Robin Wright, an internationally renowned journalist and author, spoke on her experience in the Middle East as one of a few female journalists to a crowd of about 400 in the Michigan Union Ballroom Thursday.
This is the second lecture Wright has given in connection with the Margaret Waterman Alumnae Group’s Town Hall Celebrity Lecture Series, which raises scholarship money for University of Michigan students. The Waterman Alumnae Group has organized Town Hall lecture series for 43 years, and this year’s series includes four lectures.
In addition to describing her views on global changes moving forward in the 21st century, Wright spoke to her background as a University of Michigan alum and her journalism career, which includes being published in The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine and TIME Magazine. She noted she has also travelled with every secretary of state since Henry Kissinger and with every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter, and has reported from more than 140 countries on six continents.
While describing her work in the Middle East, Wright said she focused her reporting on international conflicts in places like Iraq, Libya and Syria.
“I’m very interested in wars and conflict,” she said. “I’m ultimately interested in peace, but it’s understanding conflict that gets you closer to understanding how you make peace — how do you undo the hate and fear and animosity that can so divide society.”
She also noted the lack of women in journalism both when she started and today, citing a 106-person press corps during an assignment in Africa in which she was the only female. However, she noted that success in journalism is not linked to gender so much as a willingness to tell the stories of others.
“It’s not being a female, although I think women tend to be better at this,” Wright said. “It’s learning to listen. Everyone wants to tell their stories.”
Wright said when Americans consider the political situations of countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, they should be cognizant of the imperfections of the United States historically and currently, such as difficulties with race relations. She said much of the conflict in the Middle East has to do with citizens yearning for human rights such as individual freedoms, freedom of the press and voting rights.
“When we judge the rest of the world, we ought to look a little through our own prism and understand that others, at the end of the day, want pretty much what we want,” she said.
Wright also said she believes diplomacy between countries is becoming more and more important as a way to prevent further conflicts and instability.
“That’s really the only way to the future, and it’s not going to be easy,” Wright said. “We can make military progress but there’s ultimately no pure military solutions to any of (this), because the ideas and the animosity will still exist.”
Carolyn Tyson, president of the Waterman Alumnae Group, said the organization chose Robin Wright to speak as part of their series because of her connection with Ann Arbor as well as her accomplishments in her field.
“She’s a U of M grad, she has an honorary degree, she’s world-renowned,” she said. “And this is home for her. We’re so grateful to be able to have her here. She’s just got so much information to share.”
Engineering senior Evan Agattas, who received one of the Waterman scholarships this year, was one of a handful of students present. Agattas said he appreciated Wright’s realistic and honest approach to issues.
“Her realness with all the situations was great, and you can tell she’s been through so much,” he said. “Her perspective on things is just really interesting.”