Author discusses global change, urges students to speak against injustice

Andrew Solomon

Author Andrew Solomon speaks about his travels to regions of the world undergoing profound social and political change.

“The most dangerous world views are the world views of those who have never viewed the world.” – Alexander von Humboldt

Award-winning author Andrew Solomon didn’t come to FIU to discuss the U.S. presidential election.

Given that his most recent book, Far & Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change, chronicles his travels to regions around the world undergoing profound social and political change, it was inevitable the topic would arise.

Solomon, a native New Yorker who has dual citizenship in the United States and the U.K., was unequivocal in his response when asked about Republican Donald Trump winning the election.

“I was devastated by the news,’’ said Solomon, who joked that he was on the losing side in both the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the presidential election in the United States.

He was not, however, resigned to a state of hopelessness or despair.

“There is an urgent need to keep alive the notion that (Trump) does not represent the majority of the United States,’’ he said. “Resistance is always powerful. And giving up is not an option.’’

A professor of psychology at Columbia University and a regular contributor to The New Yorker and the New York Times, Solomon spoke as part of the Ruth K. and Shepard Broad Distinguished Lecture Series at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs.

John F. Stack, founding dean of the Green School, dedicated the event to the memory of philanthropist Morris Broad, who created the lecture series in memory of his late parents. Morris Broad died in September at 81.

“Morris Broad’s life was defined by his generosity and unselfishness,’’ Stack said. “More than just his monetary gifts, Morris gave the gift of himself to so many people, including me. He saw in our students hope for the future and the power of education to transform the world.”

An admirer of Solomon’s work, Morris Broad had specifically requested that he be invited to speak at FIU. As Solomon began his talk, he thanked the Broad family and said he was disappointed that he hadn’t been able to meet Morris personally.

After a lifetime of travel that includes visits to all seven continents and more than 80 countries, Solomon said he was “deeply worried” about the movement toward isolationism and closing of borders in the U.S. since 9/11.

“We aren’t building a fortress, we’re building a prison,’’ he said. “We are not making the world safer. Engagement not isolationism, inclusion rather than exclusion is the only way to live peacefully in this world.’’

In his book, Solomon said he hopes to “open readers’ hearts and minds to the larger world” and help them see that “what they perceive as threatening is actually joyful.’’

Solomon, an activist for LGBT rights and mental health issues, said he has friends who have experienced acts of prejudice in the wake of the election.

Andrew Solomon

Author Andrew Solomon signs copies of his book, Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change.

However, he said hate speech should not be used as an excuse to stifle freedom of speech. The answer is to speak out against cruel speech, not ban it, he added.

“There is no opposition between free speech and civility,’’ said Solomon, president of the PEN American Center, which works to defend freedom of expression and support persecuted writers. “It requires speaking out. The best thing we can do is go out and tell someone, “We don’t accept that here.”

Although he has reported on genocide in Rwanda, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the struggle for freedom in Myanmar, Solomon said he believes there are enough people with good instincts to balance those with bad.

“Part of what interests me is resilience,’’ he said. “Through education and cultural exchange, I believe we can strengthen the good in people.’’