Dr. Azar Nafisi speaks at Marist College

Dr. Azar Nafisi, the author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” spoke at Marist College as part of the First Year Seminar Lecture. Nafisi spoke to a packed McCann Center about the content of her book, which attending freshman read and wrote an essay on.

This year is the third annual First Year Seminar Lecture, Professor and Director of the First Year Seminar, Kevin Gaugler says that First Year Seminar “has been a great success overall and that faculty and student are engaged in a way fosters an essential set of skills for today’s world.” Gaugler organizes the lecture with the authors every fall as well as training the faculty to teach First Year Seminar 101.


Professor Kevin Gaugler introducing Dr. Azar Nafisi

Incoming freshman are exposed to more of a hands on experience compared to the unoriginal core most freshman encounter. Professor Gaugler went on to say, “Right in their first year students are working side-by-side with faculty and developing research, writing and presentation skills while exploring an interdisciplinary topic then most likely have not gotten the chance to explore before.” First Year Seminar is more of a well-rounded experience for students working on and developing several skills.

The books of the guest speakers are chosen by a Common Reading Committee and this year Dr. Azar Nafisi was chosen because she would expose students to new kind of stories. Professor Moira Fitzgibbons talked about the book and Dr. Azar Nafisi saying “It’s not an easy book, but I think we’d all rather set the bar high for students as soon as they get here.”

The current core of First Year Seminar was being formed in the early 2000’s but was not finished and approved until 2011. Fitzgibbons talked about the success of the core in its infancy saying “we do have some data from student surveys and from library usage that suggests that it has strengthened students’ experiences as researchers, speakers, and writers starting from their freshman year onward.”

“Reading Lolita in Tehran,” is a New York Times number one best seller by author Dr. Azar Nafisi who is currently the director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. After the talk, there was a line of students waiting to have Dr. Nafisi sign their books and take pictures with her. I was able to talk to Dr. Nafisi after she had signed fifty-plus books of freshman and faculty.

Dr. Nafisi was telling me a little about her new book she recently wrote saying “Well, I have just finished writing a book which is sort of a follow-up on Reading Lolita in Tehran, called Republic of Imagination.” Dr. Nafisi also met Pakistani activist for female education Malala Yousafzai. Dr. Nafisi told me she “introduced her for an award that they were giving her in Dublin, Art for Amnesty.”

Dr. Nafisi was introduced by Professor Kevin Gaugler and ran into some technical difficulties with the microphone in the front end of the speech. Dr. Nafisi made a joke when the technical crew brought out a second microphone saying “I think you should leave this here because it will encourage the other one.”


Dr. Azar Nafisi speaking in the McCann center to students and faculty at Marist College

After she drew laughs from the crowd she followed up with a few other jokes about how she wanted to impress her kids by saying her book was being read by an entire freshman class. Dr. Nafisi said her children responded with, “Mom, they’re going to hate you!” and she drew more laughter when she told the crowd, “I do feel your pain and I do empathize, but you guys don’t have any choice you’re going to listen to me anyway!”

From the beginning of the speech Dr. Azar Nafisi was extremely engaged with the audience, telling stories to a crowd of interested students. Personally I have never seen that many students in one setting that engaged and quiet but Dr. Nafisi is one of the most interesting speakers keeping the attention on her.

Dr. Nafisi had another talking point about one of the best things about books and how they “connect you to people you shouldn’t be connected too, not people you connect to because of where you’re born, not because of where you go to school or because the kind of job you have, but people who share the same kind of dreams and the same kind of passion with you.”

She also stressed the difference in American ways of thinking compared to Iran saying “the danger here is the celebrity culture where Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Jonathan Franzen and Kim Kardashian all equated in one name, celebrity.” Dr. Nafisi made another joke as she was explaining the title of these celebrities and when she got to Kim Kardashian she said “God knows what she is, she must be something.”

In her speech to students, Dr. Nafisi was discussing the difference between students here and students in Iran and the freedoms that we have and take for granted. Dr. Nafisi played a video her students made, which was a remake of the music video “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams. Dr. Nafisi said “They are just like you, they want to be Happy. But the difference between you and them is that two hours after that video went out, they were arrested.” Silence ensued after this statement due to the shock of the attending listeners. Dr. Nafisi followed that statement up and ended her speech with words of wisdom saying “Don’t think that one day you won’t be arrested if you struggle for what is most precious to you in this country.”

Dr. Azar Nafisi, her book “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” and the First Year Seminar are all raved about by faculty and students. The new core at Marist College is an extreme success in only its third year with the authors they have picked, most recently the impressive Dr. Azar Nafisi.

Signed picture on SnapChat of Dr. Nafisi and myself after her talk.

Signed picture on SnapChat of Dr. Nafisi and myself after her talk.

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