“Don’t you all feel the fear?”
Opening with a Q&A session to avoid “boring” the audience, Junot Diaz started his featured talk in the Humanities Lecture Series in a colloquial manner, tackling topics such as regional relevancy and the arts, civic duty and personal identity in response to what he called heavy, “meatball questions.” As a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Junot Diaz outlined his lecture by pointing out the overwhelming problem plaguing all students of this generation: fear.
This point became clear as Kansas University student Cassie Osei attempted to formulate a long-winded question regarding students of minority power and their access to resources at the University. Diaz challenged her word choice right away.
“Why are you being polite?” Diaz asked. “What is the real question that you have for me?”
After a couple more attempts, Osei finally specified the subject as “students of color” and a specific organization that had been cut at their expense, leading Diaz on a discussion of society’s mistaken consensus that we owe it to others to package our conversations on race, gender and things of the like in a certain polished manner.
“It’s absolutely deranged,” he said. “Speaking in euphemisms hasn’t gotten us anywhere. It’s got us today. If anyone thinks today is cute, you’re flipping.
“People hate you maximum already,” Diaz continued. “If you’ve got to cut pieces of yourself off for you to be acceptable to someone, perhaps you shouldn’t be around that someone.”
His own experience as a first-generation graduate student at Cornell University fighting for Latino studies programs wasn’t as apologetic, he said. Along with other with students of poor backgrounds, Diaz handcuffed himself in the president’s office and called CNN because “schools hate to be embarrassed.” Over time they got Latino resources, a result of activists who formed community and kept the struggle and their faith going every year, he said.
“Universities have completely given up the idea of education and have moved more toward accreditation,” Diaz said. “We’re now fighting for the soul of education.”
Dominican-American writer Diaz is the author of Pulitzer Prize-winner “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” a collection of short stories titled “Drown,” and his latest novel, “This is How You Lose Her,” from which he wrapped up the evening by reading an excerpt, Monday night in Woodruff Auditorium of the Kansas Union.
After grabbing a student’s copy, he read from the “Cheater’s Guide to Love,” noting that he spent a good portion of the ending writing a series of events to torture protagonist Yunior, after he was caught cheating on his fiancee. Diaz’s critique on male culture in regards to relationships left a full house (plus additional attendees watching the streamed speech across the hall) erupting in laughter.
“I liked his more uncensored views on life,” said sophomore student Danielle St. Louis, referring to numerous expletives throughout the night. He said he expected a more formal setting and reflection on his published works. “It was more genuine.”