“Read a lot and behave badly,” advised Sir Salman Rushdie. On Thursday, February 19, about 120 Emory students, faculty, and alumni gathered in the Few Multipurpose Room for a CoLA Emory Story Project event, a three-part event co-sponsored by the Coalition on the Liberal Arts (CoLA) and the Division of Campus Life. Participants were seated in groups that reflected the diversity of the Emory community, with each table of 8-10 including faculty members from across the university, undergraduates from Emory and Oxford College, and Emory alumni that work inside and outside of the university.

After dining together, guests participated in a conversation with the guest of honor, Salman Rushdie. Rushdie spoke about his experiences as an undergraduate student and discussed how his liberal arts education has affected his trajectory as an author and an activist. He described some of the differences between his own experiences at Cambridge in the late 1960s and the climate faced by today’s undergraduates, including bleaker job prospects and a weakened world economy. Responding to a question from a student in the audience who asked for advice about how to get the most of her college experience, Rushdie urged her to “be transgressive” and to “make mistakes and see what happens.”

After being inspired by Rushdie’s stories, participants took part in story circles with their dinner groups. Each circle was led by a trained undergraduate facilitator. During the circle, each participant told a 3-5 minute story after being guided to “describe a self-defining or transformative moment in the context of their own liberal arts education.” This engaging prompt provided each participant with a rich experience of one another’s unique perspective in this context, and provided an opportunity for students, faculty and alumni from across the Emory community to connect. As one faculty member described it, “Bringing undergrads, grads, faculty and alums together with Rushdie to reflect on the meaning and experiences of liberal arts education was an inspiring event, and I was glad to be part of it.”