By RACHEL JAMES
Award-winning journalist, Lisa Ling spoke on April 11 for the 40th installment of the Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series at Drake University. Hosted in the Knapp Center, Ling’s speech focused on her experience as a journalist and the issues she saw on a global scale. From Iran to the war on drugs, Ling touched on a multitude of topics that she’s reported on.
The Bucksbaum Series was founded by Melva and Martin Bucksbaum, who served on Drake’s governing board. There is a committee that oversees it and helps selects speakers, former speakers included Krista Tippett, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Peter Neufeld and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
More than 2,000 students, alumni, faculty and community members attended the free lecture. After a short introduction, Ling answered some frequently asked questions, including her views on working with Oprah and that she is, in fact, not Lucy Liu.
To begin the speech, she talked about one of her first stories she reported from Jalalabad, Afghanistan and how when she returned, her coworkers could not understand her experiences. Ling described her time reporting from various places in the world, after discussing Afghanistan she transitioned into analyzing the tempestuous nature of U.S. relations with Iran.
Ling discussed that over the years she’s interacted with so many young children, who risk their lives just to speak with her. One instance was when she spoke with a group of teenaged children about their part in protesting Iran.
“It was just a beautiful exchange and so courageous on their part,” Ling said.
Ling said that she often has to remember that when she is entering a foreign country, she is wearing her ‘American style glasses’ because she is looking through a Western perspective. She said she has hope that one day the way we think about other countries and people will shift to be more kind, which was met with audience applause.
“Goodness over fear,” Ling said. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Ling also mentioned her time undercover as a medical doctor in North Korea. She told a story about how when patients have eye surgery afterward when they can see again, they go praise the Dear Leader’s portrait. Ling also talked about mass incarceration, the war on drugs and sex trafficking. The latter she delved more into with a story about a young girl who had been trafficked.
“As we are all comfortably sleeping in out beds tonight, I want to remind you that there are kids out there working,” Ling said.
Ling ended her speech by sharing the personal struggle she has faced regarding religion and what she thinks about why God allows suffering.
“If there is a God, how can he allow this to happen,” Ling said. “Then I think he would say I did do something about it, I made you.”
The speech concluded with a Q&A portion. There were topics such as fake news and Ling spoke about how she deals with reporting on the stories of people whom she might not agree with.
Palina Wolfe, Drake student and audience attendee, asked a question about representation in media and the importance of Asian representation.
“Coming to Drake was kind of like going backwards in time,” Wolfe said. “I’m not a not a soft-spoken person, I’m outspoken. I felt like I was progressively more pushed out of the conversation in classrooms or if I had something to say, that I wasn’t being listened to. Just the fact that I’m Asian and female, it’s like your voice is not as important or we don’t believe you.”
Wolfe said that Ling’s speak resonated with her and that the amount Ling discussed in a short period of time was impressive.
“I’m really glad that she touched so many subjects,” Wolfe said. “In one hour, so she went from the human trafficking, homelessness, incarceration, just everywhere. It was all over the map, but it wasn’t in a negative, pessimistic way. Just to see where we can relate to one another.”
The planning that goes into the series involves a committee who work in tandem with the university to select a speaker.
Erica Hartschen, assistant to the vice president for university advancement helped plan the event. She said she believed the series is important because of its accessibility.
“This lecture series is a gem of a lecture series,” Hartschen said. “We are inviting the top people of their field to this campus and inviting them not only to talk with students and the internal campus but extending that to the outside community for no price. That is unheard of these days with these types of speakers.”
The process behind selecting committee members isn’t necessarily as clear cut as some may expect Hartschen said.
“So, there’s really no rhyme or reason,” Hartschen said. “There’s no we’re going to do one on this topic and these are the people. It’s just a really eclectic group of people who just know what’s going to make this lecture successful”
Hartschen said she believed that the message of Ling’s speech was compassion and kindness.
“Be nice to people, be nice,” Hartschen said. “We just, we need to be a nicer world. And I don’t mean anyone specific, but how she talked about when she is in other parts of the country. I think we just need to stop, pause and just, try to find the nice again because we’ve got it really good in this country.”
John Smith, vice president for advancement said that Ling is emblematic of Drake’s beliefs as an academic institution.
“What Lisa represents is a part of Drake social compact, which is to be that place where meaningful and important conversations take place here in central Iowa,” Smith said. “As a university, we carry responsibility to be that venue and to be that vehicle to have a meaningful dialogue to take place.”
Smith said that the one piece of advice he took out of Ling’s speech was to challenge yourself and to allow moments of strife to grow you.
“Push yourself to step out of your comfort zone,” Smith said. “It’s in those moments of discomfort by being around situations and moments and individuals who think differently that you’re going to have the greatest opportunity for strength and growth.”