When Uganda native Josie Senoga read this year’s One Book, One Campus selection for a leadership studies class, the material hit home.

“Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof explores tough challenges facing women and girls around the world and ways women can aid in the fight against global poverty.

WuDunn spoke on campus recently about the book as part of the Jepson Leadership Forum’s series on “Game Changers: How Women Lead and Change the World.” The talk was “a call to awareness and a call to help,” said Senoga, ’12. “I have relatives and friends who have been victims of much of what the authors discuss in the book.”

The lecture was held in the University’s Camp Concert Hall and co-sponsored by the One Book, One Campus program, a campus-wide effort that encourages students, staff and faculty to read and discuss a selected book on a social justice issue.

WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author, shared with students and members of the community what she sees as the moral challenge of the century and highlighted specific stories of women and girls who have faced gender oppression.

“In the way that in the 19th century slavery was the paramount moral challenge and in the 20th century it was totalitarianism, the moral challenge of our time is gender inequity,” said WuDunn.

Educating women may be part of the solution to several global problems, she said. “One of the most effective ways to fight poverty and to fight terrorism is to educate girls all the way to adulthood and bring them into the formal labor force. Women really aren’t the problem, which is often the way we have thought of this issue, but they really are part of the solution too alongside men.”

She encouraged the audience to get involved but cautioned that helping others is not always easy. “I really think it takes more than a village to effect change, she said. “It takes a movement to bring about this sort of change. Each one of you can help.”

For her part Senoga plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and human rights.

“WuDunn’s passionate and powerful talk and her book furthered motivated me to do so,” she said. “Her lecture really reiterated the point that with a helping hand, these women can transcend oppression and turn their lives around.”

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Student and faculty response

“What stood out most to me about the talk was the way that she conveyed her message to those who had not read the book. A lot of the stories WuDunn used to illustrate the issues were ones I had read in the book. I know many students who came to the talk having not read the book and they completely understood the issues.” 

Chelsea Weinberg, ’12, leadership studies major, business administration and environmental studies minor; senator on JSGA

“I think the main “take home” for me as a guy was regardless of your gender or age everyone can fight oppression against women. Hearing her speak turned many of the words she wrote into reality.”

Jacob Pierce, ’14, environmental studies and leadership studies double major; football player

“Half the Sky” is one of the most compelling and important books I have ever read.  As such, and because the University has adopted it for our One Book, One Campus program, I have included it in both of my courses this semester. Hearing WuDunn speak was an invaluable opportunity for my students who are reading the book in class. The leadership lessons found in her book and talk are unparalleled.

Dr. Crystal Hoyt, associate professor of leadership studies and psychology