Introducing Berkeley Forum’s fall 2019 speaker lineup

Kyle Hanagami /Courtesy

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Update 9/6/2019: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from Berkeley Forum spokesperson Ian Wong. 

From a Democratic presidential candidate to the vice president of BART District 3, the Berkeley Forum’s fall 2019 speaker lineup is bringing to campus a mixture of international perspectives and ones close to home.

The Berkeley Forum, a student-led organization that hosts prominent speaking events on campus, announced its 14 speakers slated for the fall semester Wednesday, as well as two debates and one panel.

Since its inception in 2012, the forum has served as a platform to discuss a diverse set of ideas, inviting experts in a variety of fields to speak to the campus community each semester. Notable speakers in the past include co-prosecutor of the O. J. Simpson trials Christopher Darden and former White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

“When people come to forum events, I hope they come with an open mind ready to have their ideas and experiences challenged, and that they can relate to the experiences of the speakers,” said Tanya Mahadwar, president of the Berkeley Forum. “We try to balance both of those goals to produce events people find exciting and interesting.”

Several past Berkeley Forum events have stirred controversy among the campus community. Student protestors gathered at talks given by former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in 2015.

In addition to the 14 speakers this fall, the forum will host a debate on “breaking up big tech” Nov. 12, another debate on reparations for slavery Nov. 21 and a panel on homelessness and food insecurity in the Bay Area on Nov. 14.

All the events are open to the public and free for UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff, but attendees must register in advance.

Jill Tarter, astronomer and former director of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Institute (Sept. 16)

Jill Tarter worked for many years as a project scientist for SETI, which is a space research program turned non-profit founded in 1984 that searches for intelligent life in the universe. When NASA cut funding for the program in 1993, Tarter spearheaded a search for other sources of funding to keep the research alive.

She was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people in 2004 and currently serves on the management board for the Allen Telescope Array, which uses 350 antennae to survey the radio universe for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. Tarter received her bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Cornell University, and both a master’s degree and a doctorate in astronomy from UC Berkeley. 

Fiona Ma, California state treasurer (Sept. 16)

Elected in November 2018, Fiona Ma is California’s 34th state treasurer and the first woman of color elected to the office.

California is the world’s fifth-largest economy, with Ma’s office processing more than $2 trillion in payments in a typical year and allocating the funding to numerous public facilities and infrastructure projects.

Ma first became involved in public service in 1994 when she was elected president of the Asian Business Association in San Francisco, where she advocated on behalf of minority business owners. Ma was a member of the state Assembly from 2006 to 2012 and served as speaker pro tempore from 2010 to 2012.

Gene Luen Yang, graphic novelist and author of “American Born Chinese” (Sept. 19)

Gene Luen Yang has authored more than 20 graphic novels and comics. Serving as the Library of Congress’s fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2016 to 2017, Yang advocated for literacy among children, especially stressing the importance of reading diversely. 

His first graphic novel “American Born Chinese,” which addresses many stereotypes that Chinese people in the United States face, was a 2006 National Book Award finalist and won the Michael L. Printz Award and an Eisner Award in 2007.

Yang teaches creative writing through Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults. He also travels throughout the country, giving lectures on comic books and graphic novels at comic conventions and schools. 

Travis Rosbach, co-founder of Hydro Flask (Sept. 24)

When walking up Sproul Plaza, through Campanile Way or any other corridor on campus, it is nearly impossible to miss students walking with their colorful, vacuum-insulated water bottles that Hydro Flask co-founder Travis Rosbach developed in 2009.

Rosbach and his then-partner Cindy Morse started the company together out of a desire to create bottles that could maintain the hot or cold temperature of the liquid inside. He sold his interest in the company to a group of investors in 2012.

Marianne Williamson, bestselling author, activist and spiritual leader (Sept. 25)

Marianne Williamson is one of the 20 Democratic candidates vying for the presidency in the upcoming 2020 election.

An author and teacher, Williamson began her career giving talks and writing about the spiritual text A Course in Miracles,” eventually publishing her first novel A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of ‘A Course in Miracles.’” This book gained popular acclaim after its publication in 1992 when Williamson made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Williamson began working in non-profits during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and co-founded the non-profit The Peace Alliance in 2004.

In 2014, Williamson ran for U.S. Congress in Los Angeles but lost the race to U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California. Making a reappearance on the political scene, Williamson’s primary platforms in her run for president include creating a U.S. Department of Children and Youth and providing reparations to the descendants of American slaves.

Alexandra Waterbury, ballet dancer and plaintiff suing New York City Ballet for sexual harassment (Sept. 26)

Alexandra Waterbury brought the #MeToo movement to the professional ballet community in 2018 when she filed a lawsuit against the New York City Ballet and her former boyfriend, Chase Finlay, who was the company’s principal dancer at the time.

