Muhammad Zaman to give Rhett Talk on September 29th

in MSE Spotlight Faculty, NEWS

BU faculty to give brief lectures inspired by TEDx talks

An organist, a cultural critic who has written extensively about the television industry, and a dean walk into Warren Towers—no, it’s not the setup for a bad joke, but what’s in store tomorrow at this year’s second Rhett Talks. The monthlong series of talks, where three BU faculty members each give a 15-minute presentation on a topic of their choosing, are inspired by the popular TEDx talks, and are held at a different residence hall each week.

Sponsored by the Faculty-In-Residence Program, with assistance from the Dean of Students and Residence Life, the event began two years ago to promote more interaction between students and faculty outside the classroom and to make students more aware of the range of disciplines BU offers. Series organizer Darryl Healea (STH’01, SED’10), associate director of residence life, says the talks “leverage the disciplinary breadth of a large university with diverse programs in the liberal arts and sciences, as well as in professional studies.” His hope is that the series will help facilitate meaningful student-faculty interactions outside the classroom.

Last year’s series drew more than 1,000 students. And while the series format is the same (three 15-minute presentations, a brief question-and-answer period, and an informal reception), Healea says that this year “we’ve sought to increase the compositional diversity of our faculty to meet the increasing diversity of our students.” Suggestions for this year’s faculty presenters came from students.

Tomorrow’s speakers are Hardin Coleman, dean of the School of Education, Andrew Shenton, a College of Fine Arts associate professor of musicology, and Deborah Jaramillo, a College of Communication associate professor of film and television.

Coleman’s talk, titled Cultural Identity and Minority Student Achievement, will explore the critical role of cultural identity in individual and societal success. He will discuss the implications of failing to close the opportunity gap between ethnic minority groups and the rest of the US citizenry, and how a country’s failure to create civic societies—those that provide access to equal opportunities to people from multiple cultural identities—leads to the failure to create civil societies around the world.

In accomplished organist Shenton’s talk, titled Music and Transcendence: or How to be Happy and Healthy for Free (and with Very Little Effort), he will illustrate the powerful ways music allows us to transcend the mundane. Using examples from contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, Shenton says he will “demonstrate music’s powerful ability to transform us both physically and mentally.” His research interests, including the role of sound in cognition, inspired his choice of topic. “I want to remind people of the power and beauty of music in their lives,” he says, “and to encourage them to make more use of it, since it has marvelous power.”

TV junkies and those interested in pop culture will likely be fascinated by Jaramillo’s presentation, Why Are We (Still) Ashamed of TV? She’ll explore why television has occupied one of the lowest rungs on the cultural ladder. “There’s this strange allergy to the medium and the behaviors that accompany it,” she says. “I continue to meet people who refuse to acknowledge that TV is worthy of intellectual attention, but watch all the time, or refuse to acknowledge that they watch at all—even though they watch one or two series religiously.” Jaramillo hopes to get people to think about “why television is marginalized both culturally and academically, and why certain TV programs are valorized while others are not.” BU, she says, “needs a conversation about TV that doesn’t revolve around how it may or may not be hurting us. Let’s talk about why TV is so central to daily life, yet is still dismissed far too easily.”

This year’s talks kicked off September 7 with presentations by 2015 Metcalf Award winner Binyomin Abrams, a College of Arts & Sciences senior lecturer in chemistry, Jillian Goldfarb, a College of Engineering research assistant professor, and Teddy Hickman-Maynard, a School of Theology visiting assistant professor. More than 300 students packed Rich Hall to hear mini-lectures on topics as diverse as quantum mechanics, sustainability, and racism.

The next Rhett Talks, on Monday, September 21, will showcase a similar breadth of disciplines. Laurence Kotlikoff, a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and a CAS professor of economics, will kick off with the provocative presentation Is the United States Bankrupt? Next up will be Bayla Ostrach, a School of Medicine assistant professor of medical anthropology, who will discuss Syndemics—An Interdisciplinary Concept in BioSocial Health. Rounding out the evening will be Pamela Lightsey, STH associate dean for community life and lifelong learning.

The final session of Rhett Talks, on Tuesday, September 29, will feature Muhammad Zaman, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering and materials science & engineering, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor: Saving Lives through Safer Drugs; Paul Lipton, a CAS associate professor of neuroscience and the director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program: To Pond Scum: Thanks for the Memories; and Phillipe Copeland, a School of Social Work clinical assistant professor: BlackMindsMatter: Mass Incarceration and Mental Health.

Following last year’s Rhett Talks, students expressed “how pleased they were to hear from faculty whose classes they might never be able to attend,” says Healea. “We found that our students have learned from Rhett Talks and that is our core objective.”

This year’s second Rhett Talks is tomorrow, September 17, in the Warren Towers Cinema Room, 700 Commonwealth Ave. The last two are on Monday, September 21, at Kilachand Hall, 91 Bay State Rd., and Tuesday, September 29, at 10 Buick St. All are from 7 to 8 p.m. Find the full list of speakers here. All lectures are free and open to the public. Each talk will be filmed and the videos will be available on the Rhett Talks website.

Mara Sassoon can be reached at