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Rogow Lecturer Zachary Wood Recommends Uncomfortable Conversations


Posted 02/06/2019
Submitted by Mildred McNeill
Category: Campus Announcements, Student Announcements
Zachary Wood delivers the 2019 Rogow Distinguished Lecture.

Zachary Wood delivers the 2019 Rogow Distinguished Lecture.

Associate Professor of Political Science Bilal Sekou (r) moderated a question and answer session following the lecture.

Associate Professor of Political Science Bilal Sekou (r) moderated a question and answer session following the lecture.

On the morning of the lecture, Wood talked with students in Assistant Professor Rebecca Townsend's (red jacket)  Intro to Communication class in Hillyer College.

On the morning of the lecture, Wood talked with students in Assistant Professor Rebecca Townsend's (red jacket) Intro to Communication class in Hillyer College.

We make assumptions. That’s the scenario with which 2019 Rogow Distinguished Lecturer Zachary R. Wood opened his message on Monday, February 4 before 500 attendees in Lincoln Theater. He told the story of assumptions he made about an older man sitting nearby in an airport who had a southern accent and a MAGA screensaver on his computer. After talking with the man for a few minutes, Wood asked, “What would you say are your values?”  The man replied, “Integrity, family, and hard-work.”

Those are values that many of us have in common, Wood says, values he would not necessarily have attributed to the man without taking the time to talk with him. Wood is an advocate for what he alternately calls “uncomfortable learning” and “uncomfortable conversations.” This refers to actions like reading or listening to information about views that are opposite to your own. It also refers to having a conversation with someone who has views that are opposite to your own and actually listening with the intention of hearing them. Uncomfortable learning and conversation, he believes, can help one find common ground or help one better counter the other person’s beliefs.

The genesis of Wood’s thought process comes from instructions his mother gave him when he was in fourth grade and about to start attending a prestigious private school although he came from a family of lesser means. His mother told him that he should always try to gain a deeper understanding of those who are making things unpleasant and try to find what they might have in common. She said it is only through information and understanding that one can unite people around a sense of common purpose.

When Wood entered Williams College, (he graduated in May, 2018) he joined a student club called “Uncomfortable Learning” that invited speakers with controversial perspectives to speak freely on the college's campus. During his senior year, when he was club president, he invited former National Review columnist John Derbyshire to speak and found himself in a firestorm of criticism. The event was canceled by the administration. In the aftermath, there was extensive press coverage. Still, Wood is convinced that engaging with an opposing perspective is a catalyst for truly meaningful education.

“With any subject where people heatedly disagree, there is this overwhelming feeling that we have to win the argument. We feel we have to defend the values we hold dear, because it feels like something is at stake. That’s human nature.” Wood concluded.  “But you can also try listening, reserving judgement, and giving undivided attention. There’s no playbook for every scenario. You may not get very far in the conversation. But there is value in trying, so eventually and hopefully we can come together and create a better future.”

The moderator of the lecture was Hillyer College Associate Professor of Political Science Bilal Sekou.

The Rogow Distinguished Visiting Lecturers Program is endowed by a generous gift from the late Helen Rogow. Additional support for Monday’s program was provided by a generous grant from the John and Kelly Hartman Foundation. The program was presented by the University of Hartford Presidents' College and the Trinity College Academy of Lifelong Learning, in collaboration with the University of Hartford's President's Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Prior to the lecture, Wood spent the day meeting with students. He attended Hillyer Assistant Professor Rebecca Townsend’s Intro to Communication class, had lunch with student leaders in Commons, and met with students and mentors in the University’s STRIDE (Success Team for Readiness Improvement Diversity and Excellence) Program in the KF Room of Harrison Libraries.

Wood’s book, Uncensored, My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America, is available at the University’s Campus Store. Purchasers can also receive a free bookplate autographed by Wood.

 

 

Zachary Wood delivers the 2019 Rogow Distinguished Lecture.

Zachary Wood delivers the 2019 Rogow Distinguished Lecture.

Associate Professor of Political Science Bilal Sekou (r) moderated a question and answer session following the lecture.

Associate Professor of Political Science Bilal Sekou (r) moderated a question and answer session following the lecture.

On the morning of the lecture, Wood talked with students in Assistant Professor Rebecca Townsend's (red jacket)  Intro to Communication class in Hillyer College.

On the morning of the lecture, Wood talked with students in Assistant Professor Rebecca Townsend's (red jacket) Intro to Communication class in Hillyer College.