11 October 2001

*This presentation included a screening of the film “From Third Reich to Third Generation.”

The film, “From Third Reich to Third Generation,” follows the relationship between a young German descendant of a soldier in Hitler’s Wehrmacht and a 101 year-old Holocaust survivor who is too frail to leave his New York City apartment.  The film is the award-winning Master’s thesis of (Amy Rubin, Stefan Knerricht, Michael Rey).  Following the screening, the three producers fielded questions from the students about history, xenophobia, racism, war, the Holocaust, education, the role of art in responding to and recovering from tragedy, intergenerational and transnational relations.  The public was also interested in discussing the technical aspect of documentary production and the producers’ more recent role in transforming this 30 minute documentary into a full-length television film (which they had just completed).  Students wanted to know the personal background and motivations of these three alumni both in terms of producing this film and of pursuing a formal education in journalism.  Through the discussion, the connections between personal and professional motivations came to life.

Amy Rubin, Stefan Knerricht, and Michael Rey are alumni of (Columbia School of Journalism.  In 2001, the three won the BNN Video Journalism Award for this film.


12 October 2001

*This event took place on location at the Lamont Doherty Observatory

The presentation followed the scope and goals of the IRI (a new component of Lamont as of 2001, that houses under the same roof hard core scientists, economists, anthropologists, and other social scientists – the goal being to study simultaneously the science of climate changes and its “human” – social, political, cultural –implications and ramifications – along with the scientist’s responsibility in his/her research).  Robin Bell guided the Scholars through of the Lamont labs (including the world’s largest ocean core library), explaining to the group the different sciences (dendrochronology, glaciology, vulcanology, etc), and stopping on the way to pick some apples on the estate (the students made a point of mentioning how they really enjoyed that part!).

Robin Bell’s powerpoint presentation of her work mapping the bottom of the Hudson River underscored the inevitable/necessary interdisciplinary aspect of her purely scientific research.  Her discoveries put her in contact with historians, government personnel, other scientists, the Coast Guard, the City etc.  The tour ended with a presentation by a colleague of Robin Bell’s, glaciologist Michael Studinger, on his team’s recent research on Antarctica’s largest ice-covered lake.

Robin Bell is the Director of the ADVANCE program at the Earth Institute. She is also a Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where she directs major research programs on the Hudson River and Antarctica.

Dr. Bell has studied the mechanisms of ice sheet collapse and the chilly environments beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, including Lake Vostok, and she has led seven major aero-geophysical expeditions to Antarctica. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Middlebury College in Vermont, she built a 24-foot dory, which she sailed and rowed down the Hudson River past Lamont and Columbia on to Woods Hole where she worked for several years. Returning to the Hudson River Valley, she received her doctorate in marine geophysics from Columbia University. Presently she is chair of the National Academy of the Sciences Polar Research Board and Vice Chair of the International Planning Group for the International Polar Year.


14 November 2001

Based on the viewing of specific television commercials, Jason Kahn led a lively discussion that touched upon the following topics:

  • What are people’s perceptions of advertising agencies?
  • Is Advertising necessary? Evil?  Brainwashing?
  • Does it create unnecessary needs?
  • What are the rules and regulations monitoring the advertising industry?
  • What is the role of public opinion in the lifespan of a commercial?
  • What is the social responsibility of advertising?
  • Does subliminal advertising exist?
  • Is there stereotyping in advertising?
  • What is the language of advertising?  How does one study it?
  • September 11, 2001 : what was the response of the advertising world?

Through the use of the Socratic method, Kahner was able to have the students’ comments and experiences lead into the discussion of the topics he wanted to cover.  Throughout the discussion, different fields of study were touched upon, including psychology, economics, politics, sociology, the study of cultures, history, art, and the use of language.

Jason Kahner is the Senior Vice President and Director of Marketing for the New York office of Foote Cone & Belding.


28 November 2001

* The presentation included the screening of “The Interpreters: A Historical Perspective”

“The Interpreters: A Historical Perspective” a 50 minute, award-winning documentary produced on the occasion of the United Nations’ 50 th anniversary, shows the history of the United Nations as seen through the lens of the conference interpreter.  The film also covers the evolution of interpretation from consecutive (used during the first session of the United Nations) to simultaneous (first implemented during the Nuremburg trials) and now to beamed satellite simultaneous interpretation, interviews with those original interpreters as well as images of the role and responsibilities of current interpreters.  The film is structured around an organic connection between defining historical moments and the evolving profession that responded to advances in technology, emergence of new issues and concerns that brought on the need for new terminology, and the increase in United Nations membership.

