Social Issues


  • Afghanistan
    Women This Week: Afghan Women Forced to Leave School Days Before Exams
    Welcome to “Women Around the World: This Week,” a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post covers December 17 to December 23.
  • Education
    Higher Education Webinar: Affirmative Action
    Mike Hoa Nguyen, assistant professor of education, faculty affiliate at the Institute for Human Development and Social Change, and faculty affiliate at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University, leads the conversation on affirmative action. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, Vice President of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We are delighted to have Mike Hoa Nguyen with us to discuss affirmative action. Dr. Nguyen is assistant professor of education at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He’s also a faculty affiliate at NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools and a faculty affiliate at NYU’s Institute for Human Development and Social Change. Additionally, Dr. Nguyen is a principal investigator of the Minority Serving Institutions Data Project. And prior to coming to NYU he was at the University of Denver. He has extensive professional experience in the federal government and has managed multiple complex, long-term intergovernmental projects and initiatives, focusing on postsecondary education and the judiciary and has published his work widely, including in Educational Researcher, The Journal of Higher Education, and The Review of Higher Education. So Mike, thanks very much for being with us today to talk about affirmative action. Could you give us an overview of where we are, the history of affirmative action, where we are now, and examples of criteria that are used by different institutions? NGUYEN: Well, hello. And thank you so much, Irina. And also thank you to the Council on Foreign Relations for having me here today. It’s a real honor. And thank you to many of you who are joining us today out of your busy schedules. I’m sure that many of you have been following the news for Harvard and UNC. And, of course, those cases were just heard at the Supreme Court about a month ago, on Halloween. And so today thank you for those questions. I’d love to be able to spend a little bit of time talking about the history of sort of what led us to this point. I also recognize that many joining us are also experts on this topic. So I really look forward to the conversation after my initial remarks. And so affirmative action, I think, as Philip Rubio has written, comes from centuries-old English legal concept of equity, right, or the administration of justice according to what is fair in a particular situation, as opposed to rigidly following a set of rules. It’s defined by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1977 as a term that is a broad—a term, in a broad sense, that encompasses any measure beyond a simple termination of discriminatory practice adopted to correct for past or present discrimination or to prevent discrimination from recurring in the future. Academics have defined affirmative action simply as something more than passive nondiscrimination, right. It means various organizations must act positively, affirmatively, and aggressively to remove all barriers, however informal or subtle, that prevent access by minorities and women to their rightful places in the employment and educational institutions of the United States. And certainly one of the earliest appearances of this term, affirmative action, in government documents came when President Kennedy, in his 1961 executive order, where he wrote that the mandate stated that government contractors, specifically those that were receiving federal dollars to, quote, take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and employees are treated during employment without regard of their race, creed, color, or national origin. Certainly President Kennedy created a committee on equal employment opportunity to make recommendations for this. And then later on President Johnson later expressed—I’m sorry—expanded on President Kennedy’s approach to take a sort of more active antiracist posture, which he signaled in a commencement speech at Howard University. In the decades following, of course, political-legal attacks have rolled back on how affirmative action can be implemented and for what purposes. So in admissions practices at U.S. colleges and universities today, really they can only consider race as one of many factors through a holistic process or holistic practices if so-called race-neutral approaches to admissions policies have fallen short in allowing for a campus to enroll a racially diverse class in order to achieve or reap the benefits of diversity, the educational benefits of diversity. Federal case law established by the courts have affirmed and reaffirmed that colleges may only consider race as one of many factors for the purposes of obtaining the educational benefits in diversity. So starting with the Bakke decision in the late 1970s, the Court limited the consideration of race in admissions and replaced the rationale for the use of race, specifically the rationale which was addressing historic and ongoing racism or systemic and racial oppression, instead in favor of the diversity rationale. So, in other words, if a college or university wishes to use race in their admissions, they can only do so with the intention of enhancing the educational benefits of all students. It may not legally use race as a part of their admissions process for the purpose of acknowledging historical or contemporary racism as barriers to equity in college access. If we fast-forward to something more recent, the two cases out of Michigan, the Grutter and Gratz case, what we saw there were really—significant part of the discussions of these two cases were really informed and conversations really about the educational benefits of diversity. That was really a key aspect of those cases. Lawsuits challenging the use of race in college admissions after those two cases now can sort of be traced to Edward Blum, a conservative activist, and his organization, Students for Fair Admission, or SFFA. So Blum has really dedicated his life to establishing what he calls a colorblind American society by filing lawsuits with the goal of dismantling laws and policies seeking to advance racial justice. This includes redistricting, voting rights, and, of course, affirmative action. So in 2000—in the 2000s, he recruited Abigail Fisher to challenge the University of Texas in their admissions program. The Court, the Supreme Court, ultimately ruled in favor of Texas in the second Fisher case—Fisher II, as we call it. And so that’s actually where we saw Ed Blum alter his tactics. In this case he established SFFA, where he then purposefully recruited Asian Americans as plaintiffs in order to sue Harvard and UNC. So the cases now at Harvard—are now certainly at the Supreme Court. But one sort of less-known case that hasn’t got a whole lot of attention, actually, was—that was sort of on the parallel track, actually originated from the U.S. Department of Justice more recently, during the Trump administration, which launched an investigation into Yale’s admissions practices, which also focus on Asian Americans. And this was around 2018, so not too long ago. And certainly Asian Americans have been engaged in affirmative action debate since the 1970s. But these lawsuits have really placed them front and center in sort of our national debate. And so I think it’s really important to also note that while empirical research demonstrates and shows that the majority of Asian Americans are actually in support of affirmative action, a very vocal minority of Asian Americans are certainly opposed to race-conscious admissions and are part of these lawsuit efforts. But interestingly enough, they’ve received a large and disproportionate share of media attention and sort of—I stress this only because I think popular press and media have done a not-so-great job at reporting on this. And their framing, I think, sometimes relies on old stereotypes, harmful stereotypes, about Asian Americans, and written in a way that starts with an assumption that all Asian Americans are opposed to affirmative action when, again, empirical research and national polls show that that’s certainly not the case, right, and much more complex than that. But anyway, so back to what I was saying earlier, in sort of the waning months of the Trump administration