The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) announced on Feb. 15 that the theme of its 2021 symposium will be “Where Do We Go From Here?” The lineup features activist Angela Davis, Yemeni human rights defender Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, rapper Noname and a panel of experts on the Uyghur Crisis.
FAS Co-Executive Director Margaret Hanson explained that each speaker will touch on a different issue that COVID-19 has exacerbated.
“[Our theme] is a reflection on our past year and the tragic events that have unfolded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the ongoing injustices that the virus has exposed. ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ refers to this collective uncertainty about the future and how we should organize for a more just and sustainable world,“ she said.
According to Hanson, the symposium will help students ask and answer questions raised by 2020.
“The beginning of COVID was this global pause to reassess what’s important in our lives and what we have to fix,“ she said. “Over the past year we’ve lost a little bit of that optimism and hope, and our theme is trying to reintroduce those questions.”
FAS’s first event presents Radhya Al-Mutawakel, a Yemeni human rights defender and the co-founder of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights. Al-Mutawakel was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019.
FAS Co-Executive President Ryan Ebrahimy explained that Al-Mutawakel fits in well with the types of speakers the symposium traditionally works with.
“A lot of what FAS tried to highlight in the past is human rights violations around the world, and the ongoing human rights violation in Yemen is not getting the attention in mainstream press that it deserves,“ he said. “[Al-Mutawakel] highlights causes that we think deserve more engagement from the student body here at Hopkins.”
The symposium’s second event will also feature investigative journalist Amy Goodman. Goodman is the current host of Democracy Now!, an independent online news program that focuses on critiquing foreign policy and corporatism. She has received many awards for her reporting, including the Gandhi Peace Award and the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.
According to Ebrahimy, Goodman’s journalistic viewpoint will provide a new perspective for audience members.
“We love to provide a space for independent media, especially right now in this age of disinformation and distrust of media. Independent media will be very important in restoring confidence in media and highlighting issues that don’t get enough attention elsewhere,“ he said.
FAS’s third event will spotlight Fatimah Nyeema Warner, a rapper and poet who more commonly goes by the name of “Noname.” Noname has collaborated with many major figures in the hip-hop world and is known for her focus on race and identity.
Hanson shared that she is especially looking forward to see Noname speak.
“I’m really excited to bring her to campus, especially as a young voice,“ she said. “I’ve listened to Noname’s music for many, many years.”
Ebrahimy expressed similar feelings, highlighting Noname’s recent activism.
“She really uses her platform, especially throughout the pandemic, to spread the word about social movements and rally people behind progressive causes. She uses her platform in a way that contributes to the civic discourse,“ Ebrahimy said.
He highlighted that this year, FAS focused on expanding its variety of speakers to spotlight people with less conventional ties to foreign affairs.
“We obviously want speakers to have some connection to foreign affairs, but we increasingly are broadening how we define people’s contributions to foreign affairs and the foreign policy discourse,“ he said. “[Noname] provides a different perspective in getting involved in activism and social movements.”
FAS’s fourth event will focus on the current Uyghur crisis in China by featuring a panel of experts. These speakers will include U.S. Commissioner on International Religious Freedom Nury Turkel, Campaign for Uyghurs Executive Director Rushan Abbas and Director of Global Advocacy for the Uyghur Human Rights Project Louisa Greve.
The fifth and final event of this year’s symposium will host activist, author and academic Angela Davis, who has spent decades fighting racism, sexism, class and the prison system.
Davis was originally supposed to speak as part of last year’s FAS line-up, but her event was cancelled due to the pandemic.
According to Ebrahimy, the FAS team is grateful for the opportunity to finally see Davis speak.
“She has played such an important role throughout history with her activism and continues to be an influence on an emerging generation of activists. Her voice, in particular, will help us understand how the future can look coming out of the pandemic and all these converging crises“ he said.
This year’s symposium will be entirely virtual to comply with public health guidelines.
Hanson, however, argued that hosting the symposium online has its own benefits.
“We’re really excited that they will be more accessible to community members who may not have been able to join in past years due to travel reasons or time restrictions,“ she said. “We really want to highlight activists and trailblazers trying to imagine a post-COVID world that reckons with our history but also is hopeful and optimistic.”
Chris H. Park, the programming director of FAS, is a News & Features Editor for The News-Letter. He did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.