Evelyn Moggio produced the film and is an interpreter at the United Nations.  Miguel Ortiz is an interpreter at the United Nations as well.


7 December 2001

This event was divided into two sessions.    This first panel focused on the profession of journalism – what qualities, strengths, personality traits are sought out by the profession.  Scholars heard from the panelists that journalism is about being insatiably curious about the world and turning that curiosity into good stories and into helping citizens be informed and thus improve their lives.  Like any other profession, journalism seeks out people who know how to think – no matter what their educational background – people with an open, unaligned mind.  Journalism is the way that communities talk to one another and learn about themselves.  This requires from the journalist that he/she master the craft of writing.

Panelists discussed how journalism evolved out of the enlightenment, and gave historical examples on how one cannot separate democracy from journalism.  Magazine journalism and book writing were discussed as specific forms of journalism, with examples taken from the New Yorker magazine: the greatest coverage of momentous historical events, such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement among others appeared in the New Yorker.  Magazines offer the attraction of blending the “juice” of news cycle with more time to check facts and hone prose.  Magazine writing allows one not only to engage with the art and craft of writing, but also to deal with the world of ideas and content.

The University-wide panel that followed (and that was video-taped for the Columbia website), was moderated by Tom Rosenstiel, and featured Eve Burton, James Carey, and Carol Nunnelley.  The panelists held an animated debate on the risks and responsibilities of the press in defending the First Amendment – in particular in times of crisis.  The discussion focused on the relationship between the press and the government, on the need for the press to see itself as an instrument that orchestrates all liberties, not simply that protects the liberty of the press, on the concern with increased commercialization, the trivialization of culture, and the risk that comes from the selling of the press to the entertainment industry.  The panelists underscored the journalist’s role as one not of activist but rather of committed observer, and stressed that the freedom of the press in no way guarantees that the reporter will be right: it just guarantees that the story will not go away.  

Arlene Morgan is an esteemed member of the CUSP Board of Advisors.  For her biographical information please see our Board of Advisors’ page.  Zahir Sachedina is the producer of ABC’s 6 pm newscast with Peter Jennings (he had been on duty both for the September 11 tragedy and the crash of flight 587) and the Director of the Columbia University Workshop in Race and Ethnicity.  Carol Nunnelly is the Managing Editor, Birmingham News and works with the Associated Press Managing Editors Roundtable Credibility Project (APME.  She is also a specialist on the history and politics of communications technology. Eve Burton is an  expert on the First Amendment and the news industry.  Tom Rosenstiel is the Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.  James Carey is a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.  Evan Cornog is the Associate Dean, Columbia School of Journalism


20 February 2002

This event, co-sponsored with the International Media and Communications Program of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, consisted in an informal discussion on the role of a foreign correspondent.

Donatella Lorch discussed the foreign correspondent’s relationship with politics (both domestic and foreign), with war and its victims (the displaced, the sick, the grieving, the imprisoned), and with American foreign policy.  In Lorch’s case in particular Afghanistan, Somalia (referring to the inaccuracy and accuracy of the film “Black Hawk Down”), the civil wars in Africa, the role and responsibilities of the United Nations.  She also reviewed the role and responsibility of journalism, the bias of international reporting here in the U.S., the difference between BBC and US–based reporting, and the inevitable risks of reporting (kidnapping, mob lynching, murder – with reference to Walls Street Journal’s Danny Pearl and Lorch’s 27 colleagues who died on the job). Lorch described reporting as a personality-driven career (it is not a desk job, but rather a job that is spurred by an innate curiosity about how others live, by the desire to be in the midst of history in the making, by the desire to tell stories and in one’s own way inform and make a difference).  The difference between print, broadcast and weeklies defined in terms of what kinds of stories can be covered, and from what angle.  Finally, Lorch highlighted the role of the United States and of other countries abroad – in particular the responsibility of the United States in constructing the infrastructure needed to ensure that Afghanistan sustain itself.

Donatella Lorch is one of five U.S. correspondents that recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan embedded with Special Forces.


