Spotlight Series

Gold circle with words Spotlight Series: Moving Through Injustice

The University of Minnesota Spotlight Series is a collaborative partnership between the Institute for Advanced Study and Northrop to present lectures, conversations, performances, exhibits, and other events around timely topics of interest throughout the academic year. Past guests have included Land-Grab Universities cartographer Margaret Pearce, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, independent journalist Georgia Fort, New York Times bestselling author of White Rage Carol Anderson, and many others.

The 2023–2024 series will focus on racial and social justice. Events may be attended in Northrop’s Best Buy Theater or online via Zoom. The series is FREE, open to the public, Q&A sessions will follow each event.

View the 2023–2024 Spotlight Series Events



Past Themes

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2022–2023: The Human in the Data

The University of Minnesota Spotlight Series is a collaborative partnership between the Institute for Advanced Study, Northrop, and University Honors Program to present lectures, panel discussions, exhibits, and other events throughout the academic year around timely topics of interest. The six-part 2022-23 series will focus on how data—their collection, analysis, and the research questions that rely on them—connect to the deeply personal lived experiences of individual human beings and to the human condition at large. The moderator for all six events is Michael Corey: Geospatial, Technical, and Data Lead of Mapping Prejudice.

Schedule of all six 2022–2023 Spotlight Series events

Related event: Thinking Spatially 2022 Symposium: Indigenous Mapping

2021–2022: Reconsidering Patriotism, Public Service, and Civic Engagement

The University of Minnesota Spotlight Series is a collaborative partnership between the University Honors Program, Institute for Advanced Study, and Northrop, to present lectures, panel discussions, exhibits, and other events throughout the academic year around timely topics of interest. The six-part 2021-22 series, hosted in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center, focused on patriotism, public service, and civic engagement. The moderator for all six events was Kevin Lindsey, CEO of Minnesota Humanities Center.

Schedule of all six 2021–2022 Spotlight Series events

Related event: Thinking Spatially 2021 Symposium: Mapping Civic and Community Engagement

2020–2021: Polarization and Identities

The six-part 2020–2021 series focused on polarization and identities, inspired by both the 2020 presidential election and the polarization that has appeared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an academic year that included an election, and in an environment in which conversations across different identities and ideologies have become increasingly contentious, we hoped to model ways to create meaningful dialogue about these difficult-but-important topics for our students and community. The moderator for all six events was John Rash, an editorial writer for the Star Tribune, who focuses on media and politics. Events were conducted online via Zoom.

Schedule of all six 2020–2021 Spotlight Series events

Related event: Mapping Politics and Polarization: Thinking Spatially 2020 Symposium

2019–2020: Perspectives on Environmental Justice

The 2019–2020 series focused on Environmental Justice and featured perspectives from a variety of voices in the field, including academics and practitioners from multiple disciplines. Campus leaders, artists, policymakers, and funders explored several critical aspects surrounding the intersection of the environment and equity. This series was cosponsored by the Race, Indigeneity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Initiative; the Institute for Global Studies; the Department of Geography, Environment, and Society; and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Urban and Regional Planning Area. Events were held 3:30–5:00 p.m. CT on Thursdays in Northrop’s Best Buy Theater. All Spotlight Series events are free and open to the public.

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Artists in all art forms facilitate important cultural work within communities, especially those affected by climate change or environmental issues that intersect with identity and economics. Often artists are uniquely qualified to see unexpected solutions to problems and to create perspectives to help people understand challenging ideas. This panel discussion brings together Minnesota artists working in several media, including Ananya ChatterjeaShanai Matteson, and others, to discuss their experiences and artistic perspectives of environmental justice on a regional and global scale.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

How can the legal concepts of copyright and common property be brought to bear on environmental justice issues? Aviva Rahmani created Blued Trees Symphony as copyrighted art with nature installations in the path of fossil-fuel pipelines. Kathryn Milun founded and directs the Solar Commons Research Project, which investigates common property governance models to pilot trust ownership of solar energy for low-income communities. Their moderated conversation will explore these models as well as new ideas about innovative legal structures in service of environmental justice.

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

The Minneapolis Climate Action and Racial Equity Fund, a partnership between the City of Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Foundation and the McKnight Foundation, was created to connect corporate and philanthropic giving with place-based, community-driven initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within Minneapolis. Leaders from these funding partners discuss the first round of grants awarded in the summer of 2019, as well as their work with communities for future grant cycles and their dreams for the program. Aimee Witteman leads the McKnight Foundation’s Midwest Climate & Energy program, which focuses on clean energy promotion and development in the Midwest. Paul Odegaard will participate in the discussion on behalf of the Minneapolis Foundation also joins the conversation.

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Join a conversation about environmental policy with two regional leaders who have organized political and grassroots justice efforts. Halston Sleets served as the Senior Policy Aide for Environmental Justice and Sustainability to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and is now the Associate Manager of Sustainable Tech Products at Best Buy. Sam Grant is a social entrepreneur committed to environmental health, cooperative economic wealth, and cultural integrity and well-being. He directs the HECUA Environmental Sustainability program and has co-founded many justice-oriented organizations including AfroEco and the Movement Center for Deep Democracy.

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

Jessica Hellmann leads a discussion on the evolution and current directions of Environmental Sciences and Ecology programs in public higher education. Hellmann is the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Ecolab Chair in Environmental Leadership. She and her colleagues work to help build a future where people and planet prosper.


Friday, October 11th, 2019, 8:30am-3pm, Wilson Library.

This workshop is for everyone interested in topic such as community development, politics, racism, civil rights, industrialism, food security, or environmental discrimination. Spatial relationships help to define factors that diminish social equity, environmental safety, and ultimately, quality of life. Mapping Environmental Justice offers perspectives from invited speakers who will share their scholarly work surrounding the intersection of the environment and equity, as well as opportunities for participants to learn story mapping, and spatial data availability. Presented by U-Spatial, cosponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study, Liberal Arts Technologies & Innovation Services (LATIS), Digital Arts, Science & Humanities (DASH), and University Libraries.

2018–2019: 1968-1969, Historic Upheavals, Enduring Aftershocks

Five decades ago, racial tensions, cultural upheavals and technological advances helped define the tumultuous 1968-69 era. This collaborative, yearlong series examines the impact and inspiration of those various events, from an inaugural panel discussion about the 1968 presidential campaign and its Minnesota ties to a gallery exhibit exploring the protest and takeover of Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota in 1969 to series-culminating lecture by Carol Anderson, author of the best-selling White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. Copresented by the Institute for Advanced Study, University Honors Program and Northrop.

View the full list of related events, related exhibits, and more here.