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Brené Brown gives keynote address to packed Cullen Performance Hall

Brené Brown is a professor at the University and author of multiple #1 New York Times bestsellers. | Donna Keeya/The Cougar

Best-selling author, UH research professor and alumna Brené Brown on Wednesday night gave a keynote address open to the UH community at Cullen Performance Hall.

Brown is the author of multiple #1 New York Times bestsellers including “Braving the Wilderness,” the 2019 Provost Summer Read book. Her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, has more than 44 million views and Brown has made multiple appearances on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sessions.

Brown started the evening with a brief preface of “Braving the Wilderness” and what the book entailed, later diving deeper into social issues and how the concepts of book plays a role in day to day life.

In her opening remarks, Brown describes an experience she had working with Pixar and how it pushed her growth as a leader, primarily on the concept of brain trust, which she learned from former Pixar president Ed Catmull.

“One of the reasons why Pixar has been so successful with every film is brain trust,” Brown said. “It’s basically a meeting where everyone working on the film and the people outside the film come together, they check their egos at the door, and they get really honest about what they’re working on.”

The event pulled inspiration from the book’s key concepts, such as themes of bravery and courage. Brown discussed her opinions on diversity in society, immigration and the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, tying them to her background in social work.

“I’m here today, because I saw all her TED Talks online, and right after seeing all the TED Talks we got an email from the Office of the Provost saying that this event was happening,” said pharmacy junior Susan Dembny. “After reading all of her books, I’m super excited to be here.”

As a research professor at the University, Brown holds the Brené Brown Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work, funded by the Huffington Foundation. She’s taught courses in advocacy-based social work research, feminist practice, critical issues in political social work and more.

“If you look at the research on how we have separated ourselves and to these ideological bumpers, the only thing you have to do to make friends today is to hate the same people,” Brown said.

The keynote was focused around Brown’s lifelong struggle to find where she felt she belonged and the failures that came along the way. Sharing personal anecdotes like not making her high school drill team helped introduce Brown’s background on why she felt like an outsider.

“What we found is that true belonging is much harder than I think I thought,” Brown said.

Brown dug deeper on the topic of belonging by introducing details on her beliefs on immigration and how it ties back into her own personal background in social work.

“We have an administration right now that when they talk about immigrants, talks about infestation,” Brown said. “That’s dehumanizing language, that’s actually language that was used for five to seven years leading up to Nazism.”

The event filled Cullen Performance Hall with hundreds from the UH community, including President Renu Khator and Provost Paula Myrick Short, students, faculty and staff.

“I went on a trip over the summer and had the opportunity to listen to ‘Dare to Lead,’ which led me to ‘Braving the Wilderness,’ and it was just life-changing,” said UH alumna Stacy Halley. “For me, it’s just very awesome to have the opportunity to be so close to her and have this type of experience knowing her writings and her research.”

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