Foreign Affairs Symposium's 2019 lineup most diverse in its history

By RUDY MALCOM | February 11, 2019


The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) announced on Monday that the theme of its spring 2019 lineup is “Disrupt.” The lineup includes: Vice President of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians Erlendy Cuero Bravo; Iranian-American writer Solmaz Sharif; Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Beatrice Fihn; artist and activist Boots Riley; a panel on law and social movements; and Togolese activist Farida Nabourema.

FAS Executive Director and junior Kiana Boroumand said that “Disrupt” is the most diverse lineup in FAS history, featuring its first indigenous speaker as well as a majority of women and of people of color. The guiding principle of “Disrupt” is a quotation from June Jordan’s “Poem for South African Women,” which Boroumand believes captures the sense of urgency felt among young people who are now two years into the Trump administration.

“The last line is, ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for,’” she said. “We want to inspire people to say, ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for. We’re it.’”

Boroumand explained that in the past, FAS has hosted speakers who are more conventionally associated with foreign affairs, like ambassadors and local politicians. This year, however, the Symposium wanted to shift the conversation away from figures who Hopkins students likely already hear from in the news.

“We want to shift the way that we talk about foreign affairs to focus on people who work on the ground, who are change agents,” she said.

Boroumand believes that Erlendy Cuero Bravo is one such speaker, and FAS will honor Cuero Bravo with its annual Anne Smedinghoff Award for her humanitarian work. The award is named after former FAS Director Anne Smedinghoff, who was killed in a suicide bombing while delivering books to children in Afghanistan. 

Cuero Bravo’s talk in the Mason Hall Auditorium on Feb. 18 is co-sponsored by the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America. This is the first event of the lineup and FAS’s first event ever in Spanish. A translator will provide a simultaneous translation to English over headset.

Boroumand emphasized that the public often does not talk about human rights activists like Cuero Bravo, who endanger their own lives to help people. She believes that visibility is important for human rights activists.

“We get to use our platform... to shed light on somebody who’s doing really incredible work every day, who’s risking her life every day and who doesn’t have a lot of recognition in the U.S.,” she said.

For its second event, FAS will partner with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute to host Iranian-American writer and former Managing Editor of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Solmaz Sharif in the Arellano Theater on Feb. 25. Sharif’s debut collection Look, in which she explores her family’s experiences with post-war exile and immigration, was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Awards and the 2017 PEN Open Book Award.

Boroumand feels that Sharif’s grassroots activism and her literature can encourage people to pursue social change and consider the adverse effects of warfare. She hopes that Hopkins students who do not usually read poetry will be able to approach literature through a different lens after attending Sharif’s talk.

For its third event, FAS will partner with Women and Gender Resources to host Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), in Shriver Hall on March 6. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, ICAN is a global coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promotes adherence to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which passed in 2017. Fihn played a significant role in garnering international support for the Treaty.

On April 2, FAS will host activist-artist Boots Riley in Shriver Hall. Riley made his directorial debut in 2018 with the film Sorry to Bother You, which examines race relations and labor rights, and he aims to advocate for marginalized communities through art. 

The Symposium’s fifth event is a panel on law and social movements in Shriver Hall on April 16. The panel will feature: The Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based research and advocacy organization that promotes criminal justice reform; the Lakota People’s Law Project, a group that seeks to reclaim Native American ancestral lands; the Immigrant Defense Project, a New York City–based nonprofit that aims to protect and increase the rights of immigrants; and ArchCity Defenders, a civil rights law firm that offers free criminal and civil legal services in St. Louis. 

Boroumand hopes that Hopkins students interested in becoming lawyers can learn from the panelists. 

“Our hope is that people considering the legal field can learn from incredible individuals at the forefront of movement lawyering,” she said. “What can we do with our own careers? What can we do after we graduate... to change the power structures in place?” 

In partnership with the Agora Institute, FAS will host Farida Nabourema for its final event in the Mason Hall auditorium on April 30. Nabourema is the executive director of the Togolese Civil League and was included last year among the 100 Most Reputable People in Africa and the 100 Most Influential Young Africans.  

Boroumand explained that FAS’s goal is for the diversity of the lineup to generate robust and comprehensive discussions. She hopes that attendees will acquire new perspectives on issues that may not necessarily be personal to them, but she believes are still important to think about. 

“Whether they be Hopkins students or members of the Baltimore community, our hope is that audience members can come to these events and learn more about identities that are different from theirs,” she said.

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