The Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

All reviews are based solely on my own personal experiences. If you have any complaints, please find me at the Ath and explain what they are while I eat grapes and try to ignore you.

Dr. James Peterson – “The Hip Hop Scholar”            
September 8, 2016     11.96/12

Professor Peterson, the Director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University who visited to give the keynote speech at Friday’s Day of Dialogue, held an impromptu session where he spoke more in-depth on his work at the intersection of hip-hop, race relations, urban culture, and Black America. And, as pleased as I am that there were only about thirty individuals attending, I truly wish that every CMCer (and American) could have had the opportunity to hear his presentation. In the form of a Q&A session, Dr. Peterson discussed how we consume music, the importance of intention when opening ourselves up to debate, his hatred of Future, the media’s role in covering racial violence, and much, much more. While parts of the discussion were surely centered around a specific subset of American culture that may not interest everyone, Professor Peterson is one of those rare people who has a truly strong connection between his heart and his mind, who, when he speaks, makes you both think deeply and feel strongly and more importantly, who encourages you to reflect on those reactions. However, he has not listened to The Life of Pablo, so my quest to find the perfect person continues on.

The vegetarian option was a fairly bland ravioli, but they had those multi-colored fingerling potatoes roasted in oil and fresh herbs that constantly remind me of the beautiful simplicity of delicious food.

Eddie Huang – “Race, Food, and Who We Are”    
September 12, 2016     11.02/12

Huang showed up wearing two gold chains and an “RIP Taylor Swift” shirt that made me feel greatly conflicted, but he proceeded to showcase the unflinching honesty that has made him an impactful addition to our cultural cornucopia. He began by narrating his life story from a segregated Orlando childhood to Cardozo Law School (yeah, dude can lawyer you hard) to a basement Baozi restaurant, complete with anecdotes about the time he resold Costco Coconut Ciroc and the short film he wrote about a hot dog vendor who can’t stop thinking about his supposedly inadequate penis. He got laughs, he got snaps, and he got some furious head nods when he passionately proclaimed, “Anyone who has ever done anything in this world is standing on the shoulders of giants.” There were the occasional Kanye moments where he said something super base in a deep, profound voice as his eyes got bigger and bigger until he ended by silently staring and nodding at the audience. But he finished it off with an entertaining Q&A session that addressed some lingering questions surrounding how dominant cultures can respect other cuisines and cultures, as well as how folks can push and fight for that equal representation.

I still don’t really get the Ath’s insistence on always serving tofu with East Asian food (just throw some broccoli and water chestnuts in the veggie dish and I’m good), but the chocolate torte was an act of brilliance. Plus, they pulled out ALL the good cheeses.

Professor Jack Rakove – “The Case for Historical Originalism”
September 13, 2016     8.53/12

Professor Rakove came down from Stanford University (The Pomona of the North) and gave a talk in honor of my dear adviser, Professor Charles “Charlie” Lofgren. And to be honest, I did not understand a lot of what was discussed. Part of that is definitely on me (I drank my hot chocolate way too early and started zoning out around 7:10). But at the same time, Professor Rakove’s speech jumped around quite a bit and felt like it was directed much more at his fellow academics than at students, even those with some background in American constitutional law. I should note, however, that Professor Rakove’s description of the elation he felt at winning a Pulitzer was sincere enough that I have shifted my life goal from retiring at 31 to winning a Pulitzer (submitting this article for 2016 *fingers-crossed*). Bonus point added for the fact that the whole talk was essentially a potshot at Scalia, and that he added, “Ehh, Clarence Thomas probably doesn’t have it in him to continue defending Originalism.”

The veggie option, a quarter of a squash, was pretty dry. But the potatoes were cheesy and the grapes were sweet, so tradeoffs, ya know.

Professor Laila Lalami – “For or Against: My Life as a Muslim in the West’s Gray Zone”
September 19, 2016     10.24/12

Professor Lalami delivered an engaging, if fairly standard, lecture on the liberal analysis of Islam, fundamentalist terrorism, and the experiences of Muslims in America. However, her argument for a stronger understanding of the “Gray Zone,” the area where cross-cultural engagement flourishes, rather than the strict separations of Muslims and non-Muslims that both ISIS and conservative Western politicians advocate for, did provide a new perspective on how we approach religious groups through public policy (serious props to her for digging through ISIS propaganda and probably ending up on a bunch of different watchlists). I also appreciated her humility and honesty in emphasizing that she does not know everything about everything related to Islam. But at the same time, I found the title of her talk to be quite misleading. She seemed loathe to discuss any of her personal experiences (even as a fiction writer) which seemed to leave a portion of the audience unsatisfied, though we did “aww” at her family pictures. In the end, it was certainly not as mediocre as the talks I often expect when I walk in and see a Powerpoint ready to go.

I don’t really need to say anything other than that it was pasta buffet night with butternut squash ravioli which may or may not have led to me yelping out loud in excitement.

Yolo Akili – “Black Masculinity in America: Context, History and Impact on Emotional Health”
September 20, 2016     11.47/12

As a non-black man who cares about healthy masculinity, I was excited for this talk but also a little wary about how it would be framed. But Yolo Akili’s talk was funny and engaging, and certainly applied to everyone. He discussed issues related to how all men approach their masculinity, but also more specifically about how we can work to understand the Black masculine experience in America, both its positive characteristics as well as the toxic mindsets and behaviors (even those not exclusive to Black men). And while it may not have been comprehensive, I do hope that it will spur conversation surrounding the often monolithic view of masculinity that people tend to propose here. However, I did occasionally feel like he was delivering a talk directed to an audience already inclined to agree with him, and thought it would be interesting to hear him address any possible pushback against his analysis. In the end, I loved the interactive portions (definitely helped me express some thoughts that I didn’t even know I needed to), loved the art by Kendrick Daye, and even loved the breathing exercise at the beginning which definitely helped me focus my mind and be aware and attentive during the talk.

Bless the Ath for having vegetarian refried beans, but eating that, chips, and guac with the veggie option of ravioli was truly an interesting experience for my taste buds. We did, however, have a nice surprise visitor at the cheese table as the black pepper-goat cheese made an appearance.

Peter Wagner – “Who Suffers When a Country Locks Up 1% of its Adult Population?”  
September 21, 2016     10.83/12

Mr. Wagner, the Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, delivered an insightful talk on the state of incarceration in the United States and its effects. He especially made great use of a lot of helpful graphics, but as someone who has worked with criminal justice reform in the past, I didn’t feel that he presented any new information in particular. But his presentation did help me see new connections between all the different facets of our justice system, and how we have to be nuanced in creating solutions through policy. His passion and foundation of knowledge on the topic was also quite impressive, as he answered all the questions with comprehensive answers that did not sugarcoat anything, but that provided a number of perspectives on the issues. Personally, I felt inspired watching how someone who has worked for so long in a very frustrating and slow-moving field still has so much excitement and optimism for the possibility of positive change in the system. Also, everyone should make sure to attend the rest of the Race and Law Enforcement series of Ath talks!

The mashed potatoes were great, but I was a bit disappointed that the veggie option was a vegan lasagna, because as you may guess, I really do love cheese in my pasta. But I used a classic #AthHack and snagged some cheese from the pre-dinner selection to eat on the side with the lasagna. Oh, and the cream puff was delightful.