Duchess Harris, the first speaker in the WSU-Rochester on Broadway Speaker Series.

Winona State University-Rochester is celebrating 100 years of community and will host the WSU-Rochester on Broadway Speaker Series this spring as a part of its centennial celebration.

The first speaker in the series is Duchess Harris, who will present “Hidden Fences: Overcoming Obstacles to Change” at 7:30 and 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, at WSU-Rochester’s new, additional downtown location at 400 S. Broadway St., Rochester.

Harris, Ph.D., is an author and professor at Macalester College, where she serves as chair for the American Studies program. Harris has authored and co-authored four books. Her two most recent works, “Black Lives Matter” and “Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA,” will be the focus of her presentation at WSU-Rochester.

The story of “Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA” comes from Harris’ grandmother, who helped NASA with the moon landing, a feat that was unheard of for a black woman during this time. Since its release, the book has been wildly popular, generating attention from major news outlets and serving as the inspiration for the feature-length film “Hidden Figures.”

“The response to my grandmother’s story has been overwhelming,” Harris said. “My only concern about the reception is that I don’t want to contribute to the idea of an exceptional black elite. More black people could have worked at NASA if they had been given the opportunity.”

Despite the success and reaction to her grandmother’s story, Harris said she is still concerned with the lack of understanding and appreciation for her book, “Black Lives Matter.” This book included the same publisher and co-author, Sue Bradford Edwards, but generated a different public reaction.

“The responses to these books were completely different. After I wrote ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I received death threats,” Harris said. “A week after the NASA book was published, the Minnesota Vikings offered to purchase 300 copies. Why the different response?”

Harris will discuss the phenomenon of the public valuing the tremendous work women like her grandmother did, while not continuing to value the study of representation for black lives today.

Harris hopes that both books can be considered for their academic contributions to the discussion of black lives, specifically within the classroom.

Jeanine Gangeness, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at WSU-Rochester, said Harris’ hope for her books is one of the reasons the university invited her to speak as part of the centennial celebration.

“The timing is perfect. Dr. Harris brings a relevant discussion that encourages people to stand with integrity instead of public opinion,” Gangeness said. ”The national attention on policy changes and how the public responds is central to democracy.”

The speaker series will continue in April with Lisa Jean Smith, BBA, BAAC, presenting on “When it Comes to Leadership, All Conversations are Crucial” and “Engaging and Motivating Your Talent.”

The series concludes in May with Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., CC-AASP, presenting ”The High Performance Mindset: 10 Habits of the Most Successful” and “Grit: Living with Passion, Purpose & Perseverance.”

The Broadway Speaker Series is sponsored by WSU-Rochester, WSU Adult & Continuing Education, Healthforce Minnesota and the WSU Foundation. All speaker sessions are designed to engage professionals in relevant issues for professional and personal growth.

“WSU-Rochester has been an integral and steadfast part of the Rochester community for the past 100 years,” said Gangeness. “WSU is known for high academic standards, and we’ve now been serving our students and the Rochester community with quality programming for more than a century. This series stands as an example of our dedication to the community.”

Cost is $10 for each speaker session. Light refreshments served. Registration is encouraged as seating is limited: http://www.winona.edu/adult-learners/broadway-speaker-series.asp.

For more information, contact Adult and Continuing Education at 507-457-5080 or
continuingeducation@winona.edu.

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Samantha Stetzer

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