The 2020 edition of Calvin University’s January Series begins Jan. 8, 2020. This award-winning series will run weekdays at noon and will feature a wide range of experts who are leading some of the world’s most pivotal and timely conversations. The experts’ talks can be heard on Calvin’s campus and all over the world via livestream and at more than 50 remote webcast locations.
Kristi Potter, director of the series since 2008, reflects on its mission and looks ahead to the 2020 lineup.
- Why does the January Series exist?
To promote continued learning. We bring in speakers from around the world, dive into important topics of the day, hold good discussions, and are challenged to think deeply about a lot of timely and important matters. We can’t make a difference in the world if we don’t understand what’s happening in the world. So this learning opportunity really equips us to be better global citizens.
- How does the January Series help people navigate today’s complex issues?
It provides us with an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of a number of issues, and it also challenges us to consider viewpoints that may be different than the ones we hold. By doing this, we can have more informed conversations and also develop a greater empathy for those with whom we disagree. We want to be better for the world, be able to have civil discourse with our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family, and I see the January Series being a model for how this can be done.
- During your time directing the January Series, what moment stands out to you?
There are so many different reasons why I might pick a particular speaker or topic as my favorite. Isabel Wilkerson’s talk on migration of African Americans in North America changed my way of thinking forever; Cokie Roberts, who just recently passed away, was such a kind-hearted person with incredible insights into the world of politics and the national news, I could have listened to her for hours; and Bryan Stevenson is an amazing person doing incredibly important work fighting mass incarceration and yet he is such a humble person. It was an honor to host him at Calvin. These are just three of the many experiences that have shaped me as director of the January Series.
And it is always rewarding when I see people who are being highlighted on the national and international stage for the great work they are doing, and I can say, ‘Hey, they were here for the January Series.’
- What topic or speaker in the 2020 lineup are you especially excited about?
I’m excited about Cathy O’Neil’s talk about algorithms. When I was reading her book, I learned so much about what’s happening behind the scenes when we click on the computer, and I was amazed by how much we’re being controlled by that—all the different ways these algorithms are making biased decisions. I think it’s a really important issue that we need to be aware of, and it is important that we know there is hope for doing it differently.
We need to raise up computer science students who know about these issues and can be better programmers. We need to have common citizens stand up and say we aren’t going to allow these things to happen. And we need business owners to look at their own algorithms to make sure that they are fair before they use them for various purposes.
This is why I love the January Series; we all come from various backgrounds and each one of us can be shaped by these ideas so that we can promote flourishing in all areas of culture, all over the world.
To view this year’s lineup or to find a remote location near you, visit calvin.edu/january-series.
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