Condoleezza Rice encourages students to be the solution during talk at ASU

By

Suzanne Wilson

For the first woman to hold the position of U.S. national security adviser and the second to serve as secretary of state, it should come as no surprise that strength and strategy have always been in play for Condoleezza Rice — especially in the male-dominated world of politics.

Growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, Rice says she deployed tactics she learned from her father to turn racism on its ugly head and used those tactics again when confronted with sexism in her early career.

“My father once told me if someone doesn’t want to sit next to you because you’re black that’s just fine, as long as they move,” Rice told students, faculty and invited guests at the Barrett Distinguished Global Leader Series at Arizona State University on Friday in Tempe. “That was also the attitude that I went in with when people looked at me like I was in the wrong meeting as a young professional. I was never taking somebody else’s sexism or somebody else’s prejudice onto me because when you start doing that, you start thinking ‘I’m victimized’ — now you’ve lost control of the situation.”

Rice’s follow-up advice to emerging leaders who might find themselves in a similar situation: “Walk in there like you mean it, like you believe you belong there because you do; you worked really hard to get there; own the room and they’ll back off.”

The former secretary of state was invited to participate in the Barrett, The Honors College’s new global lecture series by former U.S. Ambassador Barbara Barrett. The two became acquainted in the administration of President George W. Bush.

“Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brings to Arizona State University exceptional global experience and insights,” Barrett said. “The new Distinguished Global Speaker Series invites ASU students to hear, meet and interact with top global leaders right on campus. Getting to know and learn from experienced cabinet members, heads of state and other decision-makers enriches the campus-learning environment. Secretary Rice exemplifies the speakers of distinction who share their insights with interested ASU students through the BHC Distinguished Global Speaker Series.”

Barbara Barrett listens as Condoleezza Rice delivers remarks at the Barrett College's Distinguished Global Leader Lecture on Friday in Tempe. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Barrett and her husband, former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, are funding the lecture series and other global initiatives at the honors college as part of their renewed commitment made during Campaign ASU 2020 to their namesake college. The series launched in late September with a lunch meet-and-greet with Elisabeth Rehn, Finland’s first female minister of defense.

Before taking student-submitted questions moderated by Barrett Dean Mark Jacobs, Rice — a noted expert on Russia and current professor of political science at Stanford University — addressed the room of 300 that included Barrett students as well as students from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Rice offered a background on the current international system, which she described as “chaotic” right now with headline crises in such places as North Korea, Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela and Russia, whose relationship with the U.S. Rice said is in the lowest place it has been since the darkest days of the Cold War.

She said one of the more pressing threats facing the international system right now is the rise of populism, which has had its echoes in Brexit and in Austria and Germany where right-wing populist parties have gained prominence — an event not seen in such frequency since World War II. She also cautioned against the expansion of identity politics, or the idea that everybody is an ever-smaller identity group — each with its own grievance and narrative that tends to divide instead of unify.

On those subjects, Rice called on ASU students to use their time in college to become a part of the solution by finding a passion and acting on it. Passion is something Rice said she found in international politics after coming to grips with the reality that she wasn’t going to be a concert pianist (her first love) or an English literature major (no love lost there). Her message resonated with many of the students in attendance, including Ceci Shell, a first-year law student.

“It was finding that passion that led me to go to law school. So for someone of her caliber — the secretary of state — telling us young people that ‘you too can be that global leader and that change when you find that passion’ really meant a lot to me,” Shell said.

A former athlete now studying sports law, Shell said she had hoped to also ask the former secretary a question about her passion for sports. Rice is well known for her love of football and golf and was recently named chair of the new NCAA Commission on College Basketball.

Regarding the former secretary’s comments on women, Barrett student Hanna Maroofi said Rice’s remarks on confidence were very genuine.

“Hearing her talk about the importance of going in with confidence and knowing what you want and understanding — that it’s not necessarily you who has to change and conform but to make yourself aware of your surroundings and be confident with those surroundings — was very uplifting and inspiring,” said Maroofi, a sophomore studying biomedical sciences and global health with a minor in French.

Edward Nolan, also a Barrett student, said he was excited when he got a chance to move up to the front row to listen to Rice.

“I don’t know where we’d get this but at Barrett at ASU,” said Nolan, a junior studying political science and biology with an emphasis in genetics and cell development. “She spoke a lot about what we’re learning right now. It was great to hear all of the different areas that she mentioned from just having studied them and from having personal experience. My family is from Colombia, and right along the Colombia border is Venezuela and we talked a lot about the humanitarian crises that are going on along that border.” 

Barrett honors students Hanna Maroofi (left) and Edward Nolan. Photo by Beth Giudicessi

The students say they are looking forward to interacting with more global leaders in the Barrett Distinguished Global Leader Series.

“I think the topic of globalization for college students is very crucial, especially at ASU,” Maroofi said. “We are very passionate about various topics in the Barrett Honors College and being able to combine all of these topics and areas of study into this globalization series is a key aspect to Barrett and the future of our students here.”

In addition to her professorship at Stanford University, Rice is also the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution and a founding partner of RiceHadleyGates LLC. She served as the 66th secretary of the State of the United States from 2005-2009, the second woman and first African-American woman to hold the post. Rice was also the first woman to hold the position of national security adviser from 2001-2005.

 

Top photo: Condoleezza Rice has a discussion with Barrett, The Honors College Dean Mark Jacobs following her inaugural keynote address Friday in Tempe. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now