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CUSP Distinguished Speaker Series 2020-21

The CUSP Distinguished Speaker Series follows an intellectual theme that is the foundation of our year-long inquiry. This year's talks explore the theme of “Resilience.” We will consider this theme within the fields of music, psychology and behavioral science, technology, philosophy and ethics, health and medicine, the biological sciences, and economics.

2021-22 Theme: Resilience

“Disasters shake things loose and the things we regarded as fixed and unchangeable can suddenly be changed,” Rebecca Solnit commented on a WBUR podcast last year. In 2020, we reckoned with a severe disruption in our status quo. Economies, health care systems, food chains, and the everyday lives of people were quickly dismantled, laying bare the fragility of the values and structures of our pre-pandemic world, and opening up the possibility to reimagine our futures. Since March 2020, institutions—corporate, medical, academic, familial—have called upon their members to recover the losses from the last year, to show resilience in the face of a mercurial instability that promises to last beyond the current pandemic.

In a world of continual disruptions—by climate disasters, border disputes, mutating viruses, and more—resilience is power. And who holds it determines everything. Resilience can manifest as resistance to disaster and disruption, and also to hierarchies of power and the status quo. Resilience can be mobilized as a way of adapting to challenges brought about by new political and ecological disruptions. But it can also be wielded as a tool for accepting new forms of institutional exploitation and inequality. The call for resilience has the potential to disrupt or to reinforce existing power structures and dynamics. In many ways, as Arundhati Roy states, “the pandemic is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” But who gets to determine the contours of that “next” world? When the nature of such rebuilding and reimagining is slow and unremarkable, visible only in hindsight, how do we begin to account for and guide the development of what is to come? How do calls for resilience and adaptability unite or divide individuals, societies, nations and ecosystems? In the face of constant upheavals, what roles do resilience and stability play in our futures?

Upcoming Talks


Please check back soon for more information!


Please check back soon for more information!

Past Talks

Gareth Williams — Tuesday, September 1, 2020: The Columbia Core 2020 and COVID-19 — “CUSP/ASP Annual NSOP Lecture”

Gareth Williams
Anthon Professor of Latin Language and Literature
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Classics, Columbia University

1:00-3:00 p.m. EST

We have all experienced the major upheaval caused by this year's global coronavirus pandemic, and as the new academic year begins we all have to adjust to instructional methodologies that are shaped by that upheaval. Core teaching will be remote for all students entering Columbia College. But in what ways might the Core itself reflect or inform the stresses that have resulted from the drastic changes to everyday life in recent months? More generally, in what ways does the Core provide an apparatus for very practical reflection on the shaping of our daily lives amid all of the urgent socio-political challenges and crises that we have witnessed in recent times?


Gareth Williams has taught at Columbia since 1992. He received a Ph.D. in 1990 from Cambridge University for a dissertation on Ovid’s exilic writings that subsequently resulted in two books: the first, Banished Voices: Readings in Ovid’s Exile Poetry (Cambridge, 1994), and the second, The Curse of Exile: A Study of Ovid’s Ibis, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society Supplementary Volume 19 (Cambridge, 1996). Two distinct research phases followed, the first of which focused on the Latin ethical writings of Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Two monographs resulted, the first an edition with commentary of L. Annaeus Seneca: Selected Moral Dialogues. De OtioDe Brevitate Vitae (Cambridge, 2003); the second, The Cosmic Viewpoint: A Study of Seneca’s Natural Questions (Oxford, 2012), was awarded the Goodwin Award of Merit by the Society for Classical Studies in 2014. Most recently, among various other projects and edited volumes in the area of Roman philosophy, his research has focused on the socio-literary culture of Renaissance Venice, an interest that recently resulted in the publication of Pietro Bembo on Etna: The Ascent of a Venetian Humanist (Oxford, 2017).

