The Ruth Benedict Prize Committee of the Association for Queer Anthropology has awarded Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique, written by Peace and Conflict Studies Associate Professor Sa’ed Atshan, an honorable mention for the 2021 Benedict Prize.
The Association for Queer Anthropology (AQA) website provides more information about the prize: “The Ruth Benedict Prize is presented each year at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting to acknowledge excellence in a scholarly book written from an anthropological perspective about a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender topic. The Ruth Benedict Prize is awarded in each of two separate categories: one for a single-authored monograph and another for an edited volume. Submissions may be on any topic related to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, or other gender / sexual formations and categories from any world culture area. Topics may include the study of normativity, queer theory, and the social/historical construction of sexual and gender identities, discourses and categories. Authors may represent any scholarly discipline, but the material submitted must engage anthropological theories and methods.”
“Sa’ed, I am writing to you as Chair of the Ruth Benedict Prize Committee of the Association for Queer Anthropology. It is my great pleasure to tell you that your book, Queer Palestine, has been awarded the Honorable Mention of this year’s Benedict Prize. Congratulations!”🥰
AQA commends Prof. Atshan’s monograph, writing, “This is a most timely and admirably courageous book that challenges the seeming gap between queer activism and anthropology. Atshan traces the rise of the global queer Palestinian solidarity movement from 2002 on, and explores why, since 2012, the movement plateaued — no longer growing nor receding. Drawing on longstanding conversations with queer activists in Israel/Palestine and the diaspora, the author shows how, in recent years, critiques of empire have ironically given rise to an “empire of critique”: an uneven (and often toxic) global field of debate, in which activists and academics based in the West can criticize Palestinian activists in ways that undermine their solidarity-building efforts and expand extant regimes of surveillance, suspicion, and control. An example in this regard are the so-called “radical purists” who believe that there is only one truth about any given oppressive situation and about how to practice liberation. In contrast, Atshan shows that anthropology has the potential to support local activist struggles against homophobia and imperialism by rigorously engaging with, rather than dismissing, the experiences and views of these activists—their simultaneous engagement with multiple axes of oppression.”
It’s considered an epidemic in the U.S., accounting for nearly 20,000 deaths in 2020 alone, as it tears through communities and tears families apart, especially in low-income and urban areas.
Yet unlike the global pandemic, this public health issue — gun violence — receives relatively little public attention, aside from the high-profile mass shootings that dominate headlines. And specific details about these crimes can also be hard to come by, making it difficult for advocates to get the support their communities need.
Working to fill in those gaps, Swarthmore students have developed an interactive map that tracks all gun deaths in the College’s surrounding communities. Created under the guidance of Professor of Sociology Lee Smithey, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Homicide Database aims to assist in the prevention of gun violence while telling a fuller story of the effects of firearms.
The project is a peacebuilding effort in partnership with local anti-violence groups, says Smithey, who is also coordinator of the Peace & Conflict Studies Program. Although crime statistics are readily available from law enforcement agencies, he says, they are rarely presented in a way that’s easy for the public to process. By utilizing the College’s technological and scholarly resources, the students served as research assistants for these community groups, supporting them in their advocacy.
“One of the most rewarding things about this project,” Smithey says, “has been getting connected with gun violence prevention groups,” including Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, co-founded by Robin Lasersohn ’88 and her husband, Terry Rumsey, and Women of Strength United for Change. “We felt it was important to learn from others who have been working locally on this problem.”
For the database, students downloaded homicide information from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and then cross-checked their findings against local news reports to glean further details about each case, such as victims’ names and where the shootings happened. Database users can search gun deaths in Delaware County going back to 2005, while filtering by such demographics as victims’ age, sex, and race, and applying map overlays including median income per area.
The database was developed over five nonconsecutive semesters as part of Smithey’s Gun Violence Prevention course, which explores firearms from the perspective of public health, policy, law enforcement, advocates, and even gun enthusiasts. Community partners and survivors of gun violence are frequent guest speakers in the course, often sharing how they’ve been personally affected by firearms.
