The Forum series opens 73rd season with Sheryl WuDunn

The Forum series opens 73rd season with Sheryl WuDunn

Photo by Jeremy Hogan

Heather Spray was well on her way to becoming a teacher before exposure to the work of a well-known business executive and best-selling author caused her to reconsider.

Spray will introduce the woman who inspired her to go into nonprofit work at tonight’s opening event of the 73rd season of The Forum, which convenes at 7:30 p.m. in Schofield Auditorium. The woman is Sheryl WuDunn.

WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, and her husband Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, co-wrote the 2009 best-selling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”

The Half The Sky Movement focuses on the oppression of women and girls worldwide and aims to bring awareness to the struggles of women in places throughout Africa and Asia, according to the organization’s website.

“Their work has influenced me in huge, huge ways,” Spray, a senior history and Spanish double major, said. “I am looking forward to talking to her about her process and her work and even getting advice.”

Spray acknowledged other people have been very critical of the book, which has had a great influence on her life.

Last week, assistant women’s studies professor Diane Detournay hosted a talk that offered students, faculty and community members a chance to look critically at WuDunn and Kristof’s book, which is also a documentary.

The purpose of the talk was not to challenge WuDunn’s good intentions but to think more broadly, Detournay said.

The talk was meant to “explore alternative framework for building transnational alliances, and feminist efforts to conceptualize decolonizing practices of solidarity,” according to the abstract for the event.

Detournay said she was pleased the event was well-attended and students were willing to reflect critically about their own notions about projects like WuDunn and Kristof’s.

“The purpose of having it before The Forum was for students to go in informed and with ideas of alternative models of building feminist alliances,” Detournay said. “Not to throw out the old ways but just to think of different kinds.”

A lasting tradition

This evening’s event was not sold out beforehand like Forum events in the past, but Kristin Schumacher, assistant director of activities, involvement and leadership, was confident the event will sell out at the door.

“People are ecstatic about her coming,” Schumacher said. “It seems like the committee did a really good job choosing these people. She is a dynamic speaker so I think people are very excited to have her.”

Although tonight will kick off the current Forum series, planning has already started for the 2015-16 season, Schumacher said.

The Forum began at UW-Eau Claire in 1942 as a result of then-president W.R. Davies’s desire to provide more learning opportunities on campus. The series is one of the longest continuous programs of its kind in the country, according to the university’s website.

Previous speakers have included Hank Aaron, Maya Angelou, Suzanne Somers and Gloria Steinem.

Schumacher said she encourages students to attend the events to expand their horizons.

“I just feel like there is incredible learning that happens outside the classroom,” she said. “We want each student to learn when they come to the series, we want to expose them to something they wouldn’t have thought of, we want them to reflect.”