the Department of Justice used those investigations into Yale to file a lawsuit charging that Yale in its admissions practices discriminates against Asian Americans. This lawsuit, the DOJ lawsuit, was dropped in February of 2021 when President Biden took office. So in response to that, SFFA submitted its own lawsuit to Yale based upon similar lines of reasoning. So I think what’s—why bring this up? One, because it doesn’t get a lot of attention. But two, I think it’s a really interesting and curious example. So in the Yale case, as well as in the previous DOJ complaint, Ed Blum notes specifically that they exclude Cambodian Americans, Hmong Americans, Laotian Americans, and Vietnamese Americans from the lawsuit, and thus from his definition of what and who counts as Asian American. I think this intentional exclusion of specific Southeast Asian American groups in Yale, but including them in Harvard, is a really interesting and curious note. I’ve written in the past that, sort of at the practical level, it’s a bit—it’s not a bit—it’s a lot misleading. It’s manipulative and advances a bit of a false narrative about Asian Americans. And I think it engages in what we call sort of a racial project to overtly reclassify the Asian American racial category, relying again on old stereotypes about Asian American academic achievement. But it also sort of counters state-based racial and ethnic classifications used by the Census Bureau, used by the Department of Education, used by OMB, right. It does not consider how Southeast Asian Americans have been and are racialized, as well as how they’ve built pan-ethnic Asian American coalitions along within and with other Asian American subgroups. So the implications of this sort of intentional racialized action, I think, are threefold. First, this process, sort of trying to redefine who is Asian American and who isn’t, demonstrates that SFFA cannot effectively argue that race-conscious admissions harms Asian Americans. They wouldn’t be excluded if that was the case. Second, it illustrates that Ed Blum and his crusade for sort of race—not using race in college admissions is actually really not focused on advancing justice for Asian Americans, as he claims. And then finally, I think that this maneuver, if realized, will really disenfranchise educational access and opportunity for many Asian Americans, including Southeast Asian Americans and other communities of color. Of course, this case hasn’t received a lot of attention, given that we just heard from Harvard and UNC at the Supreme Court about a month ago. But I think it provides some really important considerations regarding the upcoming Supreme Court decision. Nonetheless the decision for Harvard and UNC, we’re all sort of on pins and needles until we hear about it in spring and summer. And I was there in Washington for it, and so what I’d actually like to do is actually share some interesting notes and items that sort of struck out to me during the oral arguments. So I think in both cases we heard the justices ask many questions regarding the twenty-five-year sunset of using race in college admissions, right, something that Justice O’Connor wrote in the Michigan case. I think the solicitor general, Solicitor General Prelogar’s response at the conclusion of the case was really insightful. She said—and I’m sort of paraphrasing here about why we—in addressing some of the questions about that twenty-five-year sunset, she basically said that society hasn’t made enough progress yet. The arc of progress is slower than what the Grutter court had imagined. And so we just suddenly don’t hit 2028—that’s twenty-five years from the decision—and then, snap, race is not used in college admissions anymore. There was also a lot of discussion regarding proxy approaches to so-called race-neutral admissions, right, yet still being able to maintain some or similar levels of racial diversity. I think what we know from a lot of empirical research out there is that there’s really no good proxy variables for race. Certainly Texas has its 10 percent plan, which really only works to a certain extent and does not actually work well for, say, private schools that draw students from across all fifty states and the territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific. And again, as the solicitor general stated, it doesn’t work well for the service academies either, for really similar reasons. I do think the line of questioning from the chief justice again related to what sounded like a carveout exemption for our U.S. military schools, our service academies. What’s really interesting, and might be of actually specific interest for the CFR community, of course, our service academies practice affirmative action and are in support of it. And this was also argued in an amicus brief written by retired generals and admirals. And they argued that race-conscious admissions is necessary to build a diverse officer corps at both the service academies as well as ROTC programs at various universities across the country, which, in their words, they say builds a more cohesive, collaborative, and effective fighting unit, especially, quote, given recent international conflicts and humanitarian crises which require our military to perform civil functions and call for heightened cultural awareness and sensitivity in religious issues. And so, to a certain extent, I think that same line of logic can also be extended to, for example, our diplomatic corps, and certainly many corporations. We also saw briefs from the field of medicine, from science and research, have all written in support of race-conscious admissions, along the same sort of pipeline issues as their companies and organizations. And they argue that their work benefits from a highly educated, diverse workforce. But what was interesting, was that there wasn’t much discussion about Asian Americans. It was only brought up sort of a handful of times, despite the fact that certainly that’s sort of the origin story of the sets of lawsuits. And perhaps—to me perhaps this is simply an indication that the case was really never about Asian Americans from the beginning. And certainly the finding from the district court shows that Asian Americans are not discriminated in this process at Harvard. And so we will all sort of see how the Court rules next year, if they uphold precedent or not, and if they do not, how narrow or how broad they will go. Justice Barrett did have an interesting question in the UNC part of the case about affinity groups and affinity housing on campus. So, for example, my undergraduate alma mater, UC Berkeley, has this for several groups. They have affinity housing for Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, women in STEM, the LGBTQ+ community, Latinx students, among many, many others, actually. So I think a possible area of concern is if they go broad, will we see a ban on these types of race-based practices on campus? Would that impact sort of thinking about recruitment efforts? So these so-called race-neutral approaches, sort of recruitment and outreach services for particular communities. Or would that impact something like HBCUs and tribal colleges, HSIs and AANAPISIs, or other MSIs? How does that all fit in, right? I think that line of questioning sort of sparked a bit of concern from folks and my colleagues. But I think, though, in conversation, we don’t think the Court has really any appetite to go that far. And I’m certainly inclined to agree. But end of the day, that line of questioning was rather curious. And so, with that, I thank you for letting me share some of my thinking and about what’s going on. And I would really love to be able to engage in conversation with all of you. FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you so much. And we’d love to hear now from you all questions and comments, and if you could share how things are happening on your campuses. Please raise—click on the raised-hand icon on your screen to ask a question. If you’re on an iPad or tablet, you can click the More button to access the raised-hand feature. I’ll call on you, and then accept the unmute prompt, state your name and affiliation, followed by your question. You can also submit a written question in the Q&A box or vote for questions that have been written there. And if you do write your question, it would be great if you could write who you are. I’m going to go first to a raised hand, Morton Holbrook. And there you go. Q: I’m there, yeah. Morton Holbrook from Kentucky Wesleyan College in Kentucky. Thanks, Professor