“For me, the course was really about humanizing both the living and, unfortunately, deceased victims of gun violence,” says Aleina Dume ’23, a sociology and educational studies major from Queens, N.Y. One speaker, Beverly Wright — a mother from Chester who lost her son to gun violence — made a particular impact on Dume: “Hearing her story but also about her grassroots activism really helped me remember that these are lives that we’re entering into this database,” she says. “We might not know this person’s name, but that just speaks to how important the work is.”
After consulting with community members like Wright, Smithey’s students decided against using pinpoints for each death in the database, so as not to reduce each victim to a statistic. Instead, the information is presented as a heat map, with areas growing more saturated in color as the number of cases increases.
“When I look at that map, I probably tend to see it as a sociologist first, and I start thinking about proximity to the interstate, the income level in these various neighborhoods, etc.,” Smithey says. But for residents of areas where gun violence is prevalent, he says, “they see a mosaic of stories and individuals and people, and they know that many of these homicide events are related to one another. It opened our eyes to how this is going to tell a different story to different people.”
Smithey expects the database to be useful not only to violence-prevention groups, but also to trauma surgeons, public health workers, and local governments. The ultimate hope is for the database to raise awareness of gun violence, while helping communities make gains in combating the epidemic.
“I wrote a paper relating gun violence to the coronavirus because that’s exactly what it is: a public health crisis,” says Oliver Hicks ’22, a political science and peace & conflict studies major from San Luis Obispo, Calif. “Our gun violence problem is not limited to just the school shootings that have perversely normalized themselves in news headlines — it’s so much more.”
Growing up in rural Kansas, Martin Tomlinson ’23 experienced the effects of the climate crisis firsthand.
“I saw my neighbors’ crops failing and the water in the creek behind my house beginning to dry out,” says Tomlinson, a double major in Peace & Conflict Studies and Religion with a minor in Environmental Studies. “As my town became more and more abandoned, I began to realize that this was the death of a way of life and of a community.”
Such evidence of the existential threat posed by the climate crisis continues: this summer alone, the United States experienced heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods that claimed hundreds of lives. A recent report authored by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that global climate change is accelerating due to insufficient reduction of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Described by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres as a “code red for humanity,” the report suggests that limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a tipping point for increased risk of irreversible climate disaster, is no longer possible and that further warming can only be avoided by rapid and large-scale reductions of all greenhouse gases.
Faced with the enormity of the crisis, many students, including Tomlinson, feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the seeming inevitability that things will only get worse.
Social isolation caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also done little to alleviate the fear that the time for decisive, collective action has passed.
In this reality, it is critical to have a space for discussing the climate crisis and formulating action at both the individual and community level. At Swarthmore, a student-led workshop series, Climate Essentials, aims to fill this role by encouraging participants to “critically engage with the climate crisis in its many dimensions.”
The series of lectures and virtual meetings works to draw participants into community and build on an awareness that actions can be taken to combat climate anxiety.
Climate Essentials began in 2020 as a five-session pilot program under the direction of Atticus Maloney ’22 and Declan Murphy ’21, students in the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship (PSRF) who developed a syllabus with guest speakers and recommended readings related to the climate crisis.
“Many of us at Swarthmore are grappling with the same concerns and questions about the climate crisis,” says Murphy. “We wanted to create opportunities for community members to talk about these things, hear other thoughts, and then work to translate conversations into action.”
This year, Tomlinson and fellow PSRF participant Maya Tipton ’23 took the reins of the now-virtual Climate Essentials course with help from Murphy and Terrence Xiao ’20, a sustainability and engaged scholarship fellow in the Office of Sustainability.
Although the move to Zoom initially presented challenges, the virtual format allowed for double the number of participants of the pilot program; this year’s series had more than 100 registrants, consisting of students, staff, faculty, community members, and alumni.
“The virtual environment actually helped create a strong sense of community because it made the course accessible to people who normally wouldn’t be able to join,” says Tomlinson. “We had alumni from all over the country calling in and students in different parts of the world participating as well.”
Over six sessions, the workshop covered topics such as “Indigenous Environmental Justice,” “Climate Science and Policy,” and “Planning for the Future,” and featured such speakers as Indigenous activist Enei Begaye Peter of the Diné and Tohono O’odham nations. The broad range of topics was designed to help participants understand the all-encompassing nature of the climate crisis and intersectionality within.
