Over the past two years, the department has hosted a series of faculty panel discussions that have given University of Washington students new scholarly perspectives on important topics in today’s news headlines. The panels have allowed faculty members to bring their perspectives to bear on topics such as global environmental politics, the rise in incarceration rates in the United States, the worldwide refugee crisis, and recent US elections. The growing popularity of these events is leading us to try to broaden the audience beyond current students as we plan three new panel events for the 2016-17 academic year. Beginning in the fall, we will be inviting alumni and other friends of the department to attend the quarterly faculty panels. Expect to see an invitation to next year’s panels soon, including a fall panel on the US Presidential election.
Perhaps the most successful panel focused on the global refugee crisis. Student response to invitations to the December 3rd panel was so strong that the event had to be moved to a much larger lecture hall. A crowd of more than 200 enthusiastic students heard an interdisciplinary group of University of Washington faculty discuss the refugee crisis from a variety of perspectives. Professor Jamie Mayerfeld served as moderator.
Professor Kathie Friedman of the Jackson School of International Studies focused her presentation on the Syrian refugee crisis, with particular emphasis on the impact of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the plight of refugees. Friedman noted that the US was accepting a very small number of Syrian refugees in comparison to other countries, and expressed concern that the failure of the US to receive refugees would strengthen the position of extremists. She also outlined the screening and resettlement process for refugees entering the US, which includes 15 distinct security checks.
Political Science and Jackson School of International Studies Professor Frank Wendler contributed a European perspective on the issue. He explained that Europe has maintained independent national systems of immigration even as EU member states had become more integrated in other respects. Wendler reported that the refugee crises was leading to some helpful policy initiatives and better recognition of the interdependence of EU member states and neighboring countries. However, Wendler argued that the EU also needs to adopt a more proactive approach that is more attentive to the sources of the crisis.
Professor Megan Ybarra from Geography concluded by offering a very different perspective on the broader global refugee crisis, focusing on migration across borders in Central America and Mexico. Ybarra explained how violent conditions in Central American countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were leading large numbers of people to migrate north. Those displacements within Central America now mean that Mexico is working with the US to protect its own southern border, thus displacing the US border problems further south.
At a later panel event in April, students heard another expansive set of faculty perspectives on a completely different topic: “Policing, Protest, and Prisons.” Professors Megan Francis, Michael McCann, and Rebecca Thorpe attempted to place current protest movements against police brutality and mass incarceration into a broader historical and economic context. Panelists addressed such issues as the rise of military style policing, the economic and political impacts of prison construction, and the history and effectiveness of protest movements in challenging policing and public safety practices.
The quarterly faculty panels have been popular with students because they provide a historical and global perspective on current political struggles. Students leave with a much better understanding of these critical issues than they get from reports in news media, which tend to focus largely on the sensation of immediate events. Faculty have enjoyed participating and appreciate the very positive student response. Because faculty members in the department are eager for opportunities to engage with a broader audience of interested members of our community, we will be extending a wider invitation to next year’s faculty panels.