Remote lectures bring speakers’ insights, perspectives to students’ homes

Marlon James stands at a podium marked "Claremont McKenna College" at right
Author Marlon James speaks at CMC’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum in February 2017. The Athenaeum has launched “Postcards from the Ath” in response to event cancellations. (Adela Pfaff • The Student Life)

Nationwide restrictions on public gatherings forced the 5Cs to cancel and postpone the spring semester’s remaining in-person speaker events as students left campus in March. 

But organizations like Scripps Presents, the Pomona College Humanities Studio and the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum are still working to bring students and community members new insights wherever they are.

Scripps Presents, Scripps College’s leading speaker series, was set to host Lois Lowry, Ani DiFranco and Susan Orlean this spring. With the series suspended until further notice, the talks were canceled.

In its place, however, Scripps launched “Scripps Presents@Home,” a remote version of the in-person series. Corrina Lesser, Scripps’s director of public events and community programs, said via email that she hopes the program will “bring some light, levity, art and culture into [our] lives while we practice the now ubiquitous ‘social distancing’” and “create a space to make sense of the world.”

“‘Scripps Presents@Home’ will host the same kinds of writers and artists that we usually do: people whose perspectives inspire and provoke us to think in new and interesting ways,” Lesser added.

The virtual series held its first event on April 23 over Zoom. The event featured “Saturday Night Live”’s Bowen Yang in conversation with novelist Jade Chang.

In similar fashion, the Office of Parent Relations at Pitzer College has launched a virtual series titled “Pitzer@Home” that features a wide array of workshops and virtual lectures, including presentations from several local artists and talks with faculty and chaplains.

Pomona College has moved in the same direction, featuring weekly workshops and a virtual series titled “Humanities Happy Hour,” sponsored by the Humanities Studio. The series has hosted two events so far, both featuring discussions about classic literary works written during similar times in history: the Plague of Athens and the 1918 pandemic.

In addition, the Harvey Mudd College Offices of Community Engagement and Institutional Diversity launched three remote speaker series in lieu of in-person events.

“Community Conversations” covers topics ranging from climate change to supporting K-12 education, “I’m a First” features conversations with first-generation college students and “Virtual Work Etiquette” discusses relevant skills such as how to conduct virtual interviews. The HMC presentations take place over Zoom and feature a variety of faculty members, students and special guests.

The HMC Office of Alumni & Parent Relations has also launched a virtual discussion series titled “Mudd Talks.” On April 23, the series featured a conversation with epidemiologist Dr. Nadia Abuelezam HM ’09 and associate professor of chemistry and biology Karl Haushalter about COVID-19.

Taking a more digestible tack, the Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College launched a daily series titled “Postcards from the Ath.” The series features 60-second lectures from CMC faculty members, easy recipes, 60-second thesis project videos and rebroadcasts of past Athenaeum presentations. Those interested can access the series through Instagram, Facebook or on the Athenaeum’s homepage.

“The Ath is such an integral part of the CMC experience,” Athenaeum Director Priya Junnar said in a CMC press release. “I want everybody, especially our students, to connect as much as possible. These are unprecedented times: We must be creative and bold. And to the extent we can, we must reimagine and repurpose.”

While colleges have moved as many events online as possible, many scheduled events were canceled with no immediate replacement due to the pandemic.

Angela Davis, renowned political activist and former professor at the Claremont Colleges, was not able to complete her scheduled visit to Pomona in April. According to the Pomona History Department, her visit has been rescheduled for March 2021.

Other events were not rescheduled at all. Among these are HMC’s 2020 Annenberg Leadership and Management Speaker Series and Pitzer’s 2020 Glass Humanities Lecture, which would have featured renowned poet Ishion Hutchinson.

Several events hosted by the CMC Kravis Lab for Social Impact were canceled as well, including the “WoC: Story of Us” presentation that was to conclude the CMC Women of Color “Story of Us” Fellowship.

The Kravis Lab also had to cancel in-person presentations from the final three speakers of the “Dinner with World Changers” series — Brandon Anderson, Sissy Trinh and Laura D’Asaro. 

But while the in-person events were canceled, the lab converted both Anderson and Trinh’s presentations into podcasts and D’Asaro’s into a virtual event complete with challenges and cash prizes.

Director of the Kravis Lab Gemma Bulos was pleased with the pivots the lab has made, and is excited for the future of virtual events.

“The human need to connect is forcing people to figure out unique ways to stay connected,” she said. 

This article was last updated May 4, 2020 at 8:58 p.m.

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