Nguyen. Sort of a two-part question here. One is, how do you reconcile apparent public support for affirmative action with the number of states, I think ten or twelve states, that have banned affirmative action? Are their legislators just out of touch with their people, or what? And the second part is, a recent article in the Washington Post about UC Berkeley’s experience, where the number of African American students simply plummeted down to about 3 percent, and at the same time that campus is still very diverse in other respects. Have you made a study of all the states that have banned affirmative action? Have they all had that same result with regard to African Americans? Or where does that stand? Thank you. NGUYEN: Thank you. Thank you for the really excellent question. I think it’s about—I think you’re right—around nine, ten or so states that have banned affirmative action. You know, I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m really just familiar with the bans that were instituted both in California and in Michigan, and those were through state referendums, right, and not necessarily legislature. So in this case, this is the people voting for it. And so I think that’s a really tough nut to crack about how do you reconcile these bans at the state level versus sort of what we see at the national level. And so I think this is sort of the big challenge that advocates for racial equity are facing in places like California. They actually tried to repeal this in California recently, in the last decade. And again, that failed. And so I think part of the issue here is there’s a whole lot of misinformation out there. I think that’s one key issue. I sort of said in my opening remarks there that, at least in some of the popular media pieces today about these cases, the way Asian Americans are sort of understood and written about is really not aligned with a lot of the rich empirical research out there that shows quite the contrary, as well as sort of historical research that shows quite the contrary. And so I think there’s a lot of public opinion being formulated as well as, again, just sort of misinformation about the topic that might be leading folks to think one way or another. To your second question about UC Berkeley, my alma mater, you’re right. After that Prop 209 ban, you saw a huge decline in undergraduate enrollment, specifically of African American students. And so Berkeley has been trying every which way to figure out a race—a so-called race-neutral approach in order to increase those numbers. And I think they are trying to—they are really trying to figure it out. And I think that’s why UC Berkeley, UCLA, other institutions submitted amicus briefs in support of Harvard, in support of UNC, because they know that there are not a lot—when you can’t use race, that’s a result that you end up with. And that’s because there are just not good proxy variables for race. SES or economic status is often talked about a lot. That again isn’t a good variable. Geography can—to a certain extent can be used. All these can sort of certainly be used in some combination. But again, they do not serve well as proxy variables. And I think that’s why we see those numbers at Berkeley. And I think that’s why Berkeley was so invested in this case and why all those campus leaders submitted amicus briefs in support of Harvard and UNC. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next written question or first written question from Darko Spasevski, who’s at the University of Skopje, North Macedonia: Do you think that in order to have successful affirmative actions in the higher education this process should be followed by affirmative actions in the workplace? Are the benefits—if the affirmative actions are only promoted at the level of higher education but are not at the same time continuing at the workplace? I guess it would be the opposite. Is it—you know, basically, should affirmative action be promoted in the workplace as well— NGUYEN: Yeah, I think— FASKIANOS: —once you get past the higher education? NGUYEN: Got it. Yeah, I think I understand that question. Actually, this was something that came up during this recent Supreme Court case. Again, the solicitor general was talking about specifically the briefs from the retired generals and admirals, as well as from various executives and corporations, talking about how affirmative action is so important at the university level because then it helps build a pipeline to recruit folks to work at those organizations or serve in the military, as well as that it trains all students, right, and lets them access and achieve the benefits of diversity and use that in their future employment, which research from areas of management show that that increases work productivity. It increases their bottom line, et cetera, et cetera. And so actually, in that argument, the—I think it was Justice Alito that asked, are you now arguing for this in the private sector, in corporations? And the solicitor general quickly said no, no. The context of this lawsuit is specifically or the position of the United States is specifically just focused here on higher education. And I think that certainly is relevant for this conversation today, as well as sort of my own area of expertise. But I think my colleagues in the areas of management and a lot of that work shows, I think, similar types of results that, when you have diverse workforces, when you have folks who can reap the benefits of diversity interactions, interracial interactions, then there are certainly a lot of benefits that come from that, in addition to creativity, work efficiency, so many things. And so, again, I’m not here to sort of put a position down regarding affirmative action in professional settings, only because that’s not my area of expertise. But certainly other areas of research have pointed in similar directions as what’s sort of shown in the higher-education literature. FASKIANOS: (Off mic) Renteln? And let’s see if you can unmute yourself. If you click on the unmute prompt, you should be able to ask your question. Not working? Maybe not. OK, so I will read it. So— Q: Is it working now? FASKIANOS: It is, Alison. Go ahead. Q: Thank you. I’m sorry. It’s just usually it shows me when I’m teaching. Thank you for a really interesting, incisive analysis; really enjoyed it. I wanted to ask about whether it’s realistic to be able to implement policies that are, quote, race-neutral, unquote, given that people’s surnames convey sometimes identities, ethnic and religious identities, and also activities that people participated in in professional associations. And when people have references or letters of recommendation, information about background comes out. So I’m wondering if you think that this debate really reflects a kind of polarization, a kind of symbolitics, and whether, while some worry about the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decisions, this is really something that’s more symbolic than something that could actually be implemented if the universities continue to be committed to affirmative action. NGUYEN: Really great question. Thank you so much for asking it. This was actually a big chunk of the conversation during oral arguments for both at UNC and both at Harvard, right. The justices were asking, so how do you—if you don’t—and this was sort of the whole part about when they were talking about checking the box, checking sort of your racial category during the application process. And so they asked, if you get rid of that, what happens when students write about their experiences in their personal statements or, as you said, recommenders in their letters in about that? And so this was where it got really, really—I think the lawyers had a really hard time disentangling it, because for people of color, certainly a lot of their experiences, their racialized experiences, are inextricably linked to their race and their identity. And so removing that is, at an operationalized level, pretty hard to do and pretty impossible, right. So they actually had some interesting examples, like one—and so they’re asking hypotheticals. Both lawyers—both the justices on all the various spectrum of the Court were asking sort of pointed questions. Where I think one justice asked, so can you talk about—can you talk about your family’s experiences, particularly if your ancestors were slaves in the United States? And so the lawyers—this is the lawyer for SFFA saying that would not—we cannot use that. They cannot be used in admissions, because