A spring course is planned. “It’s important to continually emphasize the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and racial justice,” says Drake, one of the project’s mentors. “If you care about social justice issues, you also need to care about the climate crisis because they are one and the same in many ways.”
“Ultimately, the goal is to build a critical mass of community members who understand the crisis and its urgency,” Drake adds. “Hopefully, that awareness will influence the way they approach their lives and there will be many impacts, however small, that result.”
Translating knowledge into action was the focus of the final session, which provided participants with an opportunity to reflect on their own impacts. For example, climate activist Fran Putnam ’69 planned to educate herself further on environmental issues faced by Indigenous people, while others planned to get involved with local organizations such as Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.
Holding Climate Essentials during this unique time led several of its organizers to reflect on the similarities between COVID-19 and the climate emergency, and what can be achieved through collective responsibility.
“I believe both crises result in part from a widely held belief that we exploit the planet, animals, and others without significant consequences,” says Tipton. “Climate change and COVID show us that we are not separate from our environment and other people — in fact, we are all deeply interconnected.”
“Gone are the days where we imagine we cannot sacrifice some aspect of our daily lives for the good of the whole,” adds Maloney. “Hopefully, we can channel this energy to make similar sacrifices for the survival of the human species in the face of climate catastrophe.”
Ramiro Hernandez ’23 has always had a knack for writing.
“I remember being in fourth grade, and we had to take this state exam,” says Hernandez, of Hidalgo, Texas. “We had to write essays for it and whatnot. They graded us from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best. I remember I was the only kid in my class who got a 4. It was a big deal at the time.”
A decade later, Hernandez has been selected for the Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellowship, a program that provides funding, mentorship, and support for student journalists to report on global issues that are rarely covered in the national media. The fellowship is made possible by a three-year partnership between Swarthmore and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Hernandez’s writing is one of the things that set him apart for the fellowship.
“We were all moved by Ramiro’s writing samples,” says Katie Price, associate director of the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility and a member of the selection committee. “He writes in a way that stays with you; it is haunting and beautiful.”
Anya Slepyan ’22, the recipient of last year’s fellowship and a member of this year’s selection committee, agreed. “He was a really strong writer throughout his application,” she says. “He used very powerful language.”
This achievement should come as no surprise to a student like Hernandez, a QuestBridge Scholar, Richard Rubin Scholar, and 2020 recipient of Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership summer grant. Already holding postsecondary degrees in medical Spanish and interdisciplinary studies, he is now an honors student with a special major in peace & conflict studies, educational studies, and medical anthropology.
“We put forward multiple outstanding candidates, and we’re thrilled that the Pulitzer Center has chosen to recognize Ramiro Hernandez,” says Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center. “His brilliance and passion will be put to good use,”
This summer, Hernandez will be reporting from his hometown of Hidalgo, which is located just five minutes away from the Mexican border. Under the mentorship of Pulitzer Center grantee journalists and staff, he will cover the stories of immigrant veterans in the U.S. who are either undocumented or have troubles with immigration.
These veterans “serve in the armed forces with the promise of citizenship, either for themselves or for their loved ones,” Hernandez says. “And then after their contract ends, they’re either deported or the promise that they were given is not fulfilled.”
The topic is deeply personal for Hernandez.
“Many of the people I care about, including many friends and loved ones, experience issues with immigration,” Hernandez says. He hopes that his reporting with the Pulitzer Center will help to inform future immigration policy and legislation.
“I want to be able to bring these issues to a national spotlight, and the Pulitzer Center has a big platform,” says Hernandez, whose final project will be featured on the Pulitzer Center website and, with the help of the center, pitched to other news outlets.
“In making the final selection, we agreed that Ramiro not only had the facility to tell the story well, but also that he had an important story to tell,” says Price. “While we hear news about immigration and military operations on an almost-daily basis, Ramiro’s project will address these topics in a way that is unique, underreported, and intersectional.”
A number of major civil rights organizations, including The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the SNCC Legacy Project, and the Highlander Center, came together this month to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 4, 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which he for the first time publicly advocated for an end to the U.S. war in Vietnam. Dr. King was assassinated exactly one year later after delivering the speech. The nation-wide webinar, “Breaking the Silence: An Intergenerational Call for Unity” occurred on the anniversary of the speech and consisted of its public reading as well as a panelist discussion.
