Berkeley Forum spring 2021 lineup includes professional athletes, politicians

Photo of Marianne Williamson
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
During the 2021 spring semester, the Berkeley Forum will be hosting virtual, free events that are open to the public. The forum is also planning to host panels regarding topics such as the future of cities, the existence of billionaires and universal health care. (Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY SA-2.0)

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The Berkeley Forum’s spring 2021 lineup has a diverse selection of speakers who are not only from a wide range of disciplines and ethnic backgrounds but are also unique within their given field.

According to Amit Cohen, Berkeley Forum outreach project manager, the forum hosts talks, debates and panels from leaders in various disciplines to promote discourse among UC Berkeley students. Speakers were chosen by individual committee members based on criteria detailing effective speaker qualities, and panels were organized by groups of committee members who chose topics that they believe are important for UC Berkeley students to learn about.

“Berkeley Forum events are a great way to take a break from the grind of classes, finding internships and some of the other things that can make the school year difficult,” Cohen said. “It can be fun to just watch a debate on a topic you find interesting, and it can really push you to think in different ways.”

All events will be virtual, free, open to the public and streamed through the Berkeley Forum’s Facebook page.

Juan Mata: World Cup winner, Manchester United player
Juan Mata is a Spanish professional soccer player for Manchester United and the Spain national team. Mata has won numerous team awards, including the 2010 World Cup with the Spain national team, along with individual awards earning him the titles of 2011-12 and 2012-13 Chelsea’s Player of the Year and October 2012 Premier League Player of the Month, according to his website.

He also founded the charity Common Goal, which encourages professional soccer players and coaches to pledge 1% of their salary to a collective fund that will be allocated to organizations working to complete the United Nations’ Global Goals, according to the Common Goal website.

Mata’s exact date to speak is not yet confirmed.

John Urschel: Former NFL player, MIT mathematics doctoral student
John Urschel is a former NFL football player for the Baltimore Ravens and is currently pursuing a mathematics doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research focuses primarily on numerical analysis, graph theory, data science and machine learning.

He has won multiple academic and athletic awards, including the James E. Sullivan Award for the nation’s most outstanding amateur athlete in 2014, and is among the youngest named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list.

Urschel will speak at the Berkeley Forum on Jan. 28 — its first event of the semester.

Nastia Liukin: Five-time Olympic medalist
Nastia Liukin is an Olympic gymnast who was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2018 and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2019, according to USA Gymnastics. Liukin has won nine world medals — four gold and five silver — and the most medals of any gymnast at the 2008 Olympic Games.

Liukin will speak at the Berkeley Forum on Feb. 1.

Helen Slottje: Environmental lawyer
Helen Slottje is an environmental lawyer who received the Goldman Environmental Prize, often known as the “Green Nobel,” for her work in passing fracking bans in the state of New York, according to Ballotpedia. In 2009, Slottje and her husband founded the Community Environmental Defense Council to provide free legal help to municipalities attempting to limit or ban fracking.

Slottje will speak at the Berkeley Forum on Feb. 3.

Marianne Williamson: 2020 Democratic presidential candidate
Marianne Williamson is a New York Times best-selling author, a spiritual leader, a political activist and one of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, according to her website.

Williamson is the founder of Project Angel Food, a nonprofit that has delivered more than 13 million meals to sick, homebound patients, particularly for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. She has been an advocate for slavery reparations since the 1990s and was the first 2020 presidential candidate to make reparations a core tenant of her campaign.

Williamson will speak at the Berkeley Forum on Feb. 11.

Douglas Elmendorf: Economics professor, Harvard Kennedy School dean
Douglas Elmendorf is the dean and Don K. Price professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He has previously worked on the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board. His work mainly revolves around fiscal policy, financial markets, health care, social security and income security programs.

Elmendorf will speak at the Berkeley Forum on Feb. 25.

Sarah Bloom Raskin: Former U.S. deputy secretary of the Treasury
Sarah Bloom Raskin was formerly a governor of the Federal Reserve Board and deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury under former president Barack Obama. Raskin is currently a visiting law professor and Rubenstein fellow at Duke University.

Raskin will speak at the Berkeley Forum on March 2.

Universal health care panel
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care has been a major topic of debate. Three medical professionals will discuss how universal health care could impact society and the economy. Consideration and debate of quality, cost and access — also known as the iron triangle of health care — will be presented.

The panel is tentatively scheduled for March 4.

Katherine Maher: Wikimedia Foundation CEO
Dedicating her life to working at the intersections of technology, human rights, democracy and international development, Katherine Maher is the CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects.

Maher’s past work includes UNICEF, the National Democratic Institute and the World Bank, among other organizations.

Maher will speak at the Berkeley Forum on March 11.

Seung Min Kim: White House correspondent for The Washington Post
Seung Min Kim is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post who covered the Trump administration. She previously covered the Senate and immigration policy at Politico for eight years.

Kim will speak at the Berkeley Forum on March 17.

Dr. Ruth Simmons: First Black Ivy League president, current president of Prairie View A&M University
As the first Black president of an Ivy League institution at Brown University, Dr. Ruth Simmons made significant strides in improving the university’s standing when she served as its 18th president. She received numerous awards, such as the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2012, the president of France named Simmons a “chevalier” of the French Legion of Honour.

Simmons will speak at the Berkeley Forum on April 8.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Pulitzer-winning Vietnamese American novelist, USC professor
Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American novelist, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his book “The Sympathizer.” A UC Berkeley alumnus, Nguyen is also a MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow, the current Aerol Arnold chair of English at the University of Southern California and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.

Nguyen will speak at the Berkeley Forum on April 22.

Sheikh Rahman: First Muslim immigrant Georgia state senator, lawmaker
Sheikh Rahman made history as the first Muslim member of the Georgia State Senate in 2019 and is the first immigrant lawmaker in Georgia. Rahman also served on the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee.

Rahman will speak at the Berkeley Forum on April 26.

Future of cities panel
Debates on equality have recently made headlines following the reignition of the Black Lives Matter, or BLM, movement in June 2020. A panel of three city officials and urban planning professionals will discuss redlining, climate change, public transit and public health inequities and their potential solutions.

The tentatively confirmed date for the panel is April 28.

BLM panel
Phrases such as “institutional racism” have been a part of major discussions during this past year with the summer’s mass protests, the pandemic’s amplification of existing inequality and the presidential election, all of which brought to light the country’s racial divide.

UC Berkeley’s Black Recruitment and Retention Center has partnered with this panel aiming to reflect on the BLM movement and its future.

The panel’s exact date is not yet confirmed.

Debate on the existence of billionaires
As millions of Americans have filed for unemployment during the pandemic, this debate will explore the implications of billionaires, asking and answering questions such as whether billionaires reflect dangerous inequality, whether there is proper governmental oversight and if there exists a fair and functioning modern economic system, among other issues.

The debate’s exact date is not yet confirmed.

Contact Serene Chang and Julie Madsen at [email protected].