January Series speakers announced


Photo courtesy calvin.edu.

The list of speakers for the 31st annual January Series includes Calvin’s own chaplain Mary Hulst, writer Jeremy McCarter who has worked with Lin Manuel Miranda and activist Shane Claiborne.

In total, six women and nine men were invited to come speak at Calvin College during the January interim. These lectures will also be livestreamed to over 50 remote locations.

The topics range from the intersection of racial inequality and health to cybersecurity. January Series director Kristi Potter said she listens to the major issues discussed in the national conversation each year, then invites people who can speak into those topics in a broad way.

“This is my 11th year as director, but it’s my 22nd year being involved with the January Series,” Potter said. To decide which speakers to invite, Potter attends many lectures throughout the year. She enjoys always learning from these lectures and says that it is important to approach each topic well.

“And then balancing it out to 15 days of totally different topics so that I don’t want too much of one thing but a little bit of everything.”

To delve deeper into each lecture, professor Karen Saupe, co-chair of the English department, teaches a course titled “Inside the January Series” each interim.

“I’ve learned to be really excited about the variety and balance of topics. I used to look for familiar names,” Saupe admitted. “Sometimes it’s the unexpected discoveries or realizations that are real prizes of the series.”

At the end of the class each year, Saupe asks what the students have learned. A few years ago, one of the students wrote: “I’ve discovered that I do care about some things.”

Each year Potter invites at least one musician to perform a concert. Kevin Olusola of Pentatonix will perform on Wednesday, Jan. 17 during the midday lecture, followed by a second performance later that evening. Hulst will speak as the faculty representative this year.

Additionally, Potter often schedules a “justice-oriented” lecture on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This year Beverly Daniel Tatum will speak about conversations on race. On the final day of the series, Scottish theologian John Swinton will present the 2018 Stob Lecture.

Because she doesn’t know ahead of time exactly what each speaker will say, Saupe said planning for the class is difficult.

“One of the things we typically do by about the third day is begin to think about what these speakers would have to say to each other,” Saupe said.

Saupe says there is not a theme each year, but part-way through the class, students typically identify a naturally-emerging theme.

“I always wonder if Kristi [Potter] saw it coming or if it’s as big a surprise to her,” she said.

Potter said she doesn’t plan a theme:

“It’s 15 totally different speakers and 15 totally different things going on in the world. So I think that’s what keeps it fresh.”