Diversity Lecture Series

Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking at the Diversity Lecture Series.

The Diversity Lecture Series is intended to give insight and understanding of multicultural issues to the West Michigan Community. It is designed to help audiences consider perspectives other than their own, encouraging civil debate, broadening the basis for critical thought and promoting cultural understanding.

  • Lectures are free and open to all.
  • Lectures begin at 7 p.m. at Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain St. NE in Grand Rapids.
  • ASL interpreted.
  • Book signings to follow Cacioppo, Arce, and Farsad lectures.
  • For more information, call (616) 234-3390.

2017-18 Diversity Lecture Series 

Celebrating 23 years of diverse voices

October 25, 2017

"Loneliness and Brain Health"

John CacioppoJohn Cacioppo: Author, Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service professor at the University of Chicago

John Cacioppo is the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor and the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Prior to his tenure at the University of Chicago, he served as a professor at Notre Dame, the University of Iowa, and Ohio State University.

Author of more than 500 articles and books, including Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, Professor Cacioppo was recently awarded the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society and the Career Achievement Award from the Chicago Society for Neuroscience. As an active member of the scientific community, Professor Cacioppo has worked as editor for many peer-reviewed journals, including Psychophysiology, Psychological Review, and Social Neuroscience.


November 15, 2017

"The American DREAMer: From Undocumented to Wall Street and Immigration Advocacy"

Julissa ArceJulissa Arce: Author, immigration and education advocate, co-founder/chairman of Ascent Education Fund

Julissa Arce is a writer and advocate for immigrant rights and education. A frequent contributor to CNBC, she is also the co-founder and chairman of the Ascend Educational Fund, a board member for the National Immigration Law Center, and the former Director of Public Affairs at Define American, a media organization working to change culture around immigration and citizenship.

Prior to becoming an advocate, she worked on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, where her professional success gave rise to a personal paradox: she achieved the “American Dream” and yet was not part of what defined America. In both her memoir My (Underground) American Dream and on the lecture circuit, Arce recounts her experience in the corporate world as both a Hispanic woman and an undocumented American, giving a new perspective on the complex intersections of success, immigration, and the American Dream. 


February 21, 2018

"Defending America in the Age of Mass Incarceration" - CANCELLED

Due to speaker illness, this presentation has been cancelled.

Dawn Porter

Dawn Porter: Criminal justice system reformer, attorney, and "Gideon’s Army" filmmaker

Dawn Porter is the founder of Trilogy Films as well as the director and producer of Spies of Mississippi and Gideon’s Army, the latter of which was nominated for both a Spirit and Emmy Award and won the Best Editing Award for a U.S. Documentary at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film also received numerous criminal justice awards, including the American Bar Association’s 2014 Silver Gavel Award. 

Porter’s most recent work includes Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper, a film chronicling President Obama’s work helping young men of color achieve success. Prior to becoming a filmmaker, Porter was the director of news standards and practices at ABC News and vice president of standards and practices at A&E Networks.

A graduate of Swarthmore College and the Georgetown University Law Center, Porter initially pursued a career in law, serving as a practicing attorney at the law firm of Baker & Hostetler for five years before finding her calling as a filmmaker.


March 14, 2018

"Fighting Islamophobia, Bigotry, and What Have You with Comedy"

Negin Farsad

Negin Farsad: Author, social justice comedian, director of "The Muslims are Coming!"

Negin Farsad is a writer, director, and stand-up comedian whose work blends social justice with comedy. With a dual Masters degree in African-American Studies and Public Policy from Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs, she once worked as a policy advisor for the city of New York but left for a career in the arts.

A TED Senior Fellow, author of How to Make White People Laugh, and one of the few Iranian-American Muslim female comedian/filmmakers, Farsad uses humor to defuse tensions on issues of race, religion, and immigration. In her award-wining feature film, The Muslims Are Coming!, Farsad took a group of Muslim-American comedians across America to perform, connect with local people, and counteract Islamophobia through humor.

Her work includes hosting the Fake the Nation podcast, writing and directing films such as 3rd Street Blackout and Nerdcore Rising, and winning the first ever YouTube Visionary Award for her work combating Muslim stereotypes.