UNION, N.J. — Former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power urged an audience at Kean University to “shrink the change” by taking action in small ways to make a difference on a global scale.
As the first speaker in Kean’s Distinguished Lecture Series this academic year, Power spoke at the STEM Building auditorium on the theme, The State of the World: Challenges and Opportunities. She also discussed technology and human rights, and “democracy in danger.”
Power, who served during President Obama’s administration, warned that social media can polarize society, serving as an echo chamber to reinforce our established beliefs as well as a powerful tool to spread falsehoods. She stressed the idea of public service as a way to remedy polarization and bring positive change to the world.
“Serve and vote, rather than tweet and rage,” she said.
Power recalled the Tiananmen Square massacre as the event that jolted her into global awareness and changed the course of her life. A college student at the time, she said her sole focus had been sports until she saw events in China unfold on television and she vowed to broaden her world view.
She called on the audience to take action, noting that statistics from the watchdog group Freedom House show freedom has been in decline for 13 straight years around the world.
“It is the right time to ask, ‘What are each of us usually not, that these times require us to be?’” Power said. “We’re going to get the country we collectively fashion.”
Kean students had the opportunity to interact with Power during a classroom session before the lecture. Patrick McEachern, a senior from Bergenfield majoring in sociology, said he felt Power’s talk was insightful.
“What I took away from what she spoke about was to ‘shrink the change,’ meaning it is important to focus your time and energy on a single issue so you are knowledgeable on that issue and can create change,” he said.
The students asked Power questions about coalition building, immigration, LGBTQ rights and other topics.
“Their questions were really sophisticated, and it’s clear that the student body is very diverse, which is to me, the reflection of a very pluralistic and lively learning environment, which I am drawn to,” Power said.
Valeria Dibrova from Hillside, a student in the master’s in communication studies program originally from Russia, said Power’s speech had a strong impact.
“Her argument about state military power that should be used to protect human rights in extreme circumstances leads me to think about different libertarian approaches to resolve conflicts on this level,” Dibrova said. “The grasp of the importance of believing in yourself, the ability to make the change, to be a pragmatic idealist, seems to make it all possible.”
After her speech and a brief question-and-answer session with Sara Compion, Ph.D., director of Kean's Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Power signed copies of her new book, New York Times bestseller The Education of an Idealist, during a reception at Ursino Steakhouse & Tavern.
Power, who emigrated to the United States from Ireland as a child, is currently a professor of practice at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School.
The Distinguished Lecture Series will continue on Thursday, November 21 with David Axelrod, a former chief strategist and senior advisor to President Obama. He will discuss The Evolving Media and Political Landscape in the runup to the 2020 presidential primary season.
All lectures take place at Kean’s STEM Building, 1075 Morris Avenue in Union at 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance. For more information or to reserve tickets, visit kean.edu/lectureseries.