Author and Journalist Ron Suskind to Serve as Park Distinguished Visitor at Ithaca College

By Erika Walsh ’18, September 18, 2017

Author and Journalist Ron Suskind to Serve as Park Distinguished Visitor

This year’s Park Distinguished Visitor is Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer-winning journalist and bestselling author. Suskind’s keynote speech will take place at Ithaca College on Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Emerson Suites. A screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Life Animated,” based on his memoir by the same title, will take place prior to his speech on Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. in Park auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public.

“Life Animated” tells the story of Suskind’s son, Owen, who lives with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With the help of his passion for Disney animated films and the resilience of his family, Owen was able to learn about life, language, and emotion. After experiencing this breakthrough with his son, Ron Suskind was inspired to help others in similar situations. This led him to develop Sidekicks, a program that helps individuals with ASD utilize their passions to connect with others. Sidekicks makes use of augmentative technologies, which help individuals to communicate non-verbally.

Clinical Assistant Professor of Speech-Language Pathology Tina Caswell will teach a one-credit, three-week Media for Social Responsibility course called “Life with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Facts from Fiction.” All majors are encouraged to enroll in the course, which will begin with a private session with Suskind. Students will explore the ways emerging media and assistive technologies can support people with ASD.

“The use of media as an advocacy tool is really powerful,” Caswell said. “It encourages diversity and inclusion. I’m hoping that students will learn how to be advocates for people with autism.”

Diane Gayeski, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications, hopes that this course will encourage collaboration between Park and the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance. “Media is about content and intent,” she said. “It’s not just about the technical aspects of creating media. Every year we reach out to students and faculty in disciplines across schools.”

Courses in the past have explored how the media interacts with topics such as the environment and women’s and gender issues.

Suskind’s documentary itself is exemplary of how the media can benefit and contribute to the health sciences and help people who live with disabilities. “‘Life Animated’ brings awareness to the ASD community and helps people understand where to seek help,” said Caswell. “It explains what speech pathologists do and the services we offer so that people know what’s available to them.”

Suskind, who was the Wall Street Journal’s senior national affairs reporter for seven years, won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. He is the author of a variety of books related to politics, economics, and the American government, including “Confidence Men” and “The Way of the World.” In addition to surving as a lecturer at Harvard Law School, Suskind is the director of the Project on Public Narrative, a fellowship program that focuses on discussing aspects of law, politics and society that are often overlooked.

Leading professionals in the communications industry have been arriving annually at Ithaca College for over 15 years as part of the Park Distinguished Visitor Series, funded by the Park Foundation. These media experts inspire both students and members of the greater Ithaca community to put their ideas into action.