University News

Lecture Board aims to bring diverse speakers

Selection of prominent guests requires lengthy process to ensure popular, engaging lecturers

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, November 11, 2016

The Brown Lecture Board has brought influential public figures to campus before, such as George Takei, Viola Davis, Jane Goodall and Bill Nye.

While the lottery to attend Gina Rodriguez’s lecture opened just yesterday, the Brown Lecture Board has already begun preparations for next semester’s guest.

The process is an extensive one, with each of the members of the general board working together to ultimately choose one person to bring to campus. The search starts with proposals of people who would not only be feasible to bring, but would also speak about valuable ideas and generate enough student interest.

“We try to get a variety of speakers,” said Allison Schaefer ’17, vice president of campus relations for the Lecture Board. “So if one year we brought an actor, the next year we would try to bring someone from a different background, like an activist or scientist.”

After coming up with between 50 and 70 candidates, the general board members vote internally in two rounds to narrow the selection down to between 10 and 20 people and then to five. Individual members then reach out to the speakers’ agencies to determine availability and pricing before coming together to figure out what would work and what wouldn’t, said Viet Nguyen ’17, co-chair of the Lecture Board. From there, the group sends out a poll to all Brown students so they can vote on their favorite potential guest speaker.

But even after figuring out a campus favorite, the board must make sure everything lines up scheduling-wise.

“Salomon is the biggest room that Brown has, and it gets booked up pretty quickly,” Nguyen said. “It can be challenging to find a time that works for us that also works for our high-profile guests who already have limited availability.”

Finding a speaker is only the beginning. Contributing members of the Lecture Board also work on publicity, design and the actual execution of the production.

“The operation for getting 600 people into Salomon in 45 minutes takes a lot of coordination,” said Connor Grieve ’17, co-chair of Lecture Board.

With all of the work that the Lecture Board puts into finding a viable speaker, the guest ultimately chosen is often popular among students, such as previous speakers Bill Nye, Jane Goodall and Nick Offerman. Yet with only 600 seats in Salomon, the Lecture Board must use a lottery system to determine who receives a coveted spot. This past spring, when actress Viola Davis came to Brown, around 3,000 students entered the lottery, Grieve said.

But in special situations, the Lecture Board is willing to be flexible. In light of the election of President-elect Donald Trump, the Lecture Board will allocate tickets to multiple centers on campus that provide support to marginalized students, including the Latinx Council, LGBTQ+ Center, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, Brown Center for Students of Color and First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center, Nguyen announced in a Facebook post Nov. 9.

“Representation is one of our main priorities, and it is one of the reasons I joined Lecture Board,” Nguyen wrote on Facebook.

In the past, the Lecture Board has also offered additional opportunities beyond hearing one speaker. Jane Goodall had a book signing that was open to all, not just students who attended the lecture. In 2014, television stars Laverne Cox from “Orange is the New Black,” Aasif Mandvi from “The Daily Show” and RJ Mitte from “Breaking Bad” came together for a collective panel to discuss diversity and the transcendence of stereotypes.

The Lecture Board focuses on bringing people who can provide important perspectives to issues relevant to campus.

“Once you leave college, it can be hard to get these opportunities like speaking one-on-one with Jane Goodall,” Schaefer said. “It’s very important and empowering to be able to interact with such influential people.”

The Brown Lecture Board will be bringing award-winning actress Gina Rodriguez from television series “Jane the Virgin” and the film “Deepwater Horizon” to campus Nov. 21. Sources said they view Rodriguez as a positive role model for women, Latinas, first-generation college students and those with Hashimoto’s disease.