April 11 marked the end of the University of Colorado Boulder’s 73rd annual Conference on World Affairs, which kicked off April 5. The conference, including over 80 speakers at 29 virtual events, covered issues of justice, health and environmentalism as well as topics in tech, entertainment and art.
Last year due to the COVID-19 outbreak the 72nd annual Conference on World Affairs had to cancel all events returning a month later for a few virtual panels. This year the conference took place entirely virtually. CWA recorded all events live on its YouTube page where viewers can still access them.
Though eager to return to in-person conferences the virtual setting allowed access to key speakers who under different circumstances may not have been able to get to the Boulder campus including former United States ambassador to Botswana Michelle Gavin, award-winning television producer and founder of the Free Radicals Project Christian Picciolini, Washington Post Chief Correspondent Dan Balz and many others.
Social Consciousness in High Tech: A Conversation with Microsoft’s Gavriella Schuster
The conference opened on April 5 with its first keynote address: a conversation with one of Microsoft’s senior executives, Gavriella Schuster, on “Social Consciousness in High Tech”.
Schuster told her story of invisibility as a woman in tech and expressed her frustrations with the lack of current diversity in the high-tech business industry.
“It’s time for change. I am tired of being the only women in the room without any allies,” Schuster said, emphasizing the steps people can take to form change.
Introducing her “Become Framework”, she highlighted the four steps to becoming an ally, a leader and an agent of change: connecting, outreaching, mentoring and empowering women and people of marginalized groups in creating inclusive economies in the business sector.
She later called attention to examples of ways that she has created connections and access for around 20,000 women globally with her own Women in Technology and Women in Cloud networks. She urged others to join networks like hers, designed to bring women into business to actively work towards gender equity in the workforce.
“Make the invisible, visible and help a woman to take off her invisibility cloak,” Schuster said.
CU Boulder senior Maria Nenova, as well as mechanical engineering and design professor Dr. Janet Tsai, joined the panel. They discussed their motivation to reach out to students from diverse and nontraditional demographic backgrounds, encouraging them to pursue roles in STEM and business.
Tsai’s new course, “Design for Inclusion”, explores how engineers look at how the designs are being made and what they can do to make their own designs more inclusionary.
“A big part of the class has just been saying, ‘How can we remove some of these barriers to seeing that have been prevalent in your training thus far?’ so that we can train ourselves to better realize when are we not including certain populations in our problem statements, and in our solutions as well,” Tsai explained.
In teaching the next generation of engineers, Tsai hopes to make a more inclusive way of analyzing, learning, training, testing and utilization.
“We can’t be bystanders any longer. We need to take intentional action to drive for inclusion in every community, in every corner of the world. We are in this together!” Schuster said.
America in the World
April 5, American public official and former World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, led a virtual discussion on his book “America in the World” for the CWA’s first major address.
In his book, Zoellick focuses on the American perspective and aspect of foreign policy drawing on the history of America and its interaction with the other countries. He attempts to answer the question, “How can we do better in the future through looking at the past?”
Zoellick describes American foreign policy as mostly pragmatic.
“With the simple notion that people need to understand the practical consequences that flow from experience,” Zoellick explained. He noted that a pragmatic approach is best in realistically understanding the motives of others, different perspectives, and when and when not to act on the world stage.
“I think it’s useful to appreciate that imperfect results in a far from the perfect world can sometimes still be a good day,” Zoellick said.
Rather than focusing on only the last 150 years of American history, Zoellick’s book delves deep into colonial America even before independence. He views much of America’s problems as “either/or” rather than and acknowledging much of the grey area that comes with U.S. politics and foreign policy.
Zoellick emphasized the importance of foreign aid through multilateral institutions in helping support other countries, especially during the pandemic. Through multilateral intergovernmental organizations, governments from all over the world can contribute funds from their GDP, volunteers, or humanitarian support to focus on common interests.
Zoellick recognized the importance of American foreign allyship with not only transcontinental countries, but the bordering countries of Canada and Mexico.
“We need to think about how the three democracies and economies in North America can cooperate… and one of the challenges for the new administration will be the implementation of the new NAFTA, called the USMCA — United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement” Zoellick states.
Zoellick highlighted the significance of public support for leaders and the importance of a rich and diverse leadership, representing the diversity of America in international affairs and policy.
“The starting point, of course, is what we do at home… we need to approach the world with a certain amount of humility, but our biggest asset is the message we send the world, in both our strength but also the model we send,” Zoellick said.
Fighting Falsehoods with Facts: Challenges of Objective Journalism
A virtual panel of journalists gathered on April 6 to discuss objectivity in journalism.
David French, American political commentator and Senior Editor at The Dispatch, amplified the importance of truth-seeking. French noted that the best journalism he has seen comes from a point of view, meaning the source identifies with a political side rather than being independent.
Ana Cabrera, journalist and news anchor at CNN, added the importance of providing different points of view on certain things.
She used the example of climate change to say that it is important to acknowledge the other side (climate deniers) but that they should not be given equal treatment.
Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent of the Washington Post, reiterated this. He noted the need to continue pushing for the truth because journalists don’t always get the full truth on the first day of a story.
The discussion ended with an important question: is objectivity is a privilege, and what is the right balance of objectivity in the newsroom so that people are not marginalized?
Cabrera, a woman of color, mentioned that she has been a part of a lot of these discussions.
“I really believe that in order to best serve our viewers, you have to reflect those that are in the audience, both behind the scenes and in front of a camera,” Cabrera said in response. “I think having that diverse perspective that you’re bringing collectively to a story provides more richness in how you are able to report the story.”
Fixing Spaceship Earth: Our Past, Present and Future
Three experts sat down via Zoom on April 7 to discuss how to fix our “Spaceship Earth”. The conversation served as an intersection of art and science.
Kevin Kling, a storyteller and playwright, opened the discussion with notes on the importance of stars and planets through the centuries.
“The Bushmen of the Kalahari don’t go out to look at the stars, they listen to the stars,” Kling said. “They listen to the songs that their ancestors did.”
Kim Stanley Robinson, a science fiction novelist, offered a critique of the neoliberal capitalist world we live in.
“Everything is mispriced and poorly valued,” Robinson said. “Especially the natural world but also human beings.”
In his view, this disconnect with the natural world is a large reason for the broken state in which it exists now.
“The natural world has been treated as an externality and exploited and trashed and appropriated for private interests of very few people,” Robinson said. He argued that it would be impossible to “fix” the earth with current and past economic thinking.
Marco Gleiser, a professor of astrophysics at Dartmouth College, voiced his agreement with the other panelists and said that we have lost much of our view of the sacredness of the natural world.
“With the beginning of the property of the land, began this whole new story,” Gleiser said. “Where land, nature, is something to be possessed. Is something you can have.”
This view of commodifying nature and the natural world leads to what Gleiser called a “fundamental disconnect” between humans and nature. However, Gleiser identified a spark of hope in a new story.
“Not the Copernican story, where the planet is just another planet, no!” Gleiser said. “This is the planet. We evolved to be here.”
Transforming Entertainment with Game Engines, Augmented Reality and Holograms
A virtual panel of five leading experts in the world of entertainment discussed the future of game technology and entertainment on April 8.
The panel opened up with a discussion of the developmental advances technology has made over the last few years. We went from having one computer per household to having access to holograms and VR right in our pocket.
Panelists discussed how the pandemic affected the technology and gaming world. While most other industries suffered detrimentally from the pandemic, the entertainment industry flourished.
Guenever Goik explained that what she enjoyed most about the lockdown was the “creative push.” Head of 3D at RYOT/Verizon 5G Media, Goik won Lumiere Technology Award and a United States Patent for AR Interface Presentation.
“We finally were relieved of that two-hour commute. We got a chance to relax our brains a little bit during the day,” Goik said. “People turned to create podcasts or YouTube channels. Everybody got to experience what we all here can do every day.”
Technology rose to be the savior of everyone’s day-to-day life during the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw advances coming around every corner and they continue to progress.
The discussion closed out with a conversation of what the future may see as technology continues to advance. The panelists emphasized that there is no stopping technology.
The outcome of these technologies lies in the hands of the creators. As long as there is a push to place protectors and educate users properly, none of the panelists believe there is a real threat to the well-being of our society through technology.
Fixing Spaceship Earth: Moving Toward Environmental Solutions
On Friday, April 9, CU Law School’s own Alice Madden moderated a panel discussing the best approaches to environmental impacts, and how it ties into the collective agency, in order to make a big change.
Peter Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, highlighted the historic and ongoing problem of pollution. The Clean Air Act signed by Richard Nixon in the 1960s represents a governmental action that led to a drastic improvement of air quality in major cities. Frumhoff argued that the power of advocacy and science can enforce beneficial laws such as these.
“(As) John Lewis would say, ‘We need good trouble.’ We need to speak up and demand policies to provide public health for the environment… applied equitably and accelerate it,” Frumhoff said.
He highlighted the importance of the acceleration of public health law and advocation of science to better the planet where public awareness and impactful governmental decisions can render our planet (or “Spaceship Earth”) healthy and habitable.
“As long as we are allowed to communicate, share ideas, share the kinds of things that we know… then we are able to share those ideas with everyone on the planet,” said Christopher Horsethief, educator, organizational theorist and consultant at Ktunaxa Nation Council. He emphasized using critical inquiry to develop solutions.
Communities that foster relationships and share methods for environmental sustainability and conservation begin to adopt and preserve their land for generations to come.
Bonnie Keeler discusses her five reasons for optimism for the earth as of now. These points include the discussion at the local and federal levels of the environment as the product of social and ecological systems and the coalition of groups that have pivoted their focus to broaden their research and concerns on environmental health and safety
“The big NGOs, The Nature Conservancy, the WWF that was sort of focusing on polar bears and pandas… those groups have shifted their focus to be much more comprehensive and holistic,” said Keeler.
This induces unifying diverse environmentalist groups that create an outstanding movement, and as well as proposals for progress with a renewed sense of urgency. It engages citizens especially, students, to use their citizenship to vote and use their freedom of speech.
