February 1, 2010

Foreign Affairs Symposium kicks off Tuesday

New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof talks on Tuesday

New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof talks on Tuesday

With a lineup of big-name speakers and a new, interactive Web site, the annual student-run Foreign Affairs Symposium is returning to the Homewood campus this week, with a talk by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, in Shriver Hall Auditorium.

Kristof’s visit is the first in a series of topical lectures and panel discussions under this year’s theme, “Re-Engaging the World: The New Global Community.” Kristof will speak to that topic and will also discuss his new book, Half the Sky, about the health and autonomy of women and the key importance of their empowerment in reducing global poverty. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Also visiting campus this spring are James J. Yee, former U.S. Army chaplain of Islam, who will speak about his time as a chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, his imprisonment based on false charges of espionage and issues of concern in attempting to close the prison camp (Feb. 9); John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice in the George W. Bush administration, who will discuss his new book, Crisis and Command, about expansive executive power in times of crisis and grave threats to the United States (Feb. 17, 110 Hodson); Niall Ferguson, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard and author (March 24); FBI Director Robert Mueller (March 25, time TBA); retired 1st Sgt. Matthew Eversmann (April 6); and Iranian-born writer and scholar of religions Reza Aslan (April 13). Jean-Hervé Bradol, president emeritus of Doctors Without Borders, France, is tentatively scheduled for April 15, and Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is also expected to speak, though the date and location are to be announced.

Also scheduled are several panel discussions: “Obama’s First Year” (Feb. 25), “The Way Forward: U.S. Military Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan” (March 10) and “The War in Our Neighborhood: Narcoterrorism in Latin America” (April 21). In conjunction with the Alumni Association, the symposium will present during Alumni Weekend a “Nobel Prize” panel featuring alumni who have won the prestigious award (April 9; details TBA).

All events take place at 8 p.m. in the Glass Pavilion, with doors opening at 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted above. At each event, the students will be collecting donations for the relief effort in Haiti, with proceeds going to the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Refugee and Disaster Response.

It’s no small feat to pull together the symposium each year. Planning for the 2010 program began in May 2009, when undergraduates Mark Brennan, a sophomore majoring in international studies; Max Cohen, a senior majoring in international studies and economics; and Yuvaraj Sivalingam, a senior majoring in political science, were selected as the executive directors. As Sivalingam put it, “There is no off-season for FAS.”

The early stages of the planning process include coming up with a theme, creating a shortlist of potential keynote speakers and developing an ongoing strategy for raising money. But the most important part is assembling the rest of the staff; this year, 22 students were chosen from a pool of 60 applicants.

“The process begins years in advance at times, and is all about building relationships,” Brennan said. “This year, many of the speeches will be a culmination of over nine months of dialogue between the symposium, speakers’ bureaus and many nonprofit and government offices. So much of programming is perseverance and diligence and, more often than not, a stroke of sheer luck.”

“Programming is done by the entire group,” Sivalingam said, “as we feel that one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved with FAS is having the opportunity to contact and work with the very leaders that we hope to bring to campus. We believe that we have put together an incredibly strong lineup this year, and that is a result of a strong staff that deserves a good deal of credit. Having such a talented group to work with makes our jobs as directors much easier.”

Cohen said that while being a director is “undoubtedly a hard job,” it’s one that he finds rewarding. “This year’s symposium promises to be the best yet and showcases many speakers that I am dying to meet,” he said. “We get the chance to meet and have dinner with many of our speakers, but also to say that I brought Nicholas Kristof and the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, to campus.”

Visitors to the symposium’s Web site, www.jhu.edu/fas, will find new features such as links to video clips of some of the speakers’ appearances on The Daily Show and BBC News, along with links to articles about them. The students will also post images and videos after the lectures at Johns Hopkins. The team hopes that people will leave comments and carry on discussions on the site.

“We felt we needed to, at the very least, move toward creating a Web site that would help us accomplish our goals as a symposium,” Sivalingam said. “We hope to foster intellectual discourse on campus by creating a space in which students and members of the public may interact and engage with global leaders regarding current, pressing international issues.”