By Jacquelyn Zeman – News Editor
The Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Lecture Series, celebrating its 20th season this school year, will be kicking off with former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.
“I am really hoping that a lot of our students will take advantage of what is a rare opportunity,” GRCC president Steven Ender said. “We should celebrate that we can be a part of it.”
The event is advertised as “An Evening with Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter,” and the couple will be speaking on human rights.
Carter is known for his fight for human rights around the world. In 2002 Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his social justice work. He founded The Carter Center with his wife Rosalynn in 1982. Rosalynn is a member of The Carter Center’s board of trustees.
The director of the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center, Christina Arnold helps a committee select the speakers for the lecture series each year.
“The Diversity Lecture Series has a committee comprised of faculty, staff, students, and a community representative who review a list of recommended speakers each year,” Arnold said. “Speakers are recommended from within the college as well as the community. Typically, we look at well over 50 potential speakers when making our decisions. Some of the criteria we consider include current events, cultural relevancy, diversity, under-represented perspectives, and marketability.
As a committee, they discuss and research about the possible speakers and their potential topics of lecture.
Elaine Richardson will be featured on Nov. 12. She is an author, professor, and recording artist. Her lecture is titled “How Education Saved My Life.” As a former drug addict she spent short periods of time in jail, and eventually decided to return to school. She is currently a professor at Ohio State University.
Mary Pipher , will be featured on Feb. 11. presenting her lecture, “The Green Boat: Sustaining Our Planet and Each Other.” As an author and a clinical psychologist, Pipher is concerned with how American culture influences the mental health of its people.
The author of nine books, Dr. Pipher suggests we must reconnect our inner and outer lives to respond to this trauma.
Matt Taibbi will be concluding the season, and will be featured March 25. Taibbi is an author and journalist, and his lecture is called “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.”
Taibbi discovered the divide, which he considers to be the seam in American life where trends, such as wealth inequality and mass incarceration meet. He argues that our basic rights are now determined by our wealth or by our poverty.
A New York Times bestseller, he explains contemporary American life, and provides a way forward against this crisis. He writes for Rolling Stone, and recently launched a new digital magazine by First Look Media.
While the Diversity Lecture Series has been bringing speakers to GRCC for 20 years, it continues to be criticized by some members of the GRCC board of trustees, along with other community members who don’t agree with some of the topics discussed.
In the spring of 2013 several board members and community members spoke out about their disapproval of when Elzie “LZ” Granderson, a gay rights activist, journalist, and commentator for CNN and ESPN came to speak on campus.
Due to budget cuts, the Diversity Learning Center will be completely self-sufficient this year, relying on its donors alone. In the past it has received $45,000 in funding from the college. These cuts were not voluntary.
“The Diversity Lecture Series has always been primarily funded through its own fundraising efforts,” Ender said. “We were able to pull that funding. Part in because I am taking the responsibility in raising the money around the lecture of President Carter. So the rest of the series, which is three more speakers will be funded totally on sponsors that have historically been great friends with the lecture series.”
“With enrollment down…I think that everybody knew that budget cuts were coming,” Arnold, stated in a previous interview. “It is a loss to all the programs that were cut, across the board, college-wide. We just have to be more creative with what we do and seek additional sponsors and support.”
Ender said, “At its best, it brings opportunity for people to look at issues outside of their normal worldview…we are doing our job if we bring in people who stimulate us to think.”
The Carter lecture and book signing will be hosted at the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse at 11 Lyon St NE Grand Rapids, on Sept. 22. Tickets are required for this lecture. Call 616-234-3390 for a lecture ticket.
The book singing before the lecture begins at 4 p.m. and the cost to attend, which includes Carter’s newest book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power” is $28. Call 616-234-3908 for a book signing ticket.
On-campus parking for all the lectures this season is $3 for non-students with a discount pass provided at each lecture.
The other lectures will be hosted at Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain Street NE, Grand Rapids. They will begin at 7 p.m. and each lecture is open, and free to all. There is also ASL interpretation, and a book signing that follows each author’s lecture. For more information on the lectures, please call 616-234-3390.
For more information on this season’s Diversity Lecture Series, visit www.grcc.edu/woodrickdiversitylearningcenter/programs/diversitylectureseries0.