that is linked to their race. But can you—so another justice asked, can you talk about if, you know, your family immigrated to the United States? Can you—how do you talk about that? Can you talk about that? And the lawyers said, well, that would be permissible then, because that doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to a racial group or a racial category. So again, it’s very—I think what they were trying to tease out was how do you—what do you actually—what would actually be the way to restrict that, right? And so I guess, depending on how the justices decide this case, my assumption is or my hope is, depending on whatever way they go, they’re going to—they will, one way or another, define or sort of place limits if they do end up removing the use of race. But I completely agree with you. Operationally, that’s not an easy thing to do, right? And when do you decide what fits and what doesn’t fit? And that will be the—that will be a big, big struggle I think universities will face if the courts ban the use of race in college admissions. FASKIANOS: Let me just add that Alison Dundes Renteln is a professor of political science at the University of Southern California. So I’m going to go to the next written question, from Clemente Abrokwaa at Penn State University: Do you think affirmative action should be redefined to reflect current social-demographic groups and needs? NGUYEN: Oh, that’s such a fun question, and particularly for someone who studies race and racial formation in the United States. And so I—you know, this is—this is an interesting one. I think—I think sort of the way we think about—at least folks in my profession think about race versus sort of the way—the way it’s currently accounted for in—by state-based classifications/definitions, those tend to be a little bit behind, right? That’s normal and natural. But I think what we’ve seen in the United States over time is race has—or, racial classifications and categories have changed over time and continue to evolve, right? The Census—the Census Bureau has an advisory group to help them think through this when they collect this data. And so—and so I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have a good answer for you, actually. But I think—I think that certainly, given the fact that racial categories do shift and change over time and the meaning ascribed to them, we certainly need to take a—if we continue using approaches for—race- or ethnic-based approaches in college admissions, that’s something that absolutely needs to be considered, right? But at the same time, it also means, as we think about sort of the future and what does that look like—and maybe, for example, here we’re talking about folks who are—who identify as mixed race. But at the same time, we need to look historically, too, right? So we don’t want to—the historical definitions and the way people would self-identify historically. And so I think—I think, certainly, the answer, then, would be—would be both, right? But what a fun question. Thanks for that question. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the moderator prerogative here and ask you about: How does affirmative action in higher education in the United States relate to, you know, relations abroad? NGUYEN: Yeah. Well— FASKIANOS: Have you looked at that connection? NGUYEN: Sure. I think—I think that—I think that’s really, really interesting. So something that we wrote in our amicus brief particularly regarding—it was sort of in response to SFFA’s brief and their claim, which was about sort of why Asian Americans here were so exceptional in their—in their academic achievements. I think that’s a—tends to be a big stereotype, model minority stereotype. That is how Asian Americans are racialized. So one thing that we sort of wrote in our brief was this actually is really connected to a certain extent, right—for some Asian American groups in the United States, that’s linked to U.S. foreign policy and U.S. immigration policy about who from Asia is allowed to immigrate to the United States, what their sort of educational background and requirements are. And so I think when we think about the arguments being made in this lawsuit and the way Asian Americans are discussed, certainly one key aspect there is certainly connected to historic U.S. foreign policy, particularly around—as well as immigration policy, particularly around the 1965 Immigration Act. So certainly they are connected and they’re linked. And something that we—that I wish more people could—more people would read our brief, I guess, and get a good understanding of, sort of to add to the complexity of this lawsuit. FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go back to Morton Holbrook. Q: Yes. Still here at Kentucky Wesleyan College. Speaking of amicus briefs, what do you think of the Catholic college brief from Georgetown University? Here we have a Court that’s been very partial towards religious beliefs, and they’re arguing that their religious beliefs requires them to seek diversity in college admissions. How do you think they’ll fare in that argument? NGUYEN: Yeah. This was also brought up in—during oral arguments. I can’t remember if it was during the UNC part or the Harvard part. And I’ll be completely honest with you, I haven’t read that brief yet. There’s just so many and I wasn’t able to read them all. But this was a really interesting—really interesting point that was sort of raised in the courts. And I don’t—I don’t—I don’t have a good answer for you, to be completely honest. I’m not sure how they’re going to, particularly given that these—that this Court seems to be very much in favor of religious liberty, right, how they would account for that amicus brief from the Catholic institutions. And so that will be an interesting one to watch and to see—to see how it’s framed, and certainly it would be interesting if they played an outsized role in the justices’ decision-making here. But great question. Great point to raise and something I’ll add to my reading list for this weekend. FASKIANOS: So Alison Renteln came back with a question following on mine: Why are numerical quotas acceptable in other countries like India but not in the United States? NGUYEN: Yeah. Great, great question there. You know, also in other places like in Brazil. And so we, in fact, used to use numerical quotas before the Bakke decision. It was the Bakke decision, University of California v. Bakke, that eliminated the use of racial quotas, also eliminated the use of what I said earlier about sort of the rationales for why we can practice race-conscious admissions, which was it cannot be used to address historic racism or ongoing racism. In fact, the only rationale for why we can use affirmative action today as a—as a factor of many factors, is in order to—for universities to build campus environments—diverse campus environments of which there are benefits to diversity, the educational benefits of diversity that flows for all students. And so, yeah, it was the—it was the Supreme Court in the late 1970s that restricted the use of quotas among many other—many other rationales for the practice of race-conscious admissions. Thank you for that question. FASKIANOS: Great. And I’m going to go to next to raised hand from Emily Drew. Q: Great. Thank you. I’m listening in from Oregon, where I’m a sociologist. Thank you for all of these smart comments. My question is a little bit thinking out loud. What do you think about—it feels like there are some perils and dangers, but I’m hoping you’ll reframe that for me, of some racialized groups like indigenous people saying, well, we’re not a race anyway—we’re tribes, we’re nations—so that they’re not subject to the ban on race-conscious practices, which, it’s true, they’re a tribe. They’re also a racialized group. And so I’m struggling with groups kind of finding a political way around the ban or the potential ban that’s coming, but then where does that leave us in terms of, you know, each group, like, take care of your own kind of thing? Can you just react a little bit to that? NGUYEN: Yeah. Thanks for that really wonderful question. Fascinating point about, yeah, the way to say: We’re not a racial group. We’re sovereign nations or sovereign tribes. I think what we’re going to see, depending on how the courts go, are folks trying—schools potentially trying a whole host of different approaches to increase diversity on their campuses if they’re not allowed to use some of these racial categories like they’ve been doing already, in a holistic approach. And