Winsor Engages With Extended Community in Critical Conversations Series with Journalist Lisa Ling

November 17, 2022—Winsor community members, students, teachers, faculty, and families, joined the first session of the Critical Conversations speakers series. Founded in 2020 by Winsor’s former Director of Diversity Luthern Williams, now head of school at New Roads School, Critical Conversations provides a platform for schools to virtually hear from global leaders who are driving dialogue around issues anchored in equity, justice, and wellbeing. 

The 2022–2023 series kicked off with “America: the Unfinished Social Experiment,” featuring guest Lisa Ling, an award-winning journalist, television host, executive producer, author, and mother. Ms. Ling has covered a variety of challenging and often overshadowed events, and she has broken barriers by being the first female host of NatGeo explorer.

New Roads School Director of Student Life and event moderator Mario Johonson began the session by introducing Ms. Ling and the segments of the event: origin story, storytelling, cultural representation, and journalism. Beginning with her origin story, Ms. Ling explained how, despite holding advanced degrees, after settling in the United States in 1948, her grandparents struggled to find a job because they were Chinese. They ultimately opened a restaurant in Carmichael California, with Ms. Ling noting how for many immigrant communities,“restaurants were and continue to be this unique pathway…to eke out some semblance of the American Dream.” Ms. Ling reflected on how her grandparents had the privilege of speaking perfect English, allowing them to find success in the non-diverse community of Carmichael. 

By the time Ms. Ling grew up in Carmichael, there were a handful of Asian families, but “as a kid, anything that sets you apart from everyone else is challenging.” Ms. Ling recalled being teased every day, even if it wasn’t maliciously, so being Asian, or being different in such a non-diverse community, was a source of anxiety. However, she acknowledged experiencing that adversity motivated her to “leave the community and become a more educated global citizen,” allowing her to have the career she has today, telling stories about the vastness of the American experience. 

Ms. Ling remembered how the only Asian representation she saw as a child was Connie Cheung who was also a journalist. There was no Asian representation in politics or in her history books in school, remarking how “when there is no mention of an entire community in our history books, it is easy to mock” the culture, and observing a pattern of scapegoating Asian Americans. She saw how the issue was exacerbated in 2020 with the onset of Covid-19 and a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. 

Reflecting on the role of education in her development as an individual, Ms. Ling noted that it wasn’t until she decided to major in history at University of Southern California that she had access to a more global history. She went on to be one of the youngest reporters at Channel One News and had the opportunity to visit countries she “would never have dreamt of visiting.” On one such occasion, she visited Tehran in the Islamic Republic of Iran as a journalist. She encountered a group of women who asked surprising questions about popular American shows and films, even at risk to their own lives, as Iran. She explained how this experience propelled her not only to want to be on TV to have a better life, but also taught her about the power of American media and what a powerful cultural export American media can be.” 

She reflected on the experience with her own show called “Take Out,” and how her Korean American showrunner helped her use an almost entirely Asian American production team, something which she never even thought was possible. She loves how the “younger generation of creators and producers feel empowered to push the envelope.” 

Finally, the conversation moved to the last section: journalism, storytelling, and expanding voices. After referencing a comment made by Van Jones, Mr. Johonson asked “in what ways does journalism empower you as an Asian woman to challenge the assumptions of how life is portrayed via the Hollywood narrative or the facade of who you are?” Ms. Ling believes journalism has allowed her to “invent, and immerse, and listen, and learn.” She has been immersed in so many different communities and believes that at the end of the day everyone wants the same thing—to live decently. However, the media and social media have driven our country apart and allowed everyone to lose sight of that reality. She ended the conversation by reminding everyone “we need to take it upon ourselves to be critical thinkers, to have critical conversations, to leave our comfort zones, and to leave the confines of our community and engage.”

The community gathered again on December 1 to reflect on this first event in an open conversation and reflective dialogue and debrief the topics covered.

The next speaker event in the Critical Conversation series will take place via Zoom at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time on January 19 with Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, presenting “The Biology of Belonging,” with a follow-up conversation scheduled for January 26. Register for the event here

View the video from the November 17 event with Lisa Ling here