U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor hopes that telling her own story won’t just paint a picture of her personal life, but of the experiences that can help us all to overcome what divides us. “If you speak a different language, if you have a different color skin, if you come from a background that is different from the norm — people forget these are superficial differences,” says Sotomayor, while reading from her new book My Beloved World. Speaking at the Heritage Lecture Series at Hostos Community College, she recalled stories from her Bronx neighborhood and her family. In writing her memoir, Justice Sotomayor wanted words to “paint pictures” of her experience to emphasize the values shared across all cultures. “At essence, everyone shares the most common of values,” she says.
While President Obama’s deferred-action program will grant thousands of undocumented immigrants a temporary reprieve from deportation, it leaves thousands more, who are ineligible, in legal limbo. “This is just the beginning of our fight,” says Sofia Campos, board chair of the United We Dream Network, a student-led organization representing undocumented immigrants. “Because of my immigration status, I was to be excluded from reaching for my dreams and fulfilling my potential,” says Campos, who recently applied for deferred-action status and took part in the panel, “Undocumented and Unafraid: Voices from the Immigrant Youth Movement,” sponsored by CUNY’s Murphy Institute.
In a lively and often raucous discussion, famed jurist Alan Dershowitz and political journalist Peter Beinart debate the topic of Beinart’s provocative new book, The Crisis of Zionism, and the role of Israelis in the creation of the Palestinian state. “Every time Israel subsidizes more Israelis to move to the West Bank we make those Palestinian leaders, who reluctantly accept Israel’s right to exist, look like fools,” said Beinart, an associate professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, who also called for a boycott of Israeli products from beyond its 1967 eastern border. “Peter naively believes that if Israel resolves its problems with the Palestinians, the threat that Israel faces will go away,” said Dershowitz, to the audience at the Perspectives: Conversations on Policy and Place with Peter Beinart series at the Graduate Center. “But they won’t —- the problem is that the vast majority of Muslims don’t see the two-state solution as the answer.”
How does one survive the trauma of a childhood full of emotional pain? For distinguished author Francine du Plessix Gray, it was grist for the mill of her Pulitzer Prize-nominated 2005 memoir Them, which chronicles a privileged but neglected upbringing by Russian emigre parents in New York in the 1940s. “Being ill-treated by people who were kind but too busy climbing the social ladder of the city to pay attention to me, made me into a stronger person,” says du Plessix Gray in a candid discussion with Bill Kelly, part of the Extraordinary Lives series at the Graduate Center. “As a writer you have to criticize people for their actions, but you have to end with compassion.”
Before David Nasaw took on the daunting challenge of writing a biography of one of the country’s major historical figures, he asked for access to the family archive. “I demanded and received full permission to see all the papers that had been classified and kept away from all researchers,” says Nasaw, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. professor of history at the Graduate Center, in a discussion with Gary Giddins about his new book, “The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.” Nasaw also warned the family about the contents: “You don’t want me to write this book,” he told the late Senator Edward Kennedy. “It’s not going to make the family happy and who knows when there might be another Kennedy running for office.”
Jeanne Sakata was so moved by the documentary “A Personal Matter,” about the life of the civil rights icon Gordon Hirabayashi, she wrote her first play, “Hold These Truths,” about him. “This wasn’t just a story for Japanese-Americans, this was a story for all Americans to hear and be inspired by,” said Sakata, at an event sponsored by the CUNY Asian American/Asian Research Institute. Hirabayashi, who as a college student was known for his legal battles against the U.S. government for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, in the spring of 2012.
For over three decades, investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele have chronicled the decline of the American middle class, earning two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Magazine Awards. In their latest book, The Betrayal of the American Dream, they sharpen their analysis of the causes of the economic crisis, including the years of mistaken trade and tax policy, as well as a disregard for existing laws. “It wasn’t just a hurricane that blew through the economy, but rather a deregulation of public policies and issues of taxes and trade that caused these problems,” said Steele at an event at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.
Defending her goal of transforming car-clogged streets into pedestrian plazas, the city’s transportation chief says her initiatives have boosted the number of visitors and, in the case of Times Square, have also been a boon for local businesses. “More people are spending time — eating, taking pictures and hanging out,” says Janette Sadik-Khan, who has served as commissioner of the Department of Transportation for the past five years. Sadik-Khan, in a speech, “It’s Not Impossible to Change a City,” at the 8th annual Lewis Mumford Lecture on Urbanism at City College, discussed initiatives that improve public safety and ease mobility. “Times Square was named one of the top 10 retail locations in the world — this certainly would not have been the case years ago,” says Sadik-Khan.
Along with nosy food bloggers and pesky health inspectors, New York City’s restaurateurs find that they have something else to deal with — social media. “Within seconds, a chef’s new idea is on Twitter,” says Danny Meyer, head of the Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes, along with other restaurants, Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and the Shake Shack chain. “That’s the shelf life of innovation — two seconds.” At an event sponsored by the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, one of the trade tips of his that Meyer served up that wasn’t about recipes: “It’s how you make your customers feel that will set you apart.”
Dolphins may look like big fish, but with large and complex brains the marine mammals’ behavior is more like primates and elephants, according to Diana Reiss, professor of psychology at Hunter College. “We used to think that many of our cognitive and communicative abilities were uniquely human,” says Reiss, who co-chaired the first annual CUNY Animal Behavior Initiative Conference at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, “but now we’re discovering that many of the abilities we possess — like the ability to recognize ourselves in a mirror — are found in other animals.” Reiss, who also serves as director of dolphin research at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, spoke at the all-day conference of panelists from around the country sharing their work in animal behavior.