William Deresiewicz — Wednesday, September 30, 2020: The Fate of Art and Artists in the Age of Disruption — “CUSP Inaugural Lecture/Alumni Journeys”

William Deresiewicz
Author, Essayist and Literary Critic

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

Silicon Valley says there’s never been a better time to be an artist. Artists say they've hardly ever had it worse. So who is right? And since people are still making a living as artists today, how are they managing to do it? If artists were artisans in the Renaissance, bohemians in the nineteenth century, and professionals in the twentieth, a new paradigm is emerging in the digital age, one that is changing our fundamental ideas about both the nature of art and the role of the artist in society. 


William Deresiewicz is an award-winning essayist and critic, a frequent speaker at educational and other venues, and a former professor of English of Yale. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, and many other publications. He is the recipient of a National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in reviewing and is the best-selling author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. His new book is The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech.

Angelica Patterson — Monday, October 19, 2020: The Road Not Taken: A Journey from Tangled Paths to Open Forests — “Research and Industry In Action (RIIA)/Cool Jobs”

5:00-6:00 p.m. EST

In the presentation titled, “The Road Not Taken: A Journey from Tangled Paths to Open Forests,” Angelica Patterson will highlight her experiences as a first generation college student finding her passion towards the world of plant ecology and the challenges she faced along the way. You will also hear how she became an outdoor environmental educator and the career boosting opportunities she encountered throughout her professional journey.


Angelica Patterson is the Master Science Educator at Black Rock Forest. She received her B.S. degree in Natural Resources from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and her M.A. and M.Phil degrees from Columbia University, where she is currently completing her doctoral degree in plant ecophysiology. Her interests in the physiological mechanisms behind plant community shifts due to climate change inspired her to examine tree physiological responses to changes in surface air temperature for her PhD research. More specifically, her dissertation compares the photosynthetic and respiratory responses of over 20 tree species with differing historic range distributions in order to evaluate which species may be better able to tolerate climates that are predicted to occur within the next 50-100 years. Patterson is a strong advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the environmental sciences and has served on various committee and working groups. She has served as a speaker at several US universities, environmental organizations, and K-12 institutions, and has recently been profiled in The GuardianThe Forestry Source, and the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Maury Harris — Thursday, October 22, 2020: COVID-19 Economics

Maury Harris

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

The COVID-19 crisis has spawned a huge amount of new and exciting economic analysis. For example, exploiting big data has enhanced understanding the relative roles of lockdown policies and the COVID19 infection and death rates in driving consumer spending and economic activity.  A variety of macroeconomic stabilization policies have provided a laboratory for testing major theories of household behavior. Also, the debates over Federal deficits and Federal Reserve balance sheet expansion/monetization have been revisited in a totally unprecedented environment for macroeconomic stabilization policies.


Dr. Maury Harris for 36 years was the Chief US Economist for UBS and PaineWebber. Prior to his Wall Street career, Dr. Harris worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. He earned his PhD in economics from Columbia University after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas. Dr. Harris has served as President of the Forecasters Club of New York and in 2015 published Inside the Crystal Ball: How to Make and Use Forecasts.

Lyle Owerko — Wednesday, November 11, 2020: A Long Way from Anywhere

Lyle Owerko
Photojournalist, Artist and Filmmaker

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

Lyle Owerko is a photographer and filmmaker with a diverse roster of clients that include major brands, corporations and human rights groups. Known for a keen perception and knowledge of urban movements, his instinctually crafted visual images have found an indelible place in the lexicon of both pop culture and journalism. Recognized for his high-resolution documentation of Sept 11th (featured on the iconic 9/11 cover of TIME Magazine), to his in-depth survey of the history and impact of Boomboxes on popular culture, to his seminal portraits of distinct cultures residing in Africa and Mongolia. He’s seen and experienced disruption both on the global frontier and on the global stage. Turning a page in to a new era with his work, his current projects bridge the borders of both sculpture, photography and technique in a manner that documents the basic human inclination to elevate the universal condition. A recipient of numerous awards, editorial and television profiles, his work is collected and exhibited around the world. Lyle was raised in Calgary, Canada, studied at The Pratt Institute in New York, and currently resides in Los Angeles.