so, yeah, that might be a fascinating way for indigenous communities to advance forward. I will say, though, there was one point, again, in the—during oral arguments where they started talking about sort of generational connections to racial categories. And so they’re saying if it’s my grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents, right, so sort of talking almost about, like—at least the way I interpreted it, as sort of thinking about connecting one to a race via blood quantum. And so when does that—when does that expire, right? And so is it—is it—if you’re one-sixteenth Native American, is that—does that count? So there was a short line of questioning about that, and I think the—I think the lawyer tried to draw a line in the sand about, like, at what point do you not go—what point does it count and when does it not count. And I think that’s actually a bit of a misstep, primarily because that should be determined by the sovereign nation, by the tribe, about who gets to identify as that—as a member of that nation or that tribe and how they—I think—you know, I think, talking to indigenous scholars, they would say it’s about how you engage in and how you live in it, rather than—rather than if it’s just a percentage. So, again, those will be the tensions, I think, that will—that already exist, I should say, regardless of the Court decision. But a fascinating point about states sort of exercising indigenous law there to see if that would be a way to counter that. Certainly, I should—I should have said at the top of this I’m not trained as a lawyer. And so I have no idea how that would be sort of litigated out, but certainly I imagine all different entities will find ways to move through this without—in various legal fashions. And I was talking to a colleague earlier today about this and he said something about at the end of the day this might be something that, if Congress decided to take up, they may—this would be an opportunity for Congress to take up, to maybe develop a narrow path for institutions. But certainly it’s—the courts seem to be the favored way for us to talk about affirmative action. FASKIANOS: There’s a written question from John Francis, who is a research professor of political science at the University of Utah: If the Court were to strike down affirmative action, would state universities give much more attention to geographic recruitment within their respective states and encourage private foundations to raise scholarship funds to support students of color who live in those areas? NGUYEN: Great, great question there. And I think that would be one of many things that universities are doing. We’re seeing schools where the states have banned affirmative action do things like this, in Michigan and certainly in California. But to a certain extent, it actually doesn’t work—I guess in California’s context—that well. I think, if I’m not mistaken, the head of admissions for UC Berkeley said in one of many panels—he’s wonderful, by the way—on one of many panels, like, that doesn’t work very well in the California context because only so many schools have sort of that large concentration of African American students and for them to sort of go there and recruit out of that. So it’s not a—the sort of geographic distribution is not so easy and clean cut as—I think as one would normally perceive. And so it actually develops a big, big challenge for state institutions, particularly state flagship institutions, in particular geographic contexts. Now, I don’t know if that’s the case, say, in other parts of the country. But certainly within the UC system, that seems to be a prevailing argument. And I think more than ever now, everyone has been looking to the UC system for insight on what they—on how to approach this if the courts decide next year to ban the use of race. I should also admit that—or, not admit, but proudly declare that I’m a product of the UC system. All of my postsecondary education is from those schools. And so I know that this has been a constant and ongoing conversation within the UC system, and I imagine that will be the case for schools both public and private across the country. But I think part of that calculation then requires institutions to think about not just from private donors, but really from state legislatures as well as the institutions themselves have to really think about how they want to dedicate resources to achieving diversity if they don’t—if they’re unable to use race. I think a tremendous amount of resources. So, to a certain extent, it’s going to make institutions put their money where their mouth is. And so we’ll see if that—this will all be interesting areas to investigate, depending on how the courts decide come next year. FASKIANOS: There’s a raised hand or there was a raised hand from Jeff Goldsmith. I don’t know if you still have a question. Q: Yeah. So I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how I might want to pose this question, but I was struck by—sorry, this is Jeff Goldsmith from Columbia University. I was struck by the line of questioning that you mentioned from Justice Barrett about affinity housing and your thoughts about how narrow or far-reaching a decision striking down affirmative action might be. And I guess it seems like there is the potential for at least some gray area. And you know, we run things like summer research programs that are intended to bolster diversity. There are in some cases—you just sort of mentioned the scholarship opportunities focused on increasing the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds. And I guess I’m just sort of curious if you have any speculation about how narrow or far-reaching a decision might be. NGUYEN: Thanks for that question. Yeah. So I think this was—we—prior to the—to oral arguments, people had sort of talked about this a little bit. Would this be consequential? And I—in fact, the day before—the day before oral arguments, I was on a different panel and I sort of brought this up. And actually, a federal judge in the audience came up to me afterwards and said, you know, I don’t think the Court’s got a lot of appetite for that. And I said, hey, I completely agree with you, but certainly, you know, we’ve—in recent times we’ve seen the Court do more interesting things, I guess, if you’ll—if I can use a euphemism. And so—and so, it almost feels like everything’s on the table, right? But I think, generally speaking, I’m inclined to agree that if the courts strike down race-conscious admissions, they will do it in a very narrow and highly-tailored way. That was my feeling going in. That was my feeling on October 30, right? Then, on Halloween—October 31—while listening to the—to the oral arguments, you had that very short exchange between Justice Barrett, specifically during the UNC case, ask about affinity groups and affinity housing, and it felt like it sort of came out of left field. And not—and so I think that raised some curiosity for all of us about what—about why that was a line of questioning. But nonetheless, I think at least my—I’ve never been a gambling person, but if I were I would say that if they do strike it down that I think the justices wholesale don’t—I don’t think they would have a large appetite to do something so broad and sweeping like that. At least that’s my hope, if that’s the direction we’re moving in. But I guess that’s why I said earlier that we’re sort of all on pins and needles about that. And if that is struck down, then I think that’s got a lot of consequences for scholarships, recruitment programs, summer bridge programs, potentially minority-serving institutions, and all of the above. So, yeah, I—again, it seems like that’s a big reshaping of postsecondary education, not just in admissions but sort of the way they operate overall. And I don’t know if that would happen so quickly overnight like that. But that, at least, is my hope. FASKIANOS: (Off mic.) There you go. Q: (Laughs.) Thank you so much for your talk. Clemente Abrokwaa from Penn State University. And my question is, right now there is a push for diversity, equity, and inclusion in many areas. How is that different from affirmative action? NGUYEN: Well, great question. And actually, that’s a really difficult one for me to answer only because I think if we were to go and ask ten people on the street what did we mean by diversity, equity, and inclusion, everyone would give you sort of a very different and potentially narrow or a very broad definition of what it means, right? But I think with respect to affirmative