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Distinguished Lecture Series: A Long-Awaited Return to In-Person Events

Over the past 35 years, the student visionaries behind the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Distinguished Lecture Series (DLS) Committee have brought some of the world’s most intelligent and creative people to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to share their experiences and advice. The DLS Committee is part of WUD, the Wisconsin Union’s student programming and leadership board that is made up of 11 committees and six Wisconsin Hoofers clubs. Students in each of the committees and clubs design, organize, promote and produce events for Union members, guests and students to enjoy, while gaining valuable learning experiences in areas such as leadership, marketing and event planning. 

DLS began in 1987 with the goal of encouraging thought-provoking conversations by exposing audience members and committee members to a variety of unique voices and ideas. Some of the bright minds that have spoken at DLS events over the years include but are certainly not limited to: 

Activist and DLS speaker Angela Davis with WUD DLS members in April 2019
  • Maya Angelou, poet
  • Gloria Anzaldúa, scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory and queer theory
  • Margaret Atwood, poet, novelist, teacher and activist
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and journalist
  • Laverne Cox, actress and LGBTQIA+ advocate
  • Angela Davis, political activist and author
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, planetary scientist and author
  • Jane Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist
  • bell hooks, author and social activist
  • Noname, rapper, poet and record producer
  • Kurt Vonnegut, author
  • Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author and political activist
A virtual lecture with Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic medalist in fencing, in March 2021

Due to COVID-19, DLS conducted its lectures virtually during the 2020-21 academic year, a slightly different format than in years past. This year, however, DLS members are thrilled to return to in-person events. While the complete fall lineup has yet to be announced, the first event successfully took place last week and the second lecture is quickly approaching.

On Oct. 11, cofounder of The Onion and UW-Madison alumnus Scott Dikkers joined us for the talk “The Funny Story Behind Funny Stories” in Shannon Hall, located in Memorial Union. In 1988, UW-Madison students Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson began the publication The Onion as a small satirical campus newspaper. Dikkers originally joined the team as a cartoonist, but after the third issue, he became the publication’s de facto editor. He is now the longest serving editor-in-chief of The Onion, the founder of TheOnion.com and the author of many best-selling humor books.

During Dikkers’s engaging and hilarious lecture, he shared his story of building a world-renowned brand with almost no marketing budget and developing a creative culture of brutal honesty and freedom.

Next month, you can join DLS for an evening with Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, Ph.D., who will speak to audience members in Shannon Hall and via livestream on Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Miller is a sociologist, criminologist, social worker and associate professor at the University of Chicago whose research explores the intersections of race, poverty, crime control and social welfare policy. Earlier in 2021, he published his debut book “Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration,” which compiled 15 years of research and field notes on the permanently condemning effects of mass incarceration.

Dr. Miller’s 45-minute lecture will be followed by a Q&A, a book signing of “Halfway Home” and a reception. All members of the Madison community are invited to participate, either in-person or virtually. 

Novelist Margaret Atwood delivers a DLS lecture in April 2017

Make sure to check out the Union events calendar frequently to stay up-to-date on all the exciting events DLS has coming up this year. Plus, if you have an idea for a future speaker, you can fill out this form to submit your nomination to the DLS committee. 

To learn more about WUD, visit union.wisc.edu/get-involved/wud.

Author: Abby Synnes

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