New York Times Columnist Lectures at Conn

Tonight from 4:30 to 5:45 PM in Evans Hall, journalist, author and New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof will address Connecticut College students, faculty and staff. The lecture is a part of a semester-long series of events sponsored by the five academic centers. Thus far, the functions have centered on Half the Sky, a book written by Kristof and his wife, fellow New York Times writer Sheryl WuDunn.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, published in 2009, seeks to tell the stories of women and girls around the world. The book promotes their emancipation from lives dictated by brutal human rights violations, and stresses that these are the greatest issues of our time. The book spotlights individuals and their successful relationships with grassroots organizations, which Kristof and WuDunn portray repeatedly as the most effective level of change.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning couple’s Half the Sky gained even more acclaim when a documentary, based off its main ideas, was created. The two-part, four-hour documentary began airing on PBS on October 1, 2012. Because the targeted audience of both the book and the documentary is that of privileged Westerners, American celebrity activists such as America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde were enlisted to join Kristof in his travels. The documentary took Kristof and the celebrity activists to Somaliland, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sierra Leone (while WuDunn provided commentary, she notably was not present in the footage of these journeys).

The documentary covers many of the same themes as the book: the economic empowerment of women – often through microfinance organizations, the education of women and girls, forced prostitution, gender-based violence, shockingly low maternal mortality rates and their connection to female genital mutilation and, finally, sex trafficking. These human rights issues and solutions are some of Kristof’s most passionate topics, and we should expect to hear him speak in detail about them tonight. With various classes reading and discussing Kristof and WuDunn’s work, as well as three screenings of Half the Sky in Blaustein throughout the past week, Kristof’s upcoming lecture has been highly anticipated by the student body and faculty alike. Said Amanda Klay ’13 of Kristof, “His work is accessible, moving, and has the power to inspire people to become informed and act accordingly… Indeed, we now have a campus buzzing about many of the issue areas outline[d] in the Half the Sky book and documentary.”

Klay continued, “When he comes to campus, I hope he addresses his choice of celebrity inclusion in the film. I found this aspect rather distasteful and do not see, beyond increased publicity, the real value of selecting the range of featured celebrities in his work. Regarding Half the Sky, the book, where is Sheryl WuDunn’s place in the hype surrounding publication? Why is her voice largely absent from the discussion surrounding the book, so often referred to as ‘Kristof’s work,’ without inclusion of his co-author in wife in such discussion[?] Was Sheryl WuDunn invited to come to campus along with Kristof?”

Upon investigation of this last query, Professor Jane Dawson explained that it was the intervention of budgetary reality that hindered the College’s ability to bring WuDunn to campus along with Kristof.

Speaking to awareness as one of Kristof and WuDunn’s key points regarding this women’s movement, Natalie Liener ’14 commented after viewing the documentary with her hopes for tonight’s lecture: “I think Kristof does a great job of exposing human rights issues women have to face around the world, but I would like to hear him talk more about how we can enact and sustain necessary change as individuals.”

“Kristof will be speaking to a Connecticut College crowd that is widely supportive of his body of work. I will be most impressed if he chooses to elaborate on his more controversial claims, such as his stance on sweatshops, and if he responds openly to criticisms that his publication of certain war imagery has been exploitative of the individuals photographed,” stated Andrew Greaves ’13 on Kristof’s career as a journalist.

Toward the end of the documentary Half the Sky, Kristof leaves his viewers digesting a powerful statement that underscores the importance of his and WuDunn’s quest for change through the empowerment of women: “Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.”

Tonight, the student body – as beneficiaries of this institution of higher education – will be given the opportunity to further process, question and act on his message.


  1. I enjoyed returning to Conn Coll (I am class of ’84) to hear Nicholas Kristof speak. Half the Sky is an incredibly powerful book and I am happy to see its message spread across college campuses. I did not watch much of the documentary when it was released. I agree with Amanda Klay’s view of the inclusion of all those celebrity women. I found that to be a detractor. I was very happy to hear him share some important ideas — 1) he was very frank about the problems of corruption in the aid community; 2) he stressed that education and economic development are the keys to change, and 3) he talked about the selfishness of altruism (not a bad thing!) which he said is the subject of his next book with WuDunn. I was not at all bothered by the fact that Ms. WuDunn did not come to campus too. After reading her incredibly impressive bio, I can only imagine how expensive that would have been. I imagine they very rarely do join speaking engagements for that very reason. Thank you CC for arranging this visit and for allowing alumni to participate — and I hope to return for more lectures.

  2. I heard that there were a good number of unimpressed Conn Coll professors. Apparently, Kristof misunderstands the connection between assuming how ”other” cultures define ”civilized” and cultural imperialism.

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