action, particularly in a higher-education context, it is specifically about college admissions, specifically about admissions and how do you review college admissions. And in this case here, there is a very narrow way in which it can—it can be used for race—in this case for race, that it’s got to be narrowly tailored, that it can only be a factor among a factor in a broad holistic approach, that you can’t use quotas, that it can’t be based on rectifying previous or historical racism, and that the only utility for it is that it is used to create learning environments where there are educational benefits that flow from diversity and the interactions of diversity. Versus, I think, broader conversations about DEI, while of course centered on admissions, right, which is sort of one of many dimensions in which you achieve DEI, right? We like to think that—and I’m going to be sort of citing a scholar, Sylvia Hurtado, out of UCLA, who argues that, admissions help contribute to one dimension, which is the composition of a university, the sort of just overall demographics and numbers of that university. But there are many other dimensions that are important in order to create learning environments in which we can achieve DEI-related issues. That means that we have to look at the institution and the way it’s acted historically and contemporarily. We have to look at behavioral interactions between people on a university. There are psychological dimensions, among many others. And so that’s how I think about it. I think that’s how at least my area of scholarship and in our academic discipline we think about it and for folks who study education think about it. And so hopefully that answers your question. And, yeah, hopefully that answers your question. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next question from Alison Renteln: What policies appear to be the best practices to increase diversity at universities, including disability? And what are the best practices from other countries? NGUYEN: Oh, wow, that’s a really good question. So we—you know, I think—I think a lot of other countries use quotas. Brazil might be sort of the example that most folks think about when they think about the way affirmative action’s practiced abroad. And certainly that’s not something that we can do here in the United States. So that’s—that—really, really important consideration. Sort of other practices that I think that are—that are not sort of the ones that are narrowly tailored by the courts are what I said earlier about sort of what the UC system has to really do and has to really grapple with, right, are using every sort of—everything that they can think of under the sun to go out and try to do outreach and recruit and build those pipelines throughout the entire education system. There’s been some work by some wonderful folks in our field—Dominique Baker, Mike Bastedo—who looked at even sort of just a random sampling, if you were able to do a lottery system, and that has actually found that that doesn’t actually increase diversity either, and so—racial diversity either. And so I think that’s—so, again, this all points to how crucial affirmative action is in being able to use race in order to achieve compositional diversity on a college campus, and that other proxy variables just don’t even come close to being able to help estimate that. And so, yeah, that’s—I should also note that really, we’re only talking about a dozen or so schools. Oh, I’m sorry, more than a dozen, but a handful of schools that this is really a big issue for. Most schools in the United States don’t necessarily—are not at this level of selectivity where it becomes a big issue of concern for the national public. Nearly half of all of our college-going students are at community college, which tend to be open-access institutions. And so something also to keep in mind when we talk about affirmative action. FASKIANOS: Thanks. We only have a few minutes left. Can you talk a little bit more about the work of NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools? NGUYEN: Yeah. So I’m a faculty affiliate there, and maybe I’ll preface by saying I’m new to NYU. I just came here from the University of Denver, and so I’m still learning about every wonderful thing that Metro Center is doing. It’s led by a wonderful faculty member here named Fabienne Doucet and really focused on sort of a handful of pillars—certainly research on education, but also a real big tie for communities. So real direct engagement with schools, school systems in order to advance justice in those schools. And so they have a lot of contracts with school districts and public entities, as well as nonprofit groups that come in and work as an incubator there on a host of issues. And so I think the work there is really exciting and really interesting. It tends to be—and I should say also very expansive. So the whole sort of K-12 system, as well as postsecondary. And I think that’s the role that I’m looking to play there, is to help contribute to and expand their work in the postsecondary education space. FASKIANOS: Great. And maybe a few words about your other—you have many, many hats. NGUYEN: Oh. (Laughs.) FASKIANOS: NYU’s Institute for Human Development and Social Change. NGUYEN: Yeah. They do some really wonderful, interesting work. And it’s really, actually, a center and a space for faculty to come in and run a lot of their research projects, including my own, which is the MSI Data Project, where we are looking at all the various different types of minority-serving institutions in the United States, how they change over time, and how the federal government thinks about them and accounts for them, as well as how do the schools themselves think about them, all with the goal here in order to work with students of colors and give them access and opportunity. I should say, depending on how you count them, MSIs enroll a huge and significant proportion of all students of color, almost half, in the country, despite making up such a small percentage, about 20 percent, of all college and universities. And so this is—certainly when we talk about affirmative action, we—I think a lot of folks center it around racial justice or social justice. I think sort of the other side of the same coin here are schools like minority-serving institutions which enroll and provide access to and graduate a really significant proportion and number of students of color and certainly an area that we need to bring a lot more attention to when we talk about issues of race and education. FASKIANOS: OK, I’m going to take one—try to sneak in one last question from John Francis, who’s raised his hand. You get the last one, John. Q: OK, can you hear me? FASKIANOS: We can. Q: Oh, that’s great. So my question is—has a certain irony to it, but there’s been a great deal of discussion of late that men are not succeeding in college, but that women are, and that certainly should be encouraged, but also there should be ways to find perhaps even changing when people start out in elementary school how that may be shifted to help men later on. And in this discussion, when we’re looking at that issue and it’s gaining some latitude, some strength, should we think about that as a possible consideration that universities should have greater latitude in making decisions to reflect the current set of demographic issues, be it race or gender or others? Has this argument come to play any kind of role? NGUYEN: Great question and a good last one, and if I can be completely honest, not an area that I’m—gender-based issues are not an area that I’ve done a whole lot of work in, if really any work, but I will attempt to answer your question as best as I can here, which is, I think—and sort of connected to sort of the larger conversation and question that we had that someone posed earlier about sort of the complexity and changing nature of racial and ethnic categories and what does that mean, and how do universities address that? And I think this is again where it requires universities to have some flexibility and nimbleness and autonomy to be able to address a lot of these issues, including what you’re talking about, John, depending on the context and the times in which we are in. You know, certainly one big area also connected to—for men in postsecondary education is sort of the huge gap we see for men of color from particular groups, and really we see foundations, we see the Obama administration really play—invest in this work. So, John, from what it sounds like, it sounds like I