Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, will deliver the 2018 Tanner Lectures on Human Values on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and Thursday, March 1, at Stanford.

Samantha Power

Former ambassador Samantha Power will deliver the 2018 Tanner Lectures on Human Values. (Image credit: United Nations Photo/JC McIlwaine)

A foreign policy expert, Power served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. as well as a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet from 2013 to 2017.

Earlier, Power founded and served as the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is now a professor of the practice of global leadership and public policy at Harvard University. She is known for her 2003 book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Power will give two lectures. In the first lecture, titled “Resisters in Dark Times,” she will discuss a series of unjust policies in the United States, including the internment of Japanese Americans and red-baiting of the McCarthy era. It will be delivered at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 28, at CEMEX Auditorium in the Knight Management Center at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Power’s second lecture, titled “Diplomacy after Darkness,” will focus on the present and future of U.S. diplomacy and global leadership. It will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at CEMEX.

Rebecca Solnit, an author, historian and a Stein Visiting Writer at Stanford, will speak after Power’s first lecture. Robert O. Keohane, a professor emeritus of public and international affairs at Princeton University, will comment in response to the second lecture.

A discussion seminar is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Friday, March 2, in the Vidalakis Room at the Schwab Residential Center. The conversation will include Michael Blake, a professor of philosophy, public policy and governance at the University of Washington, as well as Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First.

The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford collaborates with the Office of the President to host the Tanner Lectures at Stanford.

The Tanner Lectures, which are held at nine universities in the United States and England, were created by the late American scholar, industrialist and philanthropist Obert Clark Tanner. In creating the lectureship, Tanner said, “I hope these lectures will contribute to the intellectual and moral life of mankind. I see them simply as a search for a better understanding of human behavior and human values.”

Stanford News Service interviewed Power to get a preview of her perspectives ahead of the lectures:

What steps should the U.S. government take as it continues to face complex, 21st-century challenges, such as cybersecurity?

There is obviously a lot of discussion right now about Russian interference, and with good reason. We need to confront two very separate threats: interference in our elections through hacking and cyberattacks on the one hand, and interference in our democratic process by spreading discord and misinformation on the other. The infrastructure for responding to the former is something we have developed over the last decade, though it obviously needs to be fortified.

My main message is: take heart! History shows us that it is lots of small actions taken together that produce social change.

Samantha Power

2018 Tanner Lecturer on Human Values

But when it comes to weaponizing social media to spread lies and to turn Americans against each other, there is no obvious government lever, since it would be extremely perilous for the government to be in the business of deciding what should be published online. What we need is leadership and a sense of urgency from the president and his team. One of the topics I’ll be talking about in the lecture on diplomacy is the need to prioritize cyber and other technology issues in a way the Obama administration began to do, but where far, far more is needed.

In your lecture, you will be examining several periods of unjust policies throughout American history. What can we take away from that history and the resistance those polices faced from citizens?

First of all, I think many Americans troubled by today’s injustices have forgotten how exceedingly dark prior periods have been. The U.S. government interned 120,000 Japanese Americans, forcing them to spend years in very harsh, remote internment camps. President Franklin Roosevelt adopted the policy despite the opposition of his attorney general and without consulting his Cabinet. And sadly, his decision enjoyed widespread popular support.

What I focus on in the lecture is small acts of resistance that didn’t undo the injustice, but that did change lives for the better. For example, a group of no more than a dozen people created an organization called the National Japanese Student Relocation Council, and they single-handedly placed more than 4,000 college-age Japanese-Americans at schools across the country.

What advice do you have for people who would like to stand up for a particular cause today?

The first thing I would say is that we who share a desire to see change must embrace politics in all its messiness. There really is no “Door Number Two.” This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be running for office, but it is important to vote — which too few college students do — and to support those who champion the specific causes that matter to you.

I think many people these days find themselves feeling as if the attacks on human rights and dignity are unprecedented and overwhelming, making anything they do feel, by definition, insufficient. So, my main message is: take heart! History shows us that it is lots of small actions taken together that produce social change.