A photojournalist, artist and filmmaker, Lyle Owerko has documented a diverse range of subjects, from early 80s neon-colored BMX bikes to members of Kenya’s Samburu tribe. However, his most iconic image is the 2001 photograph The Second Plane, capturing Flight 175 as it struck the second tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. This image appeared on the cover of the September 14, 2001 issue of TIME magazine, and stands as an unforgettable record of a national tragedy. Often working with human rights organizations, such as Charity:Water and the United Nations Millennium Promise, Owerko frequently merges art with a social mission in his work. His seminal body of work, The Boombox Project, began in 2005 as documentation of vintage portable stereos and now includes a series of sculptures and a documentary on the subject. In 2010, Abrams Image published a book of those photos, which included a foreword by Spike Lee and interviews with some of the most distinct contributors of that era. Owerko’s work is included in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress, and is included in the permanent collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, among other galleries and institutions globally.

Caroline Marvin — Monday, November 30, 2020: Rekindling Curiosity

Caroline Marvin
Professor of Psychology and Director of Academic Affairs
Department of Psychology, Columbia University

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

Psychologist William James posited that by age 25 we've gained all the ideas we'll ever have and we cannot learn anything new: “Disinterested curiosity is past, the mental grooves and channels set, the power of assimilation gone.” While there is little empirical evidence to support this rather bleak view of growing up, we do tend to become more efficient -- but also less flexible and expansive -- in our learning as we age. If there can be one small hope in this otherwise devastating year, it's that disruption has the power to jolt us awake, to remind us to ask difficult questions, and to approach ourselves and each other with generous, genuine curiosity.  


Caroline Marvin teaches in the Department of Psychology, where she also serves as Director of Academic Affairs and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Neuroscience & Behavior major. Her research examines curiosity and its neural substrates, aiming to understand how curiosity motivates information-seeking and drives learning.

Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan — Tuesday, January 26, 2021: Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus — “Book Talk”

Jennifer S. Hirsch
Professor of Sociomedical Sciences
Columbia University

Shamus Khan
Professor of Sociology
Princeton University

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

In Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus, Columbia professors Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan lay out an expansive, empirically-grounded vision for campus sexual assault prevention. The book is rich with the testimonies of over 150 Columbia students who participated in the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation. Hirsch and Khan’s goal, in sharing these stories, is not to make moral judgments or decide what the ideal legal ramifications of assault should be. Rather, with empathy and compassion for the many struggles that young people face, they approach sexual assault as a public health problem and explain it by setting out a broader understanding of how sex is organized and what it means to young people in college.

Grounded in the intimate, often painful accounts of the human beings at its center, Sexual Citizens is a bold and comprehensive analysis of a social ecosystem where sexual assault is a regular feature, concluding with a bracing set of recommendations for what families, teachers, policy makers, and leaders in higher education can do to prevent it.


Jennifer S. Hirsch, a medical anthropologist and Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University, co-directs the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT), a research project on sexual assault and sexual health among Columbia undergraduates. With Shamus Khan, she is coauthor of Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus, which draws on SHIFT’s ethnographic research to examine sexual assault and consensual sex among undergraduates in relation to the broader context of campus life. Hirsch co-directs the Columbia Population Research Center, which brings together faculty from schools across the campus who work on population health and inequalities. A 2012 Guggenheim Fellow, a 2015 Public Voices Fellow, and a 2018-19 Visiting Research Scholar with Princeton’s Center for Health and Well-Being, Hirsch’s published work includes both scholarly and popular writing on health and social inequality. She is author of A Courtship After Marriage: Sexuality and Love in Mexican Transnational Families, the award-winning coauthored The Secret: Love, Marriage and HIV, two edited volumes on the anthropology of love, more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, and many op-eds in venues such as Time and The Hill. Hirsch also just completed six years of service as a board member for Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, including the last two as board chair. Hirsch earned her A.B. from Princeton University in History, with a certificate in Women’s Studies, and her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in Population Dynamics and Anthropology.

