The Kahn Institute: Exile and Activism
The Smith community will be tackling some perplexing social issues starting in the fall, thanks to the latest projects sponsored by the Kahn Institute for 2000-01. The two projects, Community Activism and The Anatomy of Exile, will run simultaneously throughout the year. Each will provide a forum for faculty and student fellows to examine activism and forced migration from a variety of interdisciplinary viewpoints and will help to bring local and national activists, political analysts, artists, exiles and visiting scholars to campus to work with them.
The Anatomy of Exile project was first proposed and is now being organized by Peter Rose, Sophia Smith Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. Rose and 18 other faculty and student fellows from a range of disciplines, including government, chemistry, classics and theater, will focus on the political, sociological and moral causes and consequences of mass migrations of people around the world.
"This is a subject that has special relevance to me and to other Kahn Institute fellows and to Smith College," Rose says. "A number of us have-each in his or her own way-been studying various aspects of forced migration, the meaning of alienation and the politics of rescue for many years." By engaging visiting scholars-many of whom are exiles themselves-along with writers, students, political analysts and humanitarians, Rose and the other faculty members hope to shed new light on an old and ongoing problem, one that has been addressed at Smith several times in the past century. "This project is a continuation of work begun during the presidency of William Allan Neilson," Rose states. Neilson, an original founder of the International Rescue Committee, was at the forefront of efforts to help intellectual refugees escape Nazi-dominated Europe. "And," adds Rose, "his college, our college, was a haven for many distinguished émigré scholars." Rose says the roster of visiting scholars and artists for the project includes Orm Overland from the University of Bergen, Norway; Roger Winters, U.S. Committee for Refugees; and filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini.
The "Exile" project will be divided into two parts, "The Meaning of Exile" and "Rescue and Resettlement," and many of its lectures, debates, symposia, films and exhibitions will be open to the public.
While the plight of political exiles and the human rights of refugees are being examined, elsewhere on campus activists will be analyzing two different but convergent aspects of their work: urban activism in the United States, and activism born out of disputes around borders. According to Martha Ackelsberg, Activism Project co-organizer and professor of government, one semester will be devoted to each issue. During the fall semester, visiting activists from local as well as national agencies, together with students and faculty fellows from the philosophy, anthropology, government, history, sociology and mathematics departments, will focus on several urban issues, such as housing and home-lessness, AIDS, violence, immigration and environmentalism. In spring 2001, the "communities on/at the border" semester will examine such issues as globalization and trade unions.
"We're trying to bring together the substantial number of faculty members and students at Smith who are doing work related to community activism and social movements," says Ackelsberg, "and also to build some bridges to groups in the community. We're also hoping to have a different activist-in-residence each semester." Ackelsberg says that while the complete roster of activist visitors is not finalized, she and co-organizer Nancy Whittier of the sociology department have engaged several interesting people for the project, including Lori Wallach of the Washington-based Global Trade Watch and Jorge Ishigawa, who works with Andean peasants in Peru. The Activism Project, in conjunction with the Sophia Smith Collection, is cosponsoring a kick-off conference called "Agents of Change," which will take place on campus in late September.
The Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, which was founded in 1998, sponsors at least one project per academic year that brings together a range of faculty, students, visiting scholars and artists to work on timely issues and scholarly works outside the established curriculum. "All of the Kahn Institute projects that faculty have organized concern issues that are extremely important for the beginning of the new millennium," says Kahn Institute Director Marjorie Senechal.
For more information on the Kahn Institute and its upcoming projects, visit their Web page at www.smith.edu/kahninstitute.
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