agree with you here about—that universities need flexibility and autonomy to be able to address these issues. Now, that may—at the same time, we don’t want to dismiss the fact that the experiences of women in postsecondary education—while certainly we see numbers increasing in enrollment in a lot of aspects, in certain disciplines we see a sharp decline; we see—in STEM and engineering fields, in the way those disciplines may be organized to sort of push out women. And so I think, again, this is why it requires some nimbleness and some autonomy from the universities to be able to design approaches to support students of different types of diversity on their campuses, in particular areas, disciplines, and majors. And so I think that’s the—I think that’s the challenge, is that we need to be a lot more intentional and think more precisely and run our analyses in ways that make sense for particular intersectional groups on campus and in the areas of which they’re studying. So yeah, I think that’s the—one of the big challenges that universities are facing today and certainly depending on how the courts rule, we’ll see if that ends up restricting autonomy and removing tools or allowing those tools to remain for various types of targeted interventions for various minoritized groups. FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Well, Mike Nguyen, thank you very much for this terrific hour and to all of you for your questions and comments. This is really insightful and we appreciate it. Welcome to New York, Mike, your first New York—holidays in New York. So we will be resuming the series in January and we will be sending out also the lineup for our winter/spring semester of the Academic Webinar series, which is really designed for students, later this month. We do wish you all luck with administering finals this week and grading them and all those papers; I don’t envy you all. We have different deadlines under—at the Council that we’re working on right now, so it will be a busy month, but we hope that everybody enjoys the holidays. We will resume in January, in the new year, and I encourage you all to follow us at @CFR_Academic on Twitter. Visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. Again, thanks, Mike, for this, and to all of you. NGUYEN: Thank you so much for having me. Really an honor. FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Take care, everybody. (END)
  • Religion
    Academic Webinar: Religious Literacy in International Affairs
    Susan Hayward, associate director of the Religious Literacy and the Professions Initiative at Harvard Divinity School, leads the conversation on religious literacy in international affairs.   FASKIANOS: Welcome to the final session of the Fall 2022 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, if you would like to share it with your classmates or colleagues. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We’re delighted to have Susan Hayward with us to discuss religious literacy in international affairs. Reverend Hayward is the associate director for the Religious Literacy and Professions Initiative at Harvard Divinity School. From 2007 to 2021, she worked for the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), with focus on Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Columbia, and Iraq. And most recently serving as senior advisor for Religion and Inclusive Societies, and as a fellow in Religion and Public Life. During her tenure at USIP, Reverend Hayward also coordinated an initiative exploring the intersection of women, religion, conflict, and peacebuilding, partnership with the Berkley Center at Georgetown University and the World Faith Development Dialogue. And she coedited a book on the topic entitled Women, Religion and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen. Reverend Hayward has also taught at Georgetown and George Washington Universities and serves as a regular guest lecturer and trainer at the Foreign Service Institute. And she’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. So, Susan, thank you very much for being with us today. Can you begin by explaining why religious literacy is so important for understanding international affairs? HAYWARD: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Irina. And thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for inviting me to be a part of this webinar. And I really appreciate you and the invitation, and I appreciate all of you who have joined us today, taking time out of what I know is a busy time of year, as we hurdle towards final exams and cramming everything into these last weeks of the semester. So it’s great to be with all of you. I am going to be—in answering that broad question that Irina offered, I’m going to be drawing on my work. As Irina said, I worked at the—I work now at Harvard Divinity School’s Religion and Public Life Program. And what we seek to do here is to do here is to advance the public understanding of religion in service of a just world at peace. And we do that, in part, by working with professionals in governments and foreign policy, and in the humanitarian sector, as well as working with our students who are seeking to go into vocations in those professional spheres. And then my fourteen years with the Religion and Inclusive Societies Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. So I’ll say a little bit more about both of those as we go along, and those experiences, but I’m also happy to answer any questions about either of those programs when we turn to the Q&A. And I should say that I’m going to be focusing as well—given that a lot of you all who are joining us today are educators yourselves or are students—I’m going to be focusing in particular on how we teach religious literacy within international affairs. So I wanted to begin with the definition of religious literacy, because this is a term that is increasingly employed as part of a rallying cry that’s based on a particular diagnosis. And the diagnosis is that there has been insufficient deep consideration of the multiple and complex dimensions of religion and culture that impact international affairs at all levels across the world. And that the result of that lack of a complex understanding of religion in this arena has been the—the hamstringing of the ability of the international system to operate in ways that are effective in bringing justice, peace, democracy, human rights, and development. So I’m going to circle back to that diagnosis in a bit. But first I want to jump to the prescription that’s offered, which is to enhance religious literacy using various resources, trainings, courses, and ways that are relevant for foreign policymakers and those working across the international system, as well as those students who are in the schools of international affairs, or other schools and planning to go into this space, into this profession. So the definition that we use here at Harvard Divinity School—and this is one that has been adopted by the American Academy of Religion, which is the scholarly guild for religious studies—defines it in this way: Religious literacy is the—entails the ability to discern and analyze the fundamental intersections of religion and social, political, and cultural life through multiple lenses. So specifically, one who is religious literate will possess a basic understanding of different religious traditions, including sort of fundamental beliefs and practices and contemporary manifestation of different religious traditions, as well as how they arose out of and continue to be shaped by particular social, historical, and cultural contexts. And the ability to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political, social, and cultural expressions across time and space. So this gets broken down in two different ways—three, according to me. But that definition focuses on two in particular. One is often referred to as the confessional approach or the substantive approach. So that’s looking at understanding different religious traditions and their manifestations in different places. That’s understanding something fundamental about the difference between Theravada Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism, for example. Or how Islam is practiced, and dominantly practiced in Nigeria, versus in North America, for example. The second approach is the religious studies approach. Which is sometimes also called the functional approach. So that’s the ability to be able to analyze the ways in which religions in complex ways are really intersecting