The event organizers also invited groups to host local readings of the King speech–a call readily taken up by the Swarthmore community. Professor Lee Smithey (Peace and Conflict Studies) in cooperation with Professor Edwin Mayorga (Educational Studies) coordinated Swarthmore College’s reading. The project included a full gamut of community voices, including students, faculty, administrators, alums, and more. The video recording of the college’s reading can be found below.
Cosponsors at Swarthmore College include: Educational Studies Department; Peace and Conflict Studies Program; Black Studies Program; Intercultural Center; Women’s Resource Center; The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility; Department of Sociology and Anthropology; TriCo Asian American Studies; Department of Religion; History Department; Beit Midrash; The Interfaith Center; Student Government Organization; ENLACE; Intercultural Center Interns; QuestBridge; Swarthmore Queer Union; Petey Greene Program.
This semester, professors Gardner and Crossan have been teaching a new course offering that lies at the intersection of Peace and Conflict Studies, Environmental Science, and Japanese history. From nuclear fallouts to natural disasters and the respective social movements they spawned, the class provides a comprehensive overview of the past and present traumas grappled with in Japanese society as well as avenues towards social change. Students will collaborate virtually with local community partners and peace activists on projects related to the studied topics. For students interested in taking this course, it is listed also for the Spring 2023 semester. The complete course description is quoted below:
“This course will explore the history, contemporary situation, and future possibilities regarding the interlinked realms of the environment, historical trauma, and social movements in Japan. Topics will include the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings and the subsequent peace and anti-nuclear movements, the environmental movement in Japan, and the “triple disaster” earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima and Northeastern Japan. We will also discuss how environmental issues intersect with other current social issues such as rural depopulation, an aging population, and gender and economic inequality, and study a variety of contemporary approaches to addressing these issues. Under the guidance of Lang Professor for Social Change Denise Crossan, we will study the theory and practice of social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for social change and explore applications of this model in Japan. In addition, throughout the semester we will engage with community partners in Japan, particularly in the Hiroshima area, through online exchanges and collaborative projects related to contemporary environmental and peace activism.”
On October 22, Professor Sa’ed Atshan, Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College, became an awardee of the Arab America Foundation’s 40 Under 40 initiative, meant to highlight the accomplishments of young Arab Americans across the country. The publication remarks, “each of the awardees has forged pathways in their profession and community. They have done stellar work to promote their Arab heritage and bring positive changes to those around them.”
The Foundation highlights both Atshan’s involvement in Palestinian, Quaker, and LGBT human rights activist organizations as well as his two recently published books, Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique (2020, Stanford University Press) and The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians (2020, Duke University Press). Queer Palestine tracks the rise and transnational expansion of the LGBTQ movement in Palestine and argues centrally for the linkage between struggles for Palestinian freedom and the struggle against homophobia. The Moral Triangle draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Berlin within its three titular communities to explore how German public policy and discourse is shaped by narratives of moral responsibility, the Holocaust, the Israel/Palestine conflict, and Germany’s recent welcoming of Middle Eastern refugees. Additionally, Atshan has self-designed two courses focusing on the Middle East at Swarthmore College, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Crisis Resolution in the Middle East, and has taught many more. Read his full accolade below.
“Sa’ed Atshan is based in Pennsylvania and originally from Palestine. He is a professor of peace and conflict studies at Swarthmore College, having previously served as a postdoctoral fellow in international studies at Brown University, and receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University. Mr. Atshan has published two books: Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique (2020, Stanford University Press) and The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians (2020, Duke University Press). Mr. Atshan has been recognized with numerous major grants and fellowships, and he has worked for a wide range of organizations, with a focus on public service. He has volunteered on the boards of major organizations and has also been significantly involved in the leadership of Palestinian, Quaker, and LGBTQ human rights activist groups. Much of his work with Arab-American communities has been devoted to mentoring and supporting youth with education and civic engagement initiatives.”
