Speaker Series selections provide for wide range of talks

With the help of carry-forward funds from last year, Student Union devoted its most significant budget in several years to its 2014-15 Speaker Series. Assuming that the funded speakers have schedules amenable to coming, this year’s selection promises to end up as one of the best in recent memory.

The name of Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan certainly jumps off the list as one that a great number of students recognize. Kwan will speak to her Asian-American identity and the role it played in her professional success as a figure skater and second career as a global ambassador.

Kwan’s expected speech represents a theme of diversity among the lineup of nine speakers, of whom six are people of color, four are women, two are gay and one is transgender. Still, it is crucial to remember that diversity is not just a numbers game, and the identities of the speakers should not take away attention from their impressive accomplishments.

For instance, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and occasional contributor to The New York Times, is among the most gifted living writers in any medium. Although his name value may mostly be limited to the political journalism world, Coates has been one of the foremost voices on race in the era of our first black president. His long-form piece, “The Case for Reparations,” for the June issue of The Atlantic was one of the magazine’s most-read and discussed pieces in its nearly 150-year history.

Transgender activist Janet Mock’s memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More” launched her into focus as another defining writer of the generation. After “Orange is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox spoke on campus in 2013, the University will have heard from two of the highest-profile transgender women of color in consecutive years.

The other speakers, a panel of pro-gay marriage Republicans, “Reading Rainbow” host and “Star Trek” actor LeVar Burton, ex-astronaut Mae Jemison and religion scholar Reza Aslan offer excellent diversity of not just identity but also career and personality. Ranging from politics to science, history to media, the speakers can present perspectives that appeal to nearly every subsection of the University community.

It’s also important to remember that many more acclaimed individuals will be cycling through campus this year, from the Founders Day and Fall South 40 Week speakers to guests hosted by multiple undergraduate and academic departments. Compelling and diverse voices from outside our community are constantly given space here, representing opportunities to expand learning beyond the classroom for a given hour of free time.

While we’re hoping that all the exciting and well-publicized Student Union speakers show up, let’s make sure we take advantage of all the guests we have the pleasure of welcoming to campus.

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