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For P-Con major, Living Writers class brings conflict to life

By Barbara Brooks on September 14, 2012
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Rebecca Friedland ’13 meets Ha Jin.

This semester, Rebecca Friedland ’13, a double major in peace and conflict studies and pre-med, is reading about revolution and war in Peru, Iran, Africa, and elsewhere around the globe. That’s in her English class.

The stories will come to life when nine authors — including Ha Jin, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Azar Nafisi, and Alexandra Fuller — visit her classroom as part of Colgate’s Living Writers series.

While half of the students enrolled in the class are English majors, others are concentrating on philosophy, neuroscience, music, art and art history, psychology, and political science.

The first live author event took place on Sept. 13, when Ha Jin visited with Friedland’s classroom to talk about his book Waiting, a love story set during China’s cultural revolution, which the class had studied. Friedland and her classmates had the chance to ask about anything that piqued their interest.

The author later gave a public talk in Persson Auditorium, and signed copies of his book.

For Friedland, the opportunity to take this signature Colgate course is an unexpected bonus in her senior year, as the theme is international. “Living Writers ties in with my other classes,” she said, “especially Human Rights and Human Security, where we are discussing authoritarian states and the violations within.”

Friedland, who is from Potomac, Md., studied abroad in India last year. She also conducted independent fieldwork on Type II diabetes prevalence in Northern India, and plans to write her senior thesis about the role of rape and sexual violence during partition of India and Pakistan.

While in India, Friedland found it safest and most comfortable to dress in traditional Indian clothing. “I became very conscious of women’s issues while abroad in India, because for the first time in my life, I felt like my gender played a large role in how people treated me and the attention I received.”

She draws on that experience in the Living Writers class. “In many ways I feel like I can relate to the students in Reading Lolita in Tehran, because though modest dress was not enforced upon me in India the way it was law during the cultural revolution in Iran, I understand the feeling of those girls walking into Azar Nafisi’s living room and shedding their veils to reveal their true characters, and the clothes underneath.”

Living Writers, first hosted nearly 25 years ago by the late professor and author Frederick Busch, has acquired such a following that most events are streamed live and archived online. Some 200 alumni are participating in a truncated version of the course online.

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