By Ariel McGee
Lewis & Clark’s 56th International Affairs Symposium will take place April 9 through 11. This year’s symposium is entitled “The Scramble for Sovereignty: Modern Challenges to an Age-old Construct.”
The symposium encompasses six debates, each between two speakers. The speakers chosen are well-versed in similar areas of study but have opposing views on their debate topics. The event is open to all members of the public.
Professor of International Affairs Bob Mandel has been the symposium’s faculty advisor since 1994.
“Each year there are new students who help out with the event and, unlike other symposia at LC, we insist on presenting sharply different views,” Mandel said. “We really try to get speakers who are willing to get their views questioned.”
Two student co-chairs and a student steering committee spend the entire academic year putting the symposium together.
“Our job as co-chairs was to contact the speakers, answer any questions they might have, to choose the steering committee and then delegate jobs to the (committee) members,” student co-chair Vinaya Baharam ’19 said.
In addition to researching speakers to invite for each debate, the steering committee engages in hands-on work with speakers and faculty. They are in charge of finding students to drive speakers to and from the airport and guide them during the event.
“The steering committee is the creative brain behind the symposium and broker between committee administration and speakers,” student co-chair Sam Stites ’18 said. “They deal with lots of logistics, planning and interviewing.”
Each year the symposium features speakers from countries all over the world. This year, the symposium will welcome Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan regional government representative to the United States, to debate on secession. Additionally, Andrew Mwenda, the founder and editor of The Independent, will be traveling to LC from Uganda to debate the merits of foreign aid.
While international speakers bring diverse opinions to the symposium, they can make coordination difficult.
“We have a larger proportion of speakers coming from other countries, and that poses special challenges because of the time zone differences,” Mandel said. “We love having international speakers because the symposium would not be as interesting focusing on American views alone.”
The topic of sovereignty was chosen for this year’s symposium because of its current relevance in world affairs and political movements.
“Sovereignty encompasses things such as the environment, global north having say over global south, secessionist movements, globalization and multinational corporations,” steering committee member Urshila Rana ’19 said. “When we’re looking for debates and speakers, we ask ‘who has authority to give consent? Who actually has the right to give the go ahead on these sorts of topics?’”
This year’s debates touch on a wide variety of majors; the environmental debate applies to environmental studies and the cyber borders debate applies to computer science. Additionally, the symposium will welcome esteemed sociologist Saskia Sassen to debate on globalization, who is frequently read in sociology classes.
Since these debates pose controversial questions, they do not always have easy answers.
“I love all of the debates this year because they present opposing views,” Mandel said. “I hope that all the people who attend, not just people from LC but also the larger Portland area, get more informed about the current issues of sovereignty and question their beliefs. The debates should promote critical thinking on the part of everyone.”