By Rhianna Wisniewski
Photos by Jason Smith
For Soledad O’Brien, change comes from standing up for what you believe in.
The award-winning CNN special correspondent and Kovler Visiting Fellow gave her thoughts on identity, community, and social responsibility this quarter as part of the first keynote of RISE, Campus and Student Life’s new diversity awareness campaign.
She shared with several hundred students and University community members in Rockefeller Chapel her experiences growing up in a multiracial family in the 1970s, her work as a reporter giving voice to the voiceless, and strategies for affecting change.
She advised students not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations and situations, to take a stand for what they believe in, and to listen, even to those who they don’t agree with.
“We can’t shut out those we disagree with – that’s not being a leader, that’s being an obstacle,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien explained that the process to affect change can be challenging, and that students need to stay strong when things get difficult.
“For me, true leadership is about taking a different path because you understand the critical values of farness and justice,” O’Brien said. “This is about being on the right side of history, not about change coming tomorrow or the next day. Real change takes time.”
Emily Hatch, a third year in the College, attended both a student lunch discussion with O’Brien and the keynote and found much of the speaker’s advice helpful.
“Everyone needs to feel that their opinions are valued and that such conversations are not debates that one or the other side can win. I thought it was incredibly important that Soledad reminded us of that, and I hope that we, as students of the University, pursue our goals not necessarily with the intention of changing the minds of those who disagree with us, but with the hope of fostering better communication and understanding,” Hatch said.
In addition to her keynote, O’Brien spent the day with students in several sessions where she learned about campus climate and challenges to diversity and inclusion. When students asked for tangible steps to address these issues, O'Brien encouraged them to figure out how to bring others into the conversation and to take ownership of the issues affecting campus.
“We need to decide that the issues happening around us are not black issues, and not Latino issues… these are our issues,” she said.
O’Brien wrapped up her talk with several quotes, including one from Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Divine Comedy: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
“Your voice is needed,” O’Brien said. “I invite you to use your voice to make the changes you want to see on this campus and in this world. It is your duty.”
Learn more about the RISE diversity awareness campaign