with social, and political, and economic life, even if not explicitly so. But in implicit, embedded ways shaping different kinds of economic systems, social systems, and political systems, and being able to analyze and see that, and so ask particular questions and consider different kinds of policy solutions—diagnoses and solutions that can take that into account. And then finally, I add the religious engagement approach. That particularly comes out of my work when I was at USIP and working with foreign policymakers in the State Department and elsewhere. To some extent, overseas as well, those in the diplomatic sector. Which I understand is determining whether, when, and how to engage with specifically defined religious institutions, actors, and interests, including on issues related, for example, with religious freedom, in ways that are inclusive, just, strategic, and, importantly for the U.S. context, legal. So abiding by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Now, all three types of religious literacy defined here depend on three principles or ideas. So the first is that they understand religions as lived, as constituted by humans who are constantly interpreting and reinterpreting their religious traditions. This means that as a result they are internally diverse, sometimes very internally contradictory. They’ll have different religious interpretations with respect to particular human rights issues, particular social issues, issues related to gender, and so on and so forth. That they change over time. That that sort of complex interpretive process that is going on within religious traditions also leads to kind of larger normative changes within religious traditions over history in different temporal contexts. And that they’re culturally embedded. So as the question I was asking earlier, how is Islam, as it’s understood and practiced in Nigeria, different from how it’s understood and practiced in North America, for example. There are ways in which the particular religious interpretations and practices of a tradition are always going to be entangled with specific cultural contexts in ways that are near impossible to disentangle at times. And that means that they just manifest differently in different places. And this—these ideas of religion as lived pushes against an understanding of religions as being static or being monolithic. So that then leads us to ensure that there’s never—that it’s always going to be a problem to make sweeping claims about entire religious traditions because you’ll always find somebody or some community within those religious traditions that don’t believe or practice according to the claim that you just made about it. And that applies to situations of violent conflict and with respect to human rights, on global issues like climate and migration. This idea, the internal diversity in particular, is what is at play when you hear the phrase “Ambivalence of the Sacred” that was coined by Scott Appleby in his—in this very influential book by the same name. I’ll throw in here a quote from Scott Appleby from that book, this idea that religions are always going to show up in ambivalent or contradictory ways across different places, but also sometimes in the very same contexts. So I think we can see that, for example, in the U.S. right now, and that there’s no one, let’s say, religious position with respect to reproductive rights, for example. There’s a great deal of internal plurality and ambivalence that exists across religious traditions and interpretations within the Christian tradition and beyond about that specific issue. Moreover then, what religion is, what is considered religious, what is recognized as religious and what isn’t, and how it manifests in different contexts depends on just a complex array of intersecting factors. I’m going to come back to—that’s kind of meaty phrase just to throw out there, so I’m going to come back to that in a minute. So the second principle or idea of religious literacy that I want to highlight here is the idea of right-sizing religion. This is a phrase that Peter Mandaville used quite a bit when he was in the State Department’s Religion and Global Affairs Office under the Obama administration and has written about. So I’ll turn you to that article of his to understand more about it. But the central idea is that we don’t want to over nor underemphasize religion’s role in any given context. So just by way of a quick example, in looking at the Rohingya crisis or the ethnic cleansing of Rakhine State in Myanmar, one could not say it was all about religion, that it was about Buddhist nationalists who are anti-Muslim wanting to destroy a particular religious community. Nor could you say it had nothing to do with religion, because there were these religious dimensions that were at play in driving the violence towards the Rohingya and the larger communities’ acceptance of that violence against the Rohingya community. But if you were to overemphasize the religious roles, the religious dimensions of that crisis, then your policy solutions—you might look at religious freedom tools and resources to be able to address the situation. And that would address the situation in part, but obviously there were other economic and political factors that were at play in leading to the Rohingya crisis. And including certain economic interests with oil pipelines that were being constructed across lands that the Rohingya were living on in Rakhine state, or the political conflict that was taking place between the military and the National League of Democracy, and so on. So addressing the crisis holistically and sustainably requires that we right-size the role that religion is playing in that particular crisis. And that goes across the board, in looking at conflicts and looking at the role of religion in climate, and addressing climate collapse, and so on and so forth. We need to always neither under nor overestimate the role that religion is playing in driving some of these issues and as a solution in addressing some of these issues. OK. So with that definition and principles of religious literacy in mind, I want to go back to the diagnosis that I gave at the—that I mentioned at the top, for which religious literacy is offered as a solution. The diagnosis, if you remember, was that there’s been insufficient consideration given to the multiple and complex dimensions of religion and culture that impact international affairs. So I’m going to demonstrate what it means to apply the religious studies approach to religious literacy, or the functional approach to religious literacy, to help us understand why that might be. And remember, the religious studies approach is seeking to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political, social, and cultural expressions and understandings across time and place. So this approach, in trying to answer that question and consider that diagnosis, it would invite us to look historically at the development of the modern international legal and political systems in a particular time and place in Western Europe, during the European Enlightenment. As many of you may well know, this came about in the aftermath of the so-called confessional or religious wars. Those were largely understood to have pitted Protestants against Catholics, though it’s more complicated in reality. But broadly, that’s the story. And the modern state, on which the international system was built, sought to create a separation between religious and state authority. For the first time in European history, this separation between religious and state authority that became more rigid and enforced over time, in the belief that this was necessary in order to ensure peace and prosperity moving forward, to bring an end to these wars, and to ensure that the state would be better able to deal with the reality of increasing religious pluralism within Europe. So this was essentially the idea of secular political structures that was born in that time and place. And these secular political structures were considered to be areligious or neutral towards religion over time, again. In the process of legitimating this sort of revolutionary new model of the secular modern state, and in the process of creating this demarcated distinction that had not previously existed—at least, not a neat distinction of the secular or the political authority and the religious—the religious authority—there was an assertion as part of that ideologically legitimate and support that. There was an assertion of the secular as rