Introducing Berkeley Forum’s spring 2019 speaker lineup

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What happens when the deputy editor of The New York Times, the dean of Stanford’s medical school and a 12-time Olympic swimming medalist walk into a panel? The Berkeley Forum’s spring 2019 speaker lineup is born.

The Berkeley Forum, a student-run organization that hosts prominent speaking events on campus, announced its lineup of 14 speakers Monday, including two debates, marking the first time since fall 2016 the organization has included debates in its lineup.

Established in 2012, the forum serves as a platform for the debate and presentation of a diverse range of ideas through panels and talks given by leading experts from a variety of fields. Since its founding, the Berkeley Forum has hosted a variety of speakers, including California State Senate President pro tempore Kevin de León and former White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

“I’m really excited by our lineup this semester; the hard work of our student staff is reflected in the uniqueness of each individual speaker,” said Berkeley Forum President Michael Chien in an email. “In particular, this semester’s lineup covers a more broad array of topics than semesters past, which I think is a great opportunity for our audiences.”

Several past Berkeley Forum events have raised controversy within the campus community. Talks featuring former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks attracted student protesters in 2015.

In addition to the 14 speakers that are being hosted this spring, the forum is also hosting a debate on solitary confinement, as well as a panel on digital privacy.

All events are open to the public and are free for campus students, faculty and staff, but they require registration in advance.

Dixon Osburn, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and Accountability (Jan. 23)

With nearly 30 years of experience in legal affairs and political advocacy, C. Dixon Osburn has spearheaded the effort for nationwide policy changes regarding Guantanamo and the use of torture and armed drones.

Oxburn co-founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a human rights organization that pioneered the effort to repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the armed forces.

Oxburn served as the director of the law and security program for the nonprofit organization Human Rights First from 2010 to 2014. It was during this time that Osburn led legislative and media efforts to end counterterrorism policies and achieved significant policy changes regarding Guantanamo torture and armed drones.

Osburn earned his JD/MBA from Georgetown University and his A.B. with distinction from Stanford University. He currently serves as an adjunct fellow on the Working Group for the Halifax International Security Forum and at the American Security Project.

Julie Bloom, Deputy Editor of The New York Times (Feb. 4)

A UC Berkeley alumnus, Julie Bloom currently serves as the deputy editor on the national desk of The New York Times, where she oversees coverage of California and parts of the West.

Bloom discovered her interest in journalism in college while writing reviews of Cal Performances for The Daily Californian. She graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in English literature and dance before earning her master’s in journalism from NYU. After freelancing for The Times in 2006, Bloom joined the media outlet a year later, where she went from web producer to assistant editor to culture editor for The International NY Times based in Paris in 2013.

Over the course of her 12 years at The Times, Bloom has played a pioneering role in the arts department and has overseen coverage of dance features and news stories, as well as award shows including the Golden Globe Awards. In 2017, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for her coverage of the Las Vegas mass shooting.

Kate Wagner, Creator of McMansion Hell (Feb. 5)

Kate Wagner is the founder and creator of McMansionHell, an online blog that humorously critiques what it dubs the world’s ugliest large suburban homes while teaching about architecture, urbanism, sociology and design. Since the website’s launch in 2016, Wagner has aimed to use her blog as a platform to teach the masses about the ties between the McMansion, American culture and policy.

Wagner recently earned her master’s degree in audio science from Johns Hopkins University with a specialization in architectural acoustics. Her senior thesis project explored the overlap between urbanism, acoustics and Late Modern architecture. Aside from McMansion Hell, Wagner has earned a name for herself in architectural circles through her work in The Atlantic, Architectural Digest, Curbed and The Baffler.

Mandy Aftel, Founder of Aftelier Perfumes (Feb. 11)

Mandy Aftel’s career in natural aromatics began nearly 30 years ago. An award-winning author and perfumer, Aftel is best known for her natural fragrances, each of which are created from a palette of exotic and pure essences that result from the culmination of years of searching the hidden corners of the world.

As the founder of Aftelier Perfumes, Aftel has been hailed as one of the fragrance industry’s “most prolific talents” by Vogue.com and an “angel of alchemy” by Vanity Fair. She was also listed as one of the top seven bespoke perfumers in the world by Forbes, and her Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume, won the The Sense of Smell Institute’s Richard B. Solomon Award and has been translated into eight languages.

All of Aftel’s fragrances are blended and bottled in her Berkeley-based studio. In July 2017, Aftel and her husband opened the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents, a quaint museum dedicated to the history and experiences of natural fragrance — and the first of its kind in the U.S.

Lloyd B. Minor, Dean of Stanford Medical School (Feb. 12)

A scientist, surgeon and academic leader, Lloyd B. Minor has taken the medical field by storm. He currently serves as the Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, a role he has held since 2012.

Before going to Stanford, Minor served as the Andelot professor and chair of the department of otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and otolaryngologist-in-chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 2009, Minor was appointed provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University. He is currently a professor of bioengineering, neurobiology and otolaryngology, or head and neck surgery, at Stanford University.

An expert in balance and inner ear disorders, Minor is well known for his discovery of superior semicircular canal dehiscence syndrome, a disorder caused by a hole in the ear bone that helps the body balance itself. In 2010, Minor earned the Prosper Ménière Society’s gold medal for his work in refining a treatment for Ménière’s disease.

Andrew Chau, Co-Founder of Boba Guys (Feb. 14)

A two-time golden bear, Andrew Chau, who formerly worked at The Daily Californian and formerly served as a Daily Cal board member, graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in mass communications, sociology and business administration before returning to receive his MBA from the Haas School of Business in 2011.

That same year, Chau and fellow Boba Guys co-founder Bin Chen were working together at San Francisco messenger bag company Timbuk2 when they discovered that their favorite local boba shop had closed. Instead of panicking, the duo taught themselves to make boba milk tea. Chau and Chen hosted their first pop-up event at Ken Ken Ramen two months later and Boba Guys was born.

With a pledge to “next level quality,” Boba Guys uses housemade syrups and Straus Family Creamery organic milk in lieu of fructose and creamer. The chain is known for its extensive menu of customizable and specialty drinks. Since its creation, Boba Guys has expanded to Los Angeles and New York, and the original San Francisco storefront frequently has a line out the door.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Psychology Professor and Author of The How of Happiness (Feb. 20)

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor and vice chair of psychology at UC Riverside, and the author of the bestselling self-help book “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” which has been translated and published in 23 countries.

Lyubomirsky earned her A.B. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in social/personality psychology from Stanford University. She has been recognized with the Faculty of the Year Award — twice — and the Faculty Mentor of the Year Award.

Lyubomirsky has studied human happiness for nearly 30 years, closely analyzing the potential of happiness-sustaining activities and the science of increasing happiness. Her research has earned her a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize, a Character Lab grant, a Science of Generosity grant, two John Templeton Foundation grants and a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to research potential methods to permanently increase happiness.

Tori Baisden, Designer for the Museum of Ice Cream (Feb. 26)

Tori Baisden is credited as the designer of the famous Museum of Ice Cream, or MOIC, in San Francisco. Since its opening in 2016, MOIC has attracted people from all over the world with its fantasy-like rooms of pastel pink palm trees and life-size gummy bear garden. Not only a museum, the MOIC is an immersive experience, encouraging visitors to dive into the vast pool of rainbow sprinkles or sample their highly sought-after pints of ice cream.

As an artist, designer and illustrator, Baisden has served as a graphic designer at the MOIC since February 2018, designing apparel, accessories, homegoods and other products for MOIC retail and the Pint Shop, the museum’s pop-up ice cream shop in New York City.

Baisden previously worked as a creative associate for the company, designing wall vinyls and print menus for MOIC Miami, and managing production of its diner and brightly colored popsicle installations.

She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art from Northeastern University and was declared the winner of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Graphic Arts for “Best Illustration” in 2017.

Natalie Coughlin, 12-Time Olympic Swimming Medalist (Mar. 4)

Natalie Coughlin is a 12-time Olympic medalist as well as the first woman in the history of the Olympic games to win back-to-back gold medals. Coughlin began her swimming career at the mere age of six. By 16, she had already set three national high school records and qualified for every swimming event at summer nationals.

A campus alumnus, Coughlin graduated from UC Berkeley in 2005 with a degree in psychology. She went on to win gold in three World championships and become the first woman to swim the 100-meter course backstroke in under one minute.

Beyond swimming like a “kayak slicing past rowboats,” according to The New Yorker, Coughlin has found time for hobbies including cooking, photography and surfing.

Danielle Sered, Executive Director of Common Justice (Mar. 12)

Danielle Sered is the executive director and founder of Common Justice, a restorative justice program that aims to address violence without relying on incarceration and to promote racial equity in the criminal justice system. Before joining Common Justice, Sered worked at the Harlem Community Justice Center’s Center for Court Innovation and later served as deputy director for the Vera Institute of Justice’s Adolescent Reentry Initiative, providing planning, coordination and services for youth returning from incarceration.

Sered received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Emory University before going on to earn her master’s degrees from New York University and Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. Sered received the 67th Precinct Council Award for Service for her leadership in reducing violence in Brooklyn. She also sits on several advisory councils and boards for crime victims, including the New York State Governor’s Council on Reentry and Community Reintegration.

Sered has a new book coming out in March 2019 titled “Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair,” referred to by Kirkus Reviews as “a top-notch entry into the burgeoning incarceration debate.”

Yaron Brook, Chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute (Mar. 14)

Yaron Brook is the chairman of the board at Ayn Rand Institute, a center headquartered in Irvine, CA that is committed to teaching the principles and philosophy of the late Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand.

Born and raised in Israel, Brook served as a first sergeant in Israeli military intelligence and earned a BS degree in civil engineering from the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology. He moved to the U.S. in 1987 and earned his MBA and Ph.D. in finance from the University of Texas, Austin. Brook taught finance at Santa Clara University for seven years, and in 1998 he co-founded a private equity and hedge fund manager known as BH Equity Research.

Brook and co-author Don Watkins wrote the national bestseller “Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government” to inspire others with Rand’s philosophy of capitalism and self-interest. In 2016, the pair released another book, “Equal is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality.”

Brooks has written columns for Forbes and can currently be heard every week on “The Yaron Brook Show,” a live podcast on Blog Talk Radio in which he discusses culture and politics from the philosophical standpoint of Ayn Rand.

Megan Grassell, Founder of Yellowberry (Mar. 21)

Megan Grassell is the founder and CEO of Yellowberry, an online retail store that sells padding-less bras, underwear and loungewear with the aim to encourage young women to “grow at their own pace.”

In designing the concept for her store, Grassell recalled helping her 13-year-old sister look for her first bra and failing to find any “cute, comfortable, and age appropriate bras” for young girls, thus inspiring her at the age of 17, to create Yellowberry.

After losing her other sister, Caroline, Grassell said that at the age of five she learned the value of slowing down and enjoying “each day as its own.” She founded Yellowberry with the intention of helping young girls feel confident in whatever they wear. Attached to each Yellowberry bra is a tag with a mantra such as “Water the flowers every day” or “Go barefoot” that Grassell said are meant not only to inspire others but to keep her sister Caroline’s memory alive.

Since founding Yellowberry, Grassell has been listed in Time’s 25 Most Influential Teens, Yahoo’s 24 Millennials to Watch and Forbes 30 Under 30.

Joe DeLoss, Owner of Hot Chicken Takeover (Apr. 10)

Joe DeLoss is the founder, owner and head fryer of Hot Chicken Takeover, a Nashville-style restaurant based in Columbus, Ohio.

In fall 2013, DeLoss took a trip to Nashville and experienced its famous hot chicken culture for the first time — he was instantly hooked. When he returned, DeLoss got straight to work, trying to perfect his hot chicken recipe and eventually opening a small pop-up chicken window months later. Today, DeLoss serves his Nashville-style chicken at his food truck and restaurant, filled with long, shared tables intended to “build community.”

Hot Chicken Takeover is about much more than just chicken, however. The restaurant provides jobs for people with histories of homelessness, incarceration, or other barriers to employment. The restaurant’s website lists several methods through which it helps those in need of supportive employment, including implementing cash advances so that workers can access emergency cash assistance in crisis situations.

Yoon Choi, Chief Executive Officer of CollegeSpring (Apr. 15)

Yoon S. Choi is the current CEO of the Oakland-based, nonprofit organization CollegeSpring, which aims to help students from low-income backgrounds gain the opportunity to attend college. Before joining CollegeSpring, Choi served as executive director for Spark, a nonprofit career exploration and self-discovery program for middle school students. She was later promoted to chief strategy officer and eventually interim president of the national organization.

Choi earned her bachelor’s degree from Scripps College, her master’s degree in humanities and social thought from New York University and her doctorate in anthropology from UC Irvine. Prior to working at Spark, Choi gained experience in the private sector working with other nonprofits, including Para Los Niños in Los Angeles.

Choi has authored many articles on the CollegeSpring website regarding the importance of supporting low-income students in their collegiate journey, including one titled, “College for Everyone Builds a Stronger Democracy for All.”

Contact Amber Tang and Sabina Mahavni at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Julie Bloom is the deputy director of The New York Times. In fact, she is the deputy editor.

A previous version of this article failed to disclose that Andrew Chau formerly worked at The Daily Californian and formerly served as a Daily Cal board member.