12 March 2002

During this presentation, David McKenna explored the mythic patterns that form the structure of story telling.  Nowhere are these patterns more evident than in contemporary film-making.  The seminar translated the academic language of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces into a working vocabulary for film- and theater-makers.  The lecture began with a discussion about the historical function of story-telling and myth-making.  It included a description of the recurring characters (archetypes) which Jung refers to in “the collective unconscious.”  Campbell’s “universal story” was presented, suggesting that virtually all narratives emanate from a single myth which artists infinitely vary to dramatize the story of human existence.  The details of Campbell’s “universal story” were identified, as the “skeleton” of the myth.  The myth presents a journey.  It could be outward and physical from the comforts of home into a challenging new world.  Or it could be inward into the heart, mind, and spirit.  The archetypal hero faces twelve progressive steps – or “bones” of the skeleton –which exist, explicitly or otherwise, in all narratives.  The lecture illustrated the abstract steps with specific details from Shakespeare’s Henry Vth,  “Rocky,” and “Romancing the Stone.”  The workshop itself became something of a “hero’s journey” as students were offered a way of thinking, not only about the stories they see (and create), but also about the stories of their own lives.  By the end of the lecture, student/story-tellers had been presented with a tool that could serve as both a creative and an analytical template.  (The text which was referenced during the lecture was Christopher Vogel, The Writer’s Journey.)

David McKenna is a writer, actor, story consultant, guest artist, and adjunct faculty member at Columbia since the 1990s in the Film Division of the School of the Arts.


24 April 2002

Angela Diaz presented a complete picture of adolescent health and of the growing importance of a holistic approach to health during teen years, that is between age 10 and 21.  Mount Sinai’s is the largest adolescent health center in the nation.  The Center is 34 years old and adopts a holistic approach based on cross collaboration (collaboration with the legal system, the jails, the community centers, the churches, the schools).  Its goal is to promote health and prevent diseases.  Teenagers are indeed the best health care consumers if they are properly approached and teen years are the most likely time to influence and change habits.  The Mount Sinai Center does much in terms of health education and hosts a number of community-based programs (peer education, teaching, training and education and technical assistance, advocacy and health policy research).  They are very active in training.  It takes $10 million to run the program and Mount Sinai is experiencing a major health crisis so Angela Diaz is spending much time fundraising and working on influencing policy.  Scholars understood the importance not only of passion and hard work, but of multiple and transferable skills to ensure the success of such an operation.

The Center fills a very important vacuum.  Since our current  health system is not designed for teens, we are witnessing an adolescent health crisis.  There are too many barriers to services for these teens (money, access, transportation, confidentiality, shame, lack of information).  Adolescents are the least insured as a group, and the number of uninsured is growing in the city, the state, and the nation.  At the same time there is an increased demand for services.

The thrust of the presentation was that physical health is a minute part of serving teens who, as a general population, tend to be physically well.  In the case of teens, one must focus on the psychological, on behavior.  Thus social context and spirituality are very important.  Adolescent sexuality is where all the domains converge.  It is so polarized, however, and overshadows everything about adolescents.  After abortion it is one of the most controversial models.  Precisely because the care is not merely physical, the physician is the least important person when working with teens.  There must be a team at work.  Services must be comprehensive and the scheduling must be adolescent-friendly.  The physical environment must be respectful and designed for teens.  The services must be holistic, comprehensive, integrated, and culturally sensitive.  The more services in one place, the better.  The relationship with the provider is most important, especially for those who have not had continuity in their lives: they need a sense of connectedness and belonging.  Furthermore, adolescence is a transitional stage for religious development.  There is no firm consensus on how religion and spirituality relate.  95% of the adolescents interviewed believe in God or Spirit, 29% pray alone frequently.  As they get older, however, they become less religious.  They start questioning adults, authority; and they begin their struggle for independence.    Research shows that adolescents who are more spiritual tend to take fewer risks.  One must therefore, in Dr. Diaz’s view, incorporate religiousness/spirituality into adolescent health care.  One should ask questions of the teens directly: for if one is comfortable asking the question, they are comfortable answering any question.

Angela Diaz is a professor of Pediatrics and the Director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.


27 April 2002

*This event was co-sponsored with the Center on Women and Gender

In an open, direct and passionate presentation, Erica Jong described how for her the process of creation happens in the dark, in the subterranean world.  She starts with an image, a dreamlike visual image.  She always wanted to write poetry and prose simultaneously and she always admired Nabokov’s Pale Fire. She became interested in Sappho about whom nothing was known and yet who had given birth to schools of poetry although only fragments of her poetry survived.  Jong was fascinated by the legends surrounding Sappho, by the fragments of her lyrics which had through the centuries given birth to the language and metaphors of erotic love.  Very little is known about Sappho’s civilization from a woman’s point of view.  So Jong wrote 1000 pages of  picaresque adventures, beginning with the image of Sappho standing on a cliff about to leap into the sea.  Sappho, as the legend says, suffered from unrequited love from a young man had met Aphrodite on earth as an old and wrinkled woman but had treated her as a young beautiful woman.   The goddess, in exchange for such gallant and decent behavior, had given him an alabastron with a magic unguent that made him irresistible, endowed with never fading beauty and never fading potency.  Jong began writing in the first person – as a woman about to jump into the sea.   She had  researched Greece and antiquity for months.  Jong discussed the fear, turmoil and liberation she feels in the act of writing.  E.L Doctorow says that writing novels is like driving at night: the headlights illuminate only as far as you are driving, but that is enough.   And so, Jong says she starts by having the pen loop over the page.  She tries to be a free as she can – without a censor.  In her view all composition problems are psychological ones: one must be free of self-exposure which creates problems.  One must try to write as if no one would read you and you would never be published.

