FOCUS Event Recaps
Princeton University is recommitting itself to combating systemic injustice. Of the steps it has taken, one of the most prominent is the FOCUS Speaker Series. FOCUS has brought some of the most prominent anti-racist speakers – including, to name just a few, Tracy K. Smith, Imani Perry, and Sarah Broom – to campus.
But alongside this flagship effort to bolster Princeton’s anti-racist education are dozens of behind-the-scenes changes designed to ensure that every no aspect of University life remains untouched.
At every FOCUS event, attendees are supplied with a free copy of the headliner’s book. It occurred to Manisha Chotalia, an office assistant in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, that the values of diversity and equity should be extended to the books offered to attendees as well as the authors who wrote them.
On Tuesday, January 11, 2022, ODUS, in conjunction with the Department of African American Studies (AAS) and the Council for the Humanities, hosted the first FOCUS Speaker Series event of the new year. The event featured author and journalist Sarah M. Broom in conversation with Professor Imani Perry of the AAS Department. This unique installment in the FOCUS Series took place in the Chancellor Green Rotunda with a limited in-person audience, and was broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube.
Sarah Broom is the author of the bestselling memoir The Yellow House, which received the National Book Award and was named one of the New York Times 10 best books of 2019. Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and a faculty associate with the Programs in Law and Public Affairs, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Jazz Studies. She has written six books, including Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, which won the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction.
In the late afternoon of Tuesday, December 7th, students filed into the drawing room of Campus Club. The club’s drawing room was packed, the rows of folding chairs already full as people clustered at the back of the room and angled themselves so they could see.
The crowd – mostly composed of students, but which also included many other members of the Princeton community – was there for the first in-person event in ODUS’ FOCUS Lecture Series. After months of bringing fruitful discussions about race, identity, privilege, and progress to Princeton over Zoom, the FOCUS Lecture Series was finally brought to campus. The event featured Jordan Salama ’19, an author and journalist who has written for publications including The New York Times and National Geographic, in conversation with Professor Christina Lee of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Joe Rolón, Butler College Director of Student Life, provided a welcome on behalf of the Latino Princetonians, an Employee Resource Group sponsored by Princeton’s Office of Human Resources.
On Thursday, October 14, 2021 at 5:00 PM, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and Princeton's Black Student Union hosted B(l)ack Together, a networking event for Black undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff. This year's event marked 20 years of Princeton's Black Student Union.
The final FOCUS Speaker Series event of the 2020-2021 academic year took place over Zoom on Tuesday, May 11th. ODUS was proud to host Professor Judith Weisenfeld and Pastor Eric Manning in a virtual conversation about race, religion, identity, and history in the United States.
Judith Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor and chair of Princeton’s Religion Department. Her most recent book, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration, won the 2017 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions. Pastor Eric Manning served in US Army Intelligence before beginning his tenure as the reverend of Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. Mother Emanuel was the site of a tragic 2015 mass shooting in which nine members of the church were murdered because of their race.
On Friday, May 7th at 7:30 PM, ODUS hosted a virtual lecture featuring Professor Tera Hunter in conversation with Chef Deborah VanTrece. It was the latest event in the FOCUS Speaker Series, a program designed to deepen and enrich anti-racist education at Princeton.
Tera W. Hunter is the Edwards Professor of American History and Professor of African American Studies at Princeton, where she teaches in both the History Department and the African American Studies Department. Her research focuses on race, gender, slavery, and labor in the American South. Her latest book is Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century. Deborah VanTrece is the chef, creative director, and owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, a fixture of the Atlanta restaurant scene. VanTrece has worked as a chef for twenty-five years and was awarded the Atlanta Business League’s 2017 Super Tuesday Conference Award for Creative Style. She was also featured as one of Zagat’s Most Badass Female Chefs in the US.
On Thursday, April 15th, ODUS hosted “The Black Scientific Renaissance at Bell Labs,” a virtual panel discussion with Professor William A. Massey ’77 and Professor James E. West H14. The event was the latest in the FOCUS Speaker Series, a program designed to deepen and broaden Princeton University’s anti-racist programming.
Dr. Massey is the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor in Princeton’s Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering. After graduating from Princeton with a degree in Mathematics, he was admitted to Bell Labs’ prestigious Cooperative Research Fellowship Program, where he met and worked alongside Dr. West. West is now a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He worked at Bell Laboratories for forty years – where he invented the foil electret microphone, which is used in nearly all modern recording electronics – before joining the Johns Hopkins faculty.
The Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, in conjunction with the Princeton Asian-American Students Association (AASA), was proud to host bestselling author Charles Yu in conversation with Professor Paul Nadal as part of the FOCUS Speaker Series. The discussion was streamed live on YouTube at 5:00 PM on Thursday, February 11th.
Charles Yu is a New York Times bestselling author. His work includes writing for several TV shows including HBO’s Westworld and his novel Interior Chinatown, which won the 2020 National Book Award. Undergraduate attendees were offered a free copy of Interior Chinatown. Paul Nadal is an Assistant Professor of English and American Studies at Princeton. He teaches courses on Asian-American literature and culture, and is especially interested in studying the literature of the Philippine diaspora.
On Tuesday, November 24th, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students hosted “Group Attitudes, Identities, & U.S. Politics,” an online panel discussion and Q&A session. The event, which was a part of the FOCUS Speaker Series, featured three experts in American political science and the history of racial appeals in politics: Professors LaFleur Stephens-Dougan of Princeton, Ashley Jardina of Duke University, and Davin Phoenix of the University of California, Irvine.
The three panelists are all recently published authors, and their books each had enormous significance for the topic of conversation. Stephens-Dougan is the author of Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics (2020). Jardina published her book White Identity Politics in 2019, and Phoenix’s book, The Anger Gap: How Race Shapes Emotion in Politics came out in 2019 as well.
On Tuesday, October 20th, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students hosted “Documenting Privilege” a FOCUS Speaker Series event featuring Dan-el Padilla Peralta ’06, associate professor of classics at Princeton University, and Anthony Jack, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Padilla Peralta’s bestselling memoir, Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League was released in 2016. Dr. Jack’s book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students was named one of NPR’s Favorite Books of 2019. Undergraduate attendees were provided with a free copy of either of the panelists’ books, purchased locally from Source of Knowledge, an independent, Black-owned bookstore in Newark, New Jersey.