Rutgers Conferences Focus on Terrorism and Refugees
Arts and Sciences faculty emphasize global issues
Two academic conferences organized by School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) faculty explored some the most pressing issues in the global arena: the African refugee crisis, and growing allure of terrorism among young people.
On Oct. 16 the Center for African Studies, the Center for European Studies, and the Department of Italian presented "Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean Migration Crisis," a one-day symposium focusing on the calamitous migration of Africans across the Mediterranean Sea to escape war and poverty.
And the following week faculty in the political science department presented "Youth and the Allure of Terrorism: Identity, Recruitment, and Public Diplomacy."
“Both these events demonstrate the commitment of the liberal arts community at Rutgers to engage with some of most difficult issues facing the world,” said Arts and Sciences Executive Dean Peter L. March. “I congratulate our faculty for the vision and organizational expertise they’ve shown in bringing these conferences to our campus.”
The symposium on terrorism, convened by Eric Davis, professor of political science, and Jean-Marc Coicaud, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law, was aimed at going beyond observing and commenting on the phenomenon of terrorism to laying the groundwork for solutions.
"We can all go back home and say 'boy what a depressing conference,' but we are not going to do that," said Davis, who directs a new political science graduate program that focuses on international studies. "What we are going to do instead is to try to fight this. We are going to try to deal with the issue."
Drawing scholars from around the world, the symposium took place over four days, covering everything from the psychology of terrorist movements to patterns of recruitment, and included a panel of clerics representing Islam, Judaism, and Christianity to discuss potential solutions.
One speaker noted how violent extremists have cleverly exploited the sense of powerlessness and disenfranchisement that young people feel. "A single suicide bomber barely old enough to spell her name can rearrange the routine schedules, security apparatus, and annual budgets of entire cities," said Johnny Mack, president of Communities Without Boundaries International.
Mack called for a new discourse from the civic sphere that empowers youth.
The African migrant conference also featured an international array of speakers including scholars, activists, and artists.
"We wanted to bring in a number of people working on the front lines of the issue," said Rhiannon Noel Welch, a professor of Italian, who helped organize the event with professors Nancy Sinkoff, director of the Center for European Studies, and Carolyn Brown, a history professor and former director of the Center for African Studies.
The speakers included Professor Ousseina Alidou who spoke on how globalization has incapacitated African states' ability to provide education and economic opportunity for young Africans.
"That's when we see the flow of African youth moving beyond borders," said Alidou, a professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures.
The migration path is often deadly, with thousands dying this year alone on the Mediterranean before even reaching Europe, where tensions are high.
The event brought together a number of SAS humanities departments and programs as sponsors, from Spanish and Portuguese to history, to cinema studies and comparative literature.
"That was the part we were most thrilled about," Welch said. "As soon as I mentioned it to departments, it was an immediate 'yes, we want to be a part of this,''' she said. "This shows the vital role that the humanities play in helping us think about and address complex and daunting global issues in new ways."
The conference concluded with discussion and exhibits by a Paris-based visual artist and filmmaker and a Senegalese visual artist and social activist.
"It was an opportunity to experience the cultural and emotional side of this crisis," Welch said.