In one of her numerous anecdotes, Jong discussed the “technique” of writing.  She recalled how Henry Miller would write 50 pages and only then would he maybe hear the “fetal heartbeat” (those pages were his warm up).  In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says that you must start with “automatic writing”: or “morning pages”.   Heinrich Boll said that after the first 100 pages he sort of knew he had a book.  As for herself, Jong gave up the PhD process because it was in her eyes all about reading books about books about books: she was scared of losing all her creativity.  She started Fear of Flying from a totally different point of view (that of a man) and was told by her editor to go home and write a novel in the voice of her poems.  She had to give herself permission to talk in the voice of a woman, give herself permission to be who she was. Jong explained that for her the problems of creation are shame and guilt.  We are all very similar inside: if you get the voice inside your head right, it is the same as everyone else’s.  It gets harder for her, however, with each book: she has to become innocent again. It gets harder for her to pretend that no one will ever see her book.

To write you need grit and tenacity to ignore the world: never share a book in progress with any member of your family of origin or your significant other: it makes you feel inhibited.  When you have enough that the book is gelled, begin to share it.  She warned the public to beware of writing seminars: competitive people will not want you to succeed.  It is better to find honest and tender people.  You need someone fiercely honest but very kind who sees your potential.  When Jong started writing she had a box of 300 index cards, cards listing her rejections: she had made a pact with herself that when the box would be full, she would go get her PhD: she needed to know that she had an out.  A lot of creativity, for Jong, is about forgiving yourself, and most of us are not good at that (we are constantly graded and rated).  Creativity cannot be numerically quantified. Somehow you understand what you are meant to write, but you must give yourself a lot of rope.

Writing is not done in a void.  One is influenced by others.  Read and reread the writer you love, she admonishes.  Discover what is unique about their voices (she read and reread and deconstructed Salinger’s Nine Short Stories, although she never wrote short stories herself).  You can learn style.  You can learn to write by imitating the writers you like.

Another aspect of writing is language.  W.H.Auden said: “A poet has to woo not only his Muse but Dame Philology.”   When Jong was young, she would open dictionaries and open them to a page and choose words and then start a poem with them: these young poems were a bit contrived, but she was crazy about language.  Jong simply has a love for language as a physical, edible thing.  Once you have written, how do you let novels go out into the world?  Jong has a terrible time allowing them to be exposed.  She delays.  Once gone, it won’t be hers anymore: people can put a price on it.  And what if nobody wants it?  She has to acknowledge to herself that her life and experiences are worth writing about.

The form of the book is the most ancient technology and very nearly perfect.  The book has the power to have people dialogue with you.  It is not a profession.  At 2 cents/hour, it is the most insecure profession.  Yet the need to write is the need to recreate the world in a more sympathetic form.  The writer has that chance.  The academic way of the world is analytical. The Creative way is much more subjective.  Writers have to be narcissists.  For Jong, who does not write journalism or biographies, stories have to come out of her own life and her own obsessions.  It is not the plot.  It is the feeling and the language.  Writing – as is reading --  is about communicating.  Books are the most intimate of objects: you feel filled up by them. A book communicates with the internal part of yourself: it is one on one communication.  Jong became a novelist because when she was a little girl, she would kiss the picture of the author when she finished reading the book.  If a book can make someone feel less lonely, that is Jong’s goal.  People/readers need to recognize themselves, remember their own humanity.   It is a magical talent.  The essential impulse of writer and reader is: I am not alone.  When her writing is going well it feels like flying.  Dream life and fantasy life are crucial.  Jong insists that we are not only made of our daily life, but of our dreams and fantasies.  And thus she exhorted the audience with closing comments: Nobody knows where the story begins. It doesn’t matter where you start: start anywhere.  The process of writing changes it.  Shaping the story comes later.  Don’t be judgmental with yourself: writing is like playing scales.  A novel demands that you go into a trance, plumbing the unconscious. (see Philip Roth Ghost Writer or Counterlife: the writer leads a solitary life, a life of isolation.)  And above all, never personalize criticism.

Erica Jong is an esteemed member of the CUSP Board of Advisors.  For her biographical information please see our Board of Advisors’ page.

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