This semester, the San José State community can take a deep dive into topics such as racism, activism, mental health, gender and identity. The Spring 2021 Spartan Speaker Series at SJSU kicks off virtually on Wednesday, Feb. 10, with comedian, host and producer Baratunde Thurston. The entire series is free and open to the public.
Thurston will give his talk, “How to Deconstruct Racism and Laugh at the Same Time,” at 7 p.m. via Zoom. An Emmy-nominated host who has worked for The Onion, produced for The Daily Show and even advised the Obama White House, Thurston is the author of the New York Times bestseller “How to Be Black.” He’s also the executive producer and host of “We’re Having a Moment”—a podcast examining the intersection of the global pandemic, the fight for racial justice and the spotlight on policing in the U.S—as well as “How to Citizen with Baratunde,” which offers different perspectives on how to improve society collectively.
Student Affairs, who produces the series in collaboration with the César E. Chávez Community Action Center (CCCAC), received requests for speakers focusing on racial justice, journalism and the media. “Baratunde Thurston is a wonderful choice to represent these topics,” says Adrienne Jensen-Doray, assistant director of Student Involvement. “He addresses the social and political landscape in the U.S., as well as trauma and healing. He also provides perspectives on life as an entrepreneur and a podcaster—two topics of interest to many of our students.”
When planning the series as a whole, Jensen-Doray says themes such as “racial justice and mental health and wellness were critical, given the needs and interest of our students and current events. We also considered heritage months, such as Black History Month, Women Herstory Month and Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month.”
Thurston will conclude his presentation with a Q&A.
Exploring Gender and Identity with ALOK
Later in the month, Alok Vaid-Menon (ALOK) will serve as the keynote speaker for the 15th anniversary of the CCCAC. In “Beyond the Binary,” on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m., ALOK, a gender non-conforming writer, performance artist and mixed-media artist, will explore themes of gender, race, trauma and belonging. They are the author of “Femme in Public” and “Beyond the Gender Binary.” In 2019, they were honored as one of NBC’s Pride 50 and Out Magazine’s OUT 100.
Since its inception in 2006, the CCCAC has sought to connect SJSU students with civic engagement opportunities that deepen educational experience while promoting a lifelong commitment to activism and social justice, which are at the heart of the legacy of César Chávez.
“As we move into thinking about the next 15 years for the CCCAC and the world, it’s important we bring a keynote speaker that represents a community not often given the platform to influence the next generation of social justice leaders,” explains Diana Victa, department manager of the CCCAC. “ALOK is the best fit because of their leadership in spreading awareness of gender identities, specifically gender non-conforming folx.”
Bridging Mental Health and Activism with Thea Monyee
The CCCAC will also present the “A Conversation with Thea Monyee: Sustaining Joy in the Midst of Social Change: Bridging Mental Health and Activism,” on Tuesday, March 2, at 3 p.m. Monyee, a poet and marriage and family therapist, self identifies as a “Black Woman Creative.” She has appeared on HBO, BET, Spectrum, OWN, Fox Soul and TV One, and her work stems from her commitment to healing, which she believes can only occur in a liberated and non-oppressive society.
“It was very important to us to address mental health this semester,” says Jensen-Doray. “Monyee does this through an activist lens, which we hope will resonate with students.”
Making Trouble with Simon Tam
Finally, the series will conclude on Wednesday, April 14, at 7 p.m. with a talk by Simon Tam. In “Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court,” Tam will share how he helped expand civil liberties for minorities through the unanimous victory of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Matal v. Tam, in 2017. “He offers a unique perspective on identity and justice, as well as the intersection of arts and activism,” says Jensen-Doray.
Tam is the founder and bassist of The Slants, an all-Asian American dance rock band. He also leads the nonprofit The Slants Foundation, which supports arts and activism projects for underrepresented communities. Tam’s talk will include a musical performance, and he will take questions from participants after his talk.
Attendees of any of the talks should register ahead of time in order to receive a Zoom link.
“I hope those who attend multiple events in this series notice the commonalities and prevalence of specific advice—whether it is about forging your own path, building resilience or mentorship and the role mentors have played in our speakers’ lives,” says Jensen-Doray.
She also adds that Student Involvement seeks input from SJSU students, faculty and staff to identify pertinent themes and speakers-of-interest for the 2021-2022 series. Those interested can provide feedback here.