International Affairs hosts annual three day symposium

Photo of student asking a question at a symposium
Leo Bernstein Newman / The Mossy Log

The 61st International Affairs Symposium began on April 10 running through April 12 with the title of “Functions of Fear: Conflict, Compliance, Chaos.”

The symposium is the oldest student-run symposium in the nation and the only exclusively debate format at Lewis & Clark. This year’s symposium is co-chaired by Eliana Essman ’25 and Loren Pawelski ’24. The symposium is all student-run under the advising of Professor of International Affairs Bob Mandel.

The theme, which focuses on fear, covers multiple topics — from the justifiability of bans on artificial intelligence to legalization of prostitution as a means to combat human trafficking. The committee developed the theme after discovering possibilities in the post-pandemic world as well as many other global conflicts. 

“It was interesting at the start because we were trying to direct the theme throughout the speakers by seeing what speakers are really amazing and we want to have them and then build it off of that because it was hard to find so many good speakers that have that in common,” symposium committee member  Hashim Salman ’25 said. “Phobias was suggested and then maybe panic, maybe not but fear was a sweet spot in the middle where some debates can be as extreme and we can talk about panic and there is still room for phobias. It is a very nice spectrum we can go around.” 

The committee went through a meticulous process of selecting speakers, enabling them to  each contenders’ stance. This allowed the committee and co-chairs  to have a conversation with potential speakers beforhand to ensure they will be able to actively debate what they write in academic papers. It was important for the committee to understand what information, research and appeal speakers can bring to the symposium. 

“Something that Loren and I have been doing that is different from past years is that we have been hopping on Zoom calls with every speaker that has been accepted to just talk out their stance with them and make sure yes, they have written papers, articles and have done Ted talks on it, but we want to hear it directly from them, their stance,” Essman said. “We have had these conversations with them which I think hopefully is going to help make the event go smoothly.” 

The evening debate on April 10 was between the Heritage Foundation’s senior legal fellow and manager of the National Security Law Program Cully Stimson, and executive director and a founding member of the Whistleblowing International Network in Glasgow, Scotland Anna Myers. 

“The question that we had was whether or not whistleblowers’ protections should be extended, but more particularly to unauthorized disclosures and that term really only gets used in the national security sphere,” Myers said.  “National security and whistleblowing, like public access to information and national security, tend to be seen as kind of moving in the opposite direction that they are completely incompatible. My position in the field of whistleblowing, law and protection for sort of twenty years. Both from working with civil society and nonprofit organizations on what whistleblowing means and if you are going to protect people who speak up in the interest of others, how do you do that in a way that legally makes sense?” 

Every year the symposium committee hosts new speakers. The symposium is the only debate-style format at LC and is meant to spark controversy. It has been praised by The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times.

“I did a little due diligence because I have never heard of it before and contacted some people on the West Coast at Berkeley and said yes, it was a very good school,” Myers said. “I think his nephew came here. I think I was also just surprised of the caliber of the symposium. Just in order to make sure this was a really good thing to do, I did a little checking and heard lots of great things.”

For Pawelski, the formation of debates was the greatest intellectual challenge of the symposium.

“Our symposium is an event focused on controversy, real controversies,” Pawelski said. “Not trying to strawman one side of the debate. Speaking with our potential debaters and making sure they disagree on something and forming our questions to relate to that disagreement is very challenging.” 

Another component to the symposium is the undergraduate journal of international and cross-cultural issues, The Meridian. The Meridian is co-edited by Cas Mulford ’23 and Lia Dimitrova ’23. The journal is the oldest student-run publication on campus dating back to 1981. 

“The symposium is a really cool way for a focus to come to campus, specifically on International Affairs and cross-cultural issues. I think the journal complements it in a way whereas the debates are happening externally, we are bringing people on the campus to talk about issues,” Mulford said. “The journal is a wider way for students to be involved in the symposium, whether that is having something published or being able to tangibly read other peers’ work, I think brings a whole other dynamic to the symposium that reinforces the student-run aspect of the symposium and the Meridian.”

The Meridian includes entries from other disciplines outside of International Affairs, such as music in the Middle East and North African region and anti-cultism in the late socialist and early republic Russia. The journal also features student photography. 

The emphasis of confronting different viewpoints is what the symposium runs on. 

“The IA symposium is not for you to come into a place and reaffirm your views,” Salman said. “It is more to have a person who is reaffirming your views and another person who is against and for you to be like ‘oh! There is a rational thing that could go against my ideas.’” 

The symposium is not solely concerned with International Affairs and includes moderators from various departments. Committee Member Syd Brown ’25 was excited for the Twitter Against Tyrant debate moderated by Rhetoric and Media studies Professor Mitch Reyes. The debate was between New York University Professor of Politics, Joshua Tucker and co-director of the Center for Studies on Media and Society at San Andrés University in Buenos Aires, Argentina Eugenia Mitchelstein. The debate was centered around how digital media affects non-democratic regimes. 

“I am a Rhetoric and Media studies minor, so I am really interested in this one,” Brown said. “I think we were just trying to find debates that were touching on different debates that were also trying to touch on different departments just trying to find a wide appeal on campus.”

The International Affairs symposium intends to challenge views and give nuanced explanations for hot topics. All members of the community and the public are welcome to attend the symposium.

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