Shamus Khan is a professor of Sociology and American Studies at Princeton University. He writes on culture, inequality, gender, and elites. He is the author of over 100 articles, books, and essays, including Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton), The Practice of Research (Oxford, with Dana Fisher), Approaches to Ethnography: Modes of Representation and Analysis in Participant Observation (Oxford, with Colin Jerolmack), and Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus (W.W. Norton, with Jennifer Hirsch). He co-directed the ethnographic component of SHIFT, a multi-year study of sexual health and sexual violence at Columbia University. He directed the working group on the political influence of economic elites at the Russell Sage Foundation, is the series editor of “The Middle Range” at Columbia University Press, and served as the editor of the journal Public Culture. He writes regularly for the popular press such as the New Yorker, the New York TimesWashington Post, and has served as a columnist for Time Magazine. In 2016 he was awarded Columbia University’s highest teaching honor, the Presidential Teaching Award, and in 2018 he was awarded the Hans L. Zetterberg Prize from Uppsala University in Sweden for “the best sociologist under 40.”

Patricia Cruz — Tuesday, February 9, 2021: A Change Is Gonna Come...Or Is It?

Patricia Cruz
CEO and Artistic Director
Harlem Stage

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

Patricia Cruz will discuss how the roles and responsibilities of individuals, and groups of individuals, united by shared values can effect lasting change. Octavia Butler has said “the only lasting truth is change.” She hopes to be able to touch on the impact that art has in inspiring and reflecting change or transformation. 


Patricia Cruz began her term as Executive Director of Harlem Stage in 1998. Ms. Cruz is a member of the Board of Directors and is responsible for overseeing Board Development, long-range planning, fundraising, and program development. The highlight of her tenure has been the $26 million renovation of the Gatehouse for use as Harlem Stage’s new home. Cruz serves on The CalArts Board of Overseers.

Cruz has also served on the Tony Nominating Committee and the Board of Urban Assembly. She is also past President of The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), an organization that supports and nurtures the work of artists and arts organizations throughout the state, and ArtTable, a national organization of women in the arts.

Indrani Das — Wednesday, February 17, 2021: On a Slippery Slope: The Science and Story of the Potential Instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Indrani Das, PhD
Lamont Associate Research Professor
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Columbia University

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

The Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest ice sheet on this planet. It is beautiful, surrounded by the Southern Ocean, with icebergs and sea ice moving with the waves, the winds, and the tides near its coast.

Unprecedented climate change related ocean warming is causing the ice sheet to lose mass rapidly in the recent decades. The western part of Antarctica is one of the most vulnerable section of the ice sheet. Large portions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are deemed susceptible to rapid disintegration, partly because of the warmer Amundsen Sea melting the ice shelves and grounding line from underneath, and partly because it is situated on backward-facing bedrock slope that renders it inherently unstable, defined as the marine ice sheet instability.

In this session, Indrani Das will talk about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, discuss its present state of vulnerability and climate change. She will also share field pictures and stories of Antarctica, her life, science and art in this extreme environment that she is trying to understand to predict how it may change.


Indrani Das has a Glaciology and Atmospheric Sciences background with expertise in satellite and airborne remote sensing. The main area of her research includes mass balance of ice sheets and ice shelves. She studies physical processes that impact the mass balance and stability of ice sheets and ice shelves, ice-atmosphere and ice-ocean interactions using a combination of satellite remote sensing, airborne radar and laser altimeter, ground based measurements, and modeling.

Indrani earned her Ph.D in Atmospheric Physics from Indian Space Research Organization in 2007 where she worked on radiative transfer algorithms to retrieve marine aerosols from satellite data. After briefly working on estimating snow depth in the Himalayas, in 2007 she came as a postdoc to University of Alaska Fairbanks to work on mass balance of Alaskan glaciers using airborne laser altimetry.

In 2010, Indrani came to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to work on surface processes impacting surface mass balance of Antarctica. She is now an Associate Research Professor and her work has evolved to include both surface and basal processes of ice sheets and ice shelves. She also works on paleo observations of accumulation rates and climate history of Greenland ice sheet.

Her active projects include the NERC-NSF-funded ITGC project PROPHET for which she is the institutional PI. Indrani uses airborne radar to study ocean water intrusion in the grounding line of Thwaites. She compares observed bed slippery conditions with ice sheet modeled drag and friction.

