SU Speaker Series to feature authors, actor and innovators

Michael Tabb | Student Life
After six hours of presentations, discussion and voting, Student Union allocated money for authors Sheryl WuDunn and Mary Roach, activist Geoffrey Canada, scientist Steven Squyres and “Sopranos” actor Joe Pantoliano to speak on campus this year.

Even after rejecting appeals to bring figure-skater-turned-diplomat Michelle Kwan, African innovator William Kamkwamba, hip-hop dance group Quest Crew and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, SU Treasury spent $110,500 on speaker appeals Sunday.

That is within $1,000 of what Treasury spent to bring actor Kal Penn, journalist Nate Silver, poet-singer-songwriter K’Naan and two of the MythBusters to campus last year.

Starting with nine options, SU Treasury spent hours eliminating speakers one by one at its Sunday afternoon meeting. Discussion over whom to fund extended from representation of women and different races to whether groups appealing for the speakers had the track records to prove they could actually bring the figures to campus.

“As far as criteria for speakers, I think we should look at the whole package. I’m looking for someone who can connect with a wider range of people,” sophomore and Treasury representative Tianzan Pang said.

WuDunn, co-author of the award-winning “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” and the first Asian-American woman to be hired by the New York Times back in 1989, will be coming to speak on behalf of the Half the Sky Movement chapter on campus.

“The book was published [in 2009]. Before that, people didn’t pay attention to these kinds of things. [WuDunn] started the conversation,” sophomore Alix Halloran, vice president of public relations for the chapter, said.

Kwan will not be a part of the 2013-14 Student Union speaker series, with some Treasury members arguing that she would be speaking on a similar topic as WuDunn but with less relevant experience.

Though she is known for her figure-skating prowess, Kwan would have been speaking about her post-retirement career and efforts to help women to be a bigger influence around the world. The Chinese Students Association’s request for funding for Kwan’s appearance was denied.

“My concern is that we’re overestimating her name recognition,” sophomore and Treasury representative Jordan Federbush said. “We’re not bringing her because of what people know her for, and so we might face major student disappointment.”

“We would be paying sport-player prices for a speaker who has less authority on a topic than Sheryl WuDunn,” sophomore and Treasury representative Scotty Jacobs said.

Canada was voted into the ranks with nearly unanimous support. The Association of Black Students, which hopes that he will be able to touch on the subject of education, presented Canada as its choice. He will be the culminating speaker during the association’s Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium week, the first week of April.

“This year, the event will focus on education as it affects the black community here and at large, with a critical look at equality,” Davida Farhat, senior and education chair of the ABS, said.

Treasury also passed Active Minds at Wash. U.’s appeal to fund Pantoliano. The actor, who suffered from depression, was an actor in “The Sopranos,” “The Matrix” and more than 100 other pieces. Active Minds wants Pantoliano to speak about breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“He talks about stigma, and that is very relevant to students here…We think by talking about it and having someone like Joey Pantoliano here, it will show people that it’s OK to talk about it,” Abhishek Saxena, junior and president of external affairs for the group, said. “We want to change to conversation of mental health—we’re not having the conversation. People can watch movies but not talk about it. We think if he comes, it will start the conversation.”

The spring 2014 Sex Week keynote speaker will be Roach, author of several widely acclaimed books including “Stiff,” “Spook” and “Bonk.” She will be speaking about Washington University’s role in discovering some of the science behind sex. She will be doing a book signing before giving a lecture-style speech on the history of University researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson.

“She is a completely different person than who was here for Sex Week last year,” Jacobs said. “She is more of a science-based speaker instead of someone who has sex for a living. To put it simply, Wash. U. students are having sex. People would be interested in the science of how the experiments happened. There’s a lot of value in bringing in Mary Roach.”

Squyres, an expert in astronomy and the principal investigator of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission, will tentatively be coming to campus for EnWeek at the end of February or beginning of March. EnCouncil hopes that he will be able to appeal to those who are in the engineering school but also to those who are interested in space exploration or science in general.

Gage Crawford, president of EnCouncil, argued that Squyres would appeal to a segment of the student body that would otherwise be overlooked.

“Student Union’s job is to serve the whole community. There are probably students who got into science because of NASA. [Squyres] appeals to a group that hasn’t been touched yet.”

In addition to the Chinese Student Association’s failed request for funding for Kwon, the African Student Association, China Care Club and Association of Latin American Students were denied funding for their speaker choices.

“We have a limited amount of money, and we’re trying to make everyone happy,” senior and Treasury representative Paul Blachar said. “We just can’t fund everyone.”