Allison Oman Lawi ’91 is director, ad interim, for the Nutrition Division at WFP at headquarters in Rome, while Andrea Stoutland ’83 is special assistant to the director of human resources. The WFP was recognized Oct. 9 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for its efforts to combat hunger and contribute to improving conditions for peace, and for leading in efforts to prevent the weaponization of hunger in war and conflict.
The WFP helps to save lives in emergencies, build prosperity, and support a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters, and the impact of climate change. In 2019, the organization provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who were victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. According to Executive Director David Beasley, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the WFP is recognition of the work of the agency’s staffers who, under dangerous and unstable conditions, bring food and assistance to hungry children, women and men across the world.
“It would be difficult to express what this means to me, but given my major at Swarthmore was a self-designed Peace Studies (Sociology, Anthropology and Religion) you might get an idea,” says Oman Lawli. Now living in Rome, she had been based at the regional bureau in Nairobi, Kenya, since 2014 where she was a senior regional nutrition advisor including programs on social protection, school feeding, and HIV.
“I always have believed that how we attempt to distance ourselves from the suffering of others is the measure of our dislocation with ourselves, and service to others is the only way to close that distance,” says Oman Lawi, whose thesis was on the political use of a food as a weapon of war in the Eritrea–Ethiopia conflict. “I have a beautiful job, I love the work that I do, and to have it recognized by the Nobel committee is more than I ever dreamt possible.”
Stoutland recently moved to Rome in her new role as special assistant to the director of human resources; WFP has over 19,000 employees worldwide. “Before Cairo I spent two years in Juba, South Sudan, heading emergency operations,” she says. “Yemen is one of WFP’s biggest and most complex operations, and the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes the work it does there, together with non-governmental organizations and local authorities, providing food in very challenging contexts.”
According to the WFP, climate shocks and the global pandemic are pushing millions more to the brink of starvation. They continue to work with government organizations and private sector partners who share core values of integrity, humanity and inclusion.
“Humanitarian work is so rewarding because you have this privilege of trying to right the wrongs and support people and do what you can to bring the world back into balance,” says Oman Lawli. “I am humbled by this work — being able to provide food or running nutrition programs for those that have suffered a shock or crisis — it reminds me that all of us are only one major shock away from needing help from someone else and I am genuinely grateful for an opportunity to do my part. It is heartbreaking to know anyone will go to bed hungry, and to know this is a reality for hundreds of millions of people around the world is devastating. So many things cause hunger; our behavior, our greed, our distancing from one another. I believe that working to end hunger can help bring peace in the world and to end conflict.”
Grace Dumdaw ’21 aspires to one day steal scenes as an actor on television or film. This summer, she got a glimpse behind those scenes through the Television Academy Foundation’s prestigious Summer Fellows Program.
Sponsored by the charitable arm of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences — best known as the organization behind the Emmy Awards — the program provides college students with exposure to the television production process. Although in-person internships were canceled this summer in response to COVID-19, Dumdaw and the other participants spent eight weeks attending online panels with TV executives, connecting virtually with agency representatives, and receiving guidance on interviewing and other professional skills.
As an alum of the program, Dumdaw — a double major in stage, screen, & new media and peace & conflict studies from Mandeville, La. — will also gain access to special networking opportunities as she builds her acting career.
“This has been an incredible fellowship for me,” says Dumdaw, who was a speaker during Swarthmore’s First Community Gathering earlier this month. “It got me in contact with actual professionals in the industry who are doing the work that I’d like to do. By hearing about their journey, I’ve learned a lot about what I want to do postgrad: work at an agency for at least a year because it’s a great place to start off if you want to get involved in entertainment.”
The fellowship also built upon the special major Dumdaw created with a film career in mind: stage, screen, & new media. By combining acting and performance classes from the Theater Department with production and technique courses from Film & Media Studies, Dumdaw says, she is able to receive the training that a large film school would afford while studying at a small liberal arts college.
Her goal is to become an actor, writer, director, and producer, as it’s important in the entertainment industry to be well-rounded, Dumdaw says. Thanks to this summer’s program, she’s well on her way.
“A lot of the knowledge that I gained from the internship, I’ve applied to my own acting career — and I actually got signed to two agencies over the summer,” she says. “It gave me a deeper understanding of what’s really going on.”