Indrani serves as a committee member on the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). She is also a council member of the International Glaciological Society (IGS) and on the Organizing Committee of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Meeting.

Norrell Edwards — Tuesday, March 16, 2021: Translating Your Research Outside the Academy — “Research and Industry In Action (RIIA)/Cool Jobs”

Norrell Edwards
Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow
Texas Christian University

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

In December 2019, Norrell Edwards completed her doctorate in English literature from the University of Maryland, College Park with a specialization in 20th and 21st century Black Diaspora Literature. Dr. Edwards will share her experience weaving together her research interests with working outside of academia. Both her employment experience and research interests place her work at the nexus of global Black identity, cultural memory, and social justice. She has worked with several criminal justice and education-focused non-profit organizations including: The Drug Policy Alliance, Advancing Real Change, John Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and TandemEd.


Dr. Norrell Edwards recently joined Texas Christian University as a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow from her position at Georgetown University where she served as Assistant Director of Education of the Prison and Justice Initiative. Norrell also currently serves as the volunteer director of communications for the Next Step Forward Initiative, a New York-based grassroots organization focused on making progress to eradicate systemic racism. To learn more about Norrell’s work and scholarship, follow her on Twitter @Norrellexplains or stop by her website,

Irwin Redlener — Tuesday, March 30, 2021: Getting to Here: From Lee County to COVID-19

6:00-8:00 p.m. EST

Sometimes career paths are linear, heading in a single direction and sticking to the well-worn path. “I want to be a surgeon, or an electrical engineer. That means college in a certain set of acceptable majors, grad school and advanced training, and, if all goes as planned - Voila, I've made it!” But other times, life is more of an adventure; serendipity is a driver, paths are indistinct or malleable. This can be wildly gratifying or deeply unsettling, provoking anxiety or worse. “What am I doing? I'm lost!” Dr. Redlener will share what it has been like to have a terrific time pursuing an eclectic path, hardly always perfect, to be sure, but never, ever boring.


Irwin Redlener, M.D. is a pediatrician and founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and director of the Center’s Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative.

Since 2019, Dr. Redlener has been serving as an on-air public health analyst for NBC & MSNBC.

Dr. Redlener is also President Emeritus and Co-Founder of the Children’s Health Fund, a philanthropic initiative that he created in 1987 with singer/song-writer Paul Simon and Karen Redlener to develop child health care programs in 25 of the nation’s most medically underserved urban and rural communities.

He currently serves as a special advisor on emergency preparedness to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and regularly communicates with leadership in U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, as well as Homeland Security. He was an advisor to then Vice President Joe Biden, and, in 2015, served as an advisor to the federal czar on the Ebola outbreak. In 2019 Dr. Redlener worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in repeated efforts to stop inhumane treatment of immigrant families and children on the SW U.S. border.

Over his career, Dr. Redlener has created or expanded programs to treat victims of child abuse and neglect and was the principal designer and lead in the development of the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM), the first institution of its kind in the Bronx, one the most indigent urban zip codes in the U.S. Early in his career, Dr. Redlener’s positions included medical director of a community health center in an impoverished rural county in Arkansas and directing a new pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital.

As an advocate on issues pertaining to the health and well-being of children living with multiple adversities from extreme poverty to domestic violence and homelessness, Dr. Redlener has long-standing relationships with Members of Congress and, from time to time, high ranking Administration officials. He has advised every Democratic presidential campaign since 1988.

Dr. Redlener has authored and co-authored numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals on issues related to access to care for children and disaster-related topics. He a regular resource to journalists on these and related issues and has contributed opinion pieces to the Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Hill,, The New York Times and other media. He is the author of The Future of Us, What the Dreams of Children Mean for Twenty-First-Century America (Columbia University Press) which was released on September 19, 2017 (updated and re-released in 2020). He also authored Americans at Risk: Why We Are Not Prepared for Megadisasters and What We Can Do Now (Knopf).

Dr. Redlener completed his undergraduate degree at Hofstra University and received his M.D. at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. Specialty training was received at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, the University of Colorado Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He holds honorary degrees from Hofstra University and Hunter College of the City University of New York.

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