Visiting Global Scholar Alfred Babo Spearheads Global Lecture Series

Kristen de Lancey '15

Contributing Writer

In 2011, facing threats during the civil war launched by a disputed election in 2010 in his home country of the Ivory Coast, Alfred Babo appealed to Scholars at Risk (SAR) to help him and his family. In January 2012, they arrived in Northampton, where Babo began teaching at Smith College. Three years later, Babo remains a Visiting Global Scholar at Smith, where he is now leading this semester’s Global Lecture Series on a topic informed by his own experience: “Security, Immigration, Forced Displacement, Refugees and Development.” Babo said the series is “an opportunity for scholars to discuss a global issue and to reinforce collaboration between the Lewis Global Studies Center, the Center for Community Collaborations, students, faculty and community members.”

The collaboration kicked off in January with the conference “Forced Displacement and the Challenges of Glocal (Global and Local) Citizenship.” At the day-long event, students and faculty had the opportunity to connect with members from organizations like Bridges, Inc., the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, the Multicultural Resource Center of Massachusetts and many others.  According to Babo, “That was the way to bring everything together and to talk about the lecture series to community partners.”

Since the conference, the lecture series has moved forward with two events. On Feb. 12, there was a lecture by government professor, Greg White, on “Forced Displacement and Refugees: New Forms in the Global World, New Challenges, New Responses.”

“The goal of this lecture,” Babo said, “was to make a connection between past conversations about immigration and refugees at Smith and what the new challenges and responses are.”

White’s discussion stressed the new issue of environmental refugees, or people who are displaced due to environmental factors. The lecture set the stage for future conversations, including a workshop also held in February, “Being a Student and Immigrant at Smith College: Adapting to Administrative, Cultural, Religious and Weather Differences.” Led by Giovanna Bellesia, Italian language and literature professor, and Caitlin Szymkowicz, associate dean of international students and scholars, the event brought together a group of international and domestic students to discuss some of the challenges they experience at Smith and how the college can adapt. “It was great to have two facilitators who know about the technical aspects of immigration and to get students speaking to one another,” Babo said.

With the success of these first two events, Babo is now focused on the next step in the series, a panel slated for March 9 entitled “Immigration Policies and Local Answers to a Global Issue, Resettlement Experiences and Challenges of Displaced People.”

“It’s hard with so many other events going on around campus,” Babo said, “but things are going well.” The panel will bring together two of Smith’s community partners, namely Susannah Crolius of the Western Massachusetts Refugee and Immigrant Consortium and Jeff Napolitano of the American Friends Service Committee of Western Mass.

Babo’s goals for the series extend even beyond these conversations. “The hope is that the series should provide material for the Lewis Center to work with the CCC and College Hall to see if there is any possibility for a humanities lab focused on refugees at Smith College,” Babo said. His plan for the humanities lab is threefold: courses for the employees of our community partners, research and community engagement opportunities for students and faculty interested in forced displacement and refugees and thematic seminars within the lab. Babo believes that, with the humanities lab, “Smith College can become a leader on immigration and refugee issues.”

Babo also stressed that the issues the series deals with, which the humanities lab would address if it comes to fruition, are close to home. “There is an important community of refugees in Springfield,” Babo said. The surrounding area is home to refugees from Somalia, Uganda and Bhutan, among others, not to mention the diversity of the community at Smith itself. According to Babo, “Immigration is a global issue,” and one we need to consider from multiple perspectives.

“Should we think of forced displacement as a global issue, a local issue or both?” Babo asked. “And how will that determine our response?” As the series continues to unfold, the hope is to begin providing answers to these complicated questions. Accordingly, one senior student is conducting a special studies with Babo on the change of responsibilities for refugee women in Springfield within the lecture series program.

The series continues this month with the aforementioned panel on March 9 at 4:30 p.m. in the Lewis Global Studies Center. The next event will be a discussion on “Migration, Forced Migration and Displacement in South Africa” with Katherine Newman, professor of sociology and provost of UMass Amherst, on March 25 at 4:30 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room. The series ends on April 10 with a lecture by David Brotherton, chairman and professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, focusing on “Forced Displacement, Refugees and Development. “