Emotional About Race”

4 p.m., location to be announced (Thomas Hall Lecture in History of Science)

For directions and visitor parking information, visit the Parking and Transportation website.

For more information on upcoming programs or to sign up for email announcements, visit  or call 314-935-4620.

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