In the lawsuit, Waterbury alleged that Finlay shared sexually explicit photos and videos taken of Waterbury without her knowledge or consent to others affiliated with the company, according to a New York Times article.

Waterbury blamed the company for permitting a “fraternity-like atmosphere” among the Ballet, according to the suit. She also alleged that she was not the only female ballet dancer victimized and that nude photos of other dancers were also allegedly shared.

Waterbury is currently a student at Columbia University and is a dancer at the Columbia Ballet Collaborative.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, award-winning dietitian and best-selling author (Oct. 3)

An author and award-winning dietitian, Kristin Kirkpatrick works as a dietitian and consultant of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic Wellness & Preventative Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. Her nutrition philosophy revolves around the principle of regarding food as fuel.

She has made many appearances on local and national television shows and has contributed to a number of national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine.

Kirkpatrick’s talk will be on “The Impact of Social Media on Wellness.” 

Michèle Lamont, Harvard professor of sociology, African American studies and European studies (Oct. 4)

Michèle Lamont is an award-winning sociologist and social scientist, especially known for her contributions to the field of European social science, for which she won the 2017 Erasmus Prize. She is the author of 12 books and volumes and has written over 100 articles on a variety of subjects.

Currently, Lamont serves as the director of Harvards Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Researchs Successful Societies program. 

Kyle Hanagami, internationally-renowned choreographer (Oct. 7)

Kyle Hanagami is an internationally-renowned Los Angeles-based dance choreographer who has worked for Jennifer Lopez, Nick Jonas and Ariana Grande, among other well-known pop stars. He also has worked with many major brands, including Calvin Klein, Nike, Disney and Hasbro.

Hanagami posts videos of his official and unofficial work on YouTube, where he has over four million subscribers. His channel has also received over 650 million views, with his record being 567 million views in 24 hours for his choreography for BLACKPINK, a popular K-pop group, according to his website.

Karen Diver, former special assistant to President Barack Obama on Native American affairs (Oct. 8)

Karen Diver served as the Obama administrations special assistant to the president on Native American affairs for about one year, after serving as chairwoman of her community, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, for over eight years.

She currently works at Arizona State University, where she is serving as the director of business for the Native American Advancement Initiative.

Sanjay Dastoor, co-founder of Boosted and CEO and co-founder of Skip (Oct. 14)

Sanjay Dastoor founded not one but two successful electronic vehicle companies: Boosted, which is an electronic skateboard production company, and Skip, an electric scooter rental company. 

After finishing his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley in 2005, Dastoor earned a masters degree and began a doctorate at Stanford University in mechanical engineering. While at Stanford, he met two colleagues who he ended up designing Boosted with, as a way to help students traverse around campus faster.

Dastoor stepped down from his CEO position at Boosted in 2017 and is now the CEO of his second company, Skip, which aims to extend partnerships with municipal transportation departments.

Jaron Lanier, founding father of virtual reality and activist against social media (Oct. 16)

Jaron Lanier does not have any social media accounts. In fact, he thinks you should delete all your social media accounts, and hell give you ten reasons why you should do so right now. Despite this abstinence from this technological advancement, however, Jaron Lanier is considered the “father” of another form of progressive technology: virtual reality.

Lanier is credited with coining and popularizing the term “virtual reality” and founded VPL Research, which designed virtual reality applications for medicine, design and other fields. He has also on Time Magazine’s 2010 list of the 100 most influential people in the world and was on Wired Magazine’s list of the 25 most influential people in the last 25 years of text history, among other accolades.

Rebecca Saltzman, vice president of BART (Oct. 21)

First elected to the BART board in 2012, campus alumna Rebecca Saltzman lives a driving-free life. Instead, she uses BART, buses and walking to navigate the city of Oakland. She also has a background in public transit policy advocacy and organizing on the local, state and national levels.

Saltzman served as the BART president in 2017 and currently serves as vice president of the board. She also chairs the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority and serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission and BART-AC Transit Interagency Liaison Committee.

Hasini Jayatilaka, Stanford postdoctoral cancer researcher (Dec. 4)

Hasini Jayatilaka engineered a process to stop cancer cells from spreading; through her research and discoveries, Jayatilaka has developed new treatments for cancer growth.

Jayatilaka, who is originally from Sri Lanka, earned her degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering and her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. At the age of 29, she was named in Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list in the science category. Today, she continues to study the metastatic growth of cancer cells in children at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Contact Amanda Bradford and Kate Finman at [email protected].