Society rapidly adapts to changing circumstances, offering the potential of collective transformation from traditional practices to newer, more eco-friendly habits in order to create a better planet.
“We are running the world down,” said Carl Safina, ecologist and author of “Becoming Wild”. The planet is not keeping up with the demands of its population. Human hands have altered 70% of water and land and one million species are at risk for extinction, but people are not intrinsically attached to this fact. A cognitive disconnect occurs when one part of the world lives in hunger and starvation while another part wastes its food or overconsumes it.
“There is an urgency of the need to enact solutions must be understood as our responsibilities to other species,” Safina said.
According to Safina, there is a problem of self-interest where there is a need to be selfless for the sake of others, explaining how people can turn beliefs into actions.
One Town at a Time: Shannon Watts and Representative Neguse Discuss Ending Gun Violence
On April 9, a panel discussed gun violence in the United States and the best ways to address it following a mass shooting in Boulder that left 10 dead.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, the representative for Colorado’s Second Congressional District, led the discussion. Jayla Hemphill, a student activist active in the Students Demand Action and Black Lives Matter movements, moderated the discussion.
Both Neguse and Watts expressed heartbreak at the Boulder shooting and others that have preceded it. They agree with President Biden’s words that called gun violence in America an “epidemic.”
“We are reminded that this tragedy is not ours alone,” Neguse said. “It is one carried by a nation that has witnessed the horrific pain of gun violence.”
Neguse said that after the Boulder shooting, Congress members on both sides of the aisles reached out to offer condolences, thoughts and prayers.
Despite this, Watts and Neguse are in agreement: Those will not work.
“We are demanding more than thoughts and prayers from lawmakers,” Watts said.
While Watts did found the group, she is also quick to point out that Moms Demand Action is not against the Second Amendment.
“Many of our volunteers are gun owners, or their partners are gun owners,” Watts said. “This is simply about restoring the responsibilities that should go along with gun rights.”
Watts explained that one of the only places that draws polarization on the issue of gun rights is the Senate. According to Watts and a slew of polls, close to 90% of Americans support expansions to gun laws.
Can We Make Health Care Better and Cheaper?
Panelists sat down on April 10 to discuss the current healthcare system and solutions to make it more effective, more accessible, and cheaper.
“We have the costliest healthcare system in the world but with only average outcomes,” said David Bachrach, President of the Physician Executive’s Coach. Bachrach explained the historical context which contributed to our country’s current widespread use of employer-funded health insurance and the implementation of Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.
Allison K. Hoffman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, posed a question: why are our outcomes so much lower? Hoffman pointed to a number of reasons, including the large percentage of uninsured individuals over 65 and the disparities in the uninsured, as well as our under-spending on social care.
“The evidence is really overwhelming that people who are insured will lead healthier lives and longer lives at a lower cost to society than those who are uninsured,” Darrell Kirch said. Kirch is the President Emeritus at the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Kirch explained that beyond insurance, access to health providers is necessary not just when you become ill but also in preventing illness.
The panel reflected on COVID-19 and discussed the preparedness of the United States for future pandemics. They noted that attention may continue for the next decade or so but will likely drop off.
“It’s very hard to argue to spend money on something to prevent something because the success is hard to measure,” said Trine Tsouderos, Managing Editor at PwC Health Research Institute. She explained that pandemics have happened historically and then, like now, lower-income individuals and minorities suffered the most.
Kirch ended with a message of hope.
“I was able to speak to about 45 pre-medical students from the University of Colorado,” Kirch said. “Any time I speak with people going into the health professions it makes me feel optimistic.”
The Art of Breaking Your Leg: Comedy as a Crutch
Three panelists and a moderator enter a Zoom meeting. It just so happens the talk was about comedy!
On April 11, the last night of the CWA, the virtual meetings were filled with a little bit of laughter and humor.
“It is a dream to be talking to you, it is a nightmare to be doing it on Zoom. And I mean that literally, it’s a literal nightmare in that I’m addressing hundreds of strangers and I’m not wearing pants,” Mike Reiss, an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer for “The Simpsons”, said, starting off strong with his comedic skill.
Given that the CWA is occurring remotely this year, the topic of discussion was primarily the pandemic.
“People are literally hungry for humor right now,” Bonnie Burton, author, journalist and comedian, said.
Burton mentioned that she often asked herself if it was okay to be making jokes about a pandemic, but subsequently stated, “You laugh because it’s true.” She noted that the worst things in your life can be taken and used for creative expression. Her example of this was creating a t-shirt that stated “I don’t have COVID, I just have allergies” for when she is waiting in lines in public and may have to cough or sneeze.
Mark Stewart, multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer, also had a hopeful take on humor being used in difficult times such as these. With shared experiences and humanity, humor becomes a way for us to connect.
“It’s a recipe for empathy,” Stewart said.
Each of the panelists mentioned that humor and comedy are important and encouraged the viewers to add a little humor into their dialogue, even in places they might not expect, like the laundromat, grocery store lines or even in lines waiting to get your vaccine.
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