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East-West University professor to screen documentary, share stories of global citizenship

Journalist, bullrunner, boxer and professor Bill Hillmann’s life was changed when he picked up a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” At the age of 20, Hillmann sped through the book and upon finishing decided that he wanted to pursue a writing career and run with the bulls in Spain. 

Over 20 years later, Hillmann has since earned his masters degree at Columbia College Chicago, doctorate at the University of Louisiana Lafayette and is now an assistant professor in the English and Communication Department at East-West University. He also continues his pursuits of bull running. On Tuesday, May 7, he will host a screening of the CNN documentary “Seeing Red: Running With The Bulls,” which he is featured in. In addition to screening the film, he will be talking to students about the importance of being global citizens and learning other cultures. 

Hillmann began traveling to Spain in 2005 where he took part in his first running with the bulls celebration, a tradition that has taken place for centuries. What started as a way for herders to transport their animals through city streets has evolved into an event full of adrenaline and danger, in which participants attempt to run in front of bulls and lead them through the course. 

“To run with animals is something that’s super deep inside of human beings and inside of our collective unconscious,” Hillmann said. On one trip to Spain for the running of the bulls, he witnessed a near-fatal interaction between a bull and a runner that was ultimately deterred by the bravery of another runner who distracted the bull and led it away. “What I realized in that moment was that there was more to this than just the spectacle and adrenaline. There actually was an art form that was happening, there was a means of communication between man and bull.” 

Hillman said the relationship between humans and animals is what drew him in initially, citing the longstanding mythological connection between the species — such as the animal’s significance in Greek mythology and the astrological Taurus symbol. He took his interest in running beyond participating himself and began to integrate it into his journalistic work. 

Among other interests such as boxing, travel and arts and culture at large, the running of the bulls has become a central niche to Hillmann’s writing. He has written for a wide array of publications — everything from the Chicago Tribune to CNN, the Daily Mail to Playboy — about his experiences running with bulls. An audio essay for WBEZ, which collected audio of him as he ran alongside the bulls, was what he considers his first “big break” in journalism. His most acclaimed work came from a harrowing experience with a bull further down the line. 

One year while running, Hillmann himself fell victim to the intensity of the bulls and suffered an injury to his leg. Rather than letting the near-death experience scar him or instill fear, he used his skills as a journalist to write about the experience. The piece ended up being published in a number of publications, including The Washington Post

“When I got gored by a bull, that was actually my biggest break of all,” he said. “In a weird way, this bad luck of getting gored and almost killed ended up launching me into a whole other stratosphere as a journalist.” 

The intent behind the screening event he will be hosting on Tuesday is to open students’ minds to following their interests outside of their small worlds. 

“What I want to do is really show them the world is bigger than your neighborhood, the world is bigger than Chicago, the world is bigger than America,” Hillman said. “You can be changed dramatically by other places and other peoples and other cultures, and you can be inspired and you can embrace the fact that you’re a global citizen.”

He also said that he hopes to motivate students to find their niche interests and pursue them.

“I want to inspire them to find their passion in life because life without passion is meaningless to me,” Hillmann said. “What I want them to see that, in pursuit of that passion, wonderful things will happen.”

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