Foreign Affairs Symposium announces lineup

By JACOB TOOK | February 15, 2018



American activist Chelsea Manning will be one of the speakers this spring. 

The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) announced on Saturday that the theme of its spring 2018 lineup is “Ravel | Unravel.” The speakers include: activist and Maryland senatorial candidate Chelsea Manning; former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power; and Hopkins alumni and humanitarian strategists Greg Asbed and Laura Germino.

Kat Gross, a senior International Studies major and an executive director of FAS, said that they chose “Ravel | Unravel” as their theme because it captures the tension of a polarized society.

“In our current sociopolitical landscape, we’re seeing two contradictory phenomena — the coalescence of many different movements and new communities and institutions fighting against systemic injustice but also the unravelling of certain civil liberties,” she said.

She added that many of this year’s speakers are activists in communities that fight against the rise of “Trumpian” rhetoric. According to Gross, FAS hoped to highlight the manner in which activists build new communities to counter this rhetoric.

“Ravel | Unravel” builds on last year’s theme of “Undercurrent,” which Gross said featured speakers known for challenging the status quo.

“Sometimes there are institutions and norms that need to be challenged,” she said. “In this lineup, we’re looking also at how new communities are being created in the wake of the norms that are being broken down.”

With the ongoing construction in Shriver Hall, FAS booked alternative spaces for each speaker. Most will be in the Hodson Hall auditorium, though others will be in the Mason or Mudd Hall auditoriums.

Gross said that Shriver’s continued closure presented a challenge for FAS.

“We just had to think a bit more critically about the spaces we have available on campus,” she said. “We didn’t want to go off campus. Turner Auditorium on the med campus is lovely and larger, but the logistics of getting everyone there, we felt, would be a bit of a hassle.”

She said that they will offer overflow rooms for some of the events, and they will also ticket the visits from Power and Manning.

The Museums & Society and Film & Media Studies programs will co-host the first event of the lineup, a panel on the intersection of comedy and politics and the growing importance of satire in contemporary politics, on Feb. 22.

Bentley Allan, an assistant professor of political science at Hopkins, will moderate a discussion between Saturday Night Live (SNL) writer Nimesh Patel, Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) political satire expert Sophia McClennen and Newseum Collections Curator Carrie Christoffersen.

Patel was the first South Asian writer employed full-time by SNL and wrote for fellow South Asian comedian Hasan Minhaj’s set at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Patel gained popularity during the 2016 election because of his comedy’s political edge.

McClennen founded the Center for Global Studies at Penn State. She specializes in political comedy and has published studies on subjects such as Stephen Colbert’s satire after 9/11.

Christoffersen was part of the team which founded the Newseum in 1997, an interactive museum in D.C. which promotes freedom of speech. Her expertise include editorial cartoons, a form which commonly shows the intersection of comedy and politics.

According to Gross, the Museums & Society program will help FAS host a post-event reception that encourages attendees to continue the discussion about comedy.

For their second event, FAS partnered with European Horizons, a student group promoting discussions about European politics, to host İlker Başbuğ on March 6. Başbuğ served as the head of the Turkish military from 2008 to 2010.

In 2010 Başbuğ was convicted during the Ergenekon trials, in which almost 300 high-profile individuals in Turkey were accused of being members of Ergenekon, an alleged secret organization that was suspected of plotting to overthrow the Turkish government.

Başbuğ was first sentenced to life in prison, but this conviction was overturned four years later after he complained that his freedoms had been unlawfully violated. He remains popular, if controversial, in Turkey.

A week after Başbuğ, FAS will host former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on March 13. Power’s visit will be co-sponsored by the Aronson Center for International Studies and the Second Decade Society, a network of alumni leaders.

Power worked with then-Senator Barack Obama and served as a senior advisor to his 2008 campaign until she stepped down after referring to Hillary Clinton as a “monster.”

In 2013, Obama nominated Power to represented the U.S. at the United Nations, where she advocated against human rights violations and genocide around the world. In 2015, Forbes named Power the 41st most powerful woman in the world.

Gross said that FAS acknowledged some controversy around Power because of some recent criticism. In 2015 she came under fire for declining to comment on the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

“With Samantha Power, I feel like we might have a little bit of controversy,” Gross said. “She’s often criticized the political establishment for turning a blind eye to mass violence and genocide around the world, but some have suggested that maybe she’s complicit in various human rights abuses.”

Like Power, Maryland senatorial candidate Chelsea Manning has long been a controversial figure, advocating for increased government transparency.

In 2013, she was convicted of leaking nearly 750,000 classified documents to the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Obama commuted her sentence in Jan. 2017, and a year later she announced her campaign for senator of Maryland.

Manning also stirred controversy in the LGBTQ community after she came out as transgender the day after her prison sentence in 2013. The Office of LGBTQ Life and the Office of Women and Gender Resources will co-sponsor her visit on April 2.

Gross said that she hoped controversial speakers would prompt engagement and discussion among attendees and added that FAS does not anticipate protests at their events.

“Usually at FAS events, people know that all viewpoints are welcome as long as you express them in a peaceful, respectful manner,” she said. “It’s a space for producing vibrant discourse, and often tension just comes with that.”

The Arrighi Center for Global Studies and the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association will co-sponsor the penultimate event, a visit from humanitarian workers and alumni of the School of Advanced International Studies Greg Asbed and Laura Germino on April 24.

Last year, Asbed was one of 24 individuals to receive the MacArthur fellowship, an award for $650,000, for his advocacy on behalf of farm workers in Immokalee, Fla.

Asbed founded the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to fight against human rights violations such as workplace harassment, sexual harassment and wage theft at the hands of the large corporations.

In honor of their humanitarian work, FAS will honor Asbed and Germino with its annual Smedinghoff Award, named after former FAS director Anne Smedinghoff who was killed in a bomb blast in 2013 while delivering books to children in Afghanistan.

Gross said that Asbed and Germino were chosen to receive the award for the work they have done to empower minority labor communities in the negotiation process with corporations, which she said aligns with this year’s theme.

“We look for organizations that embody Anne Smedinghoff’s philanthropic spirit and desire to impact change in communities that have been underserved,” Gross said. “We wanted to honor the work that they have done in helping to build communities.”

FAS will host a final event at the end of the semester, though they have not released any details. According to Gross, FAS is still in communication with multiple nonprofits and non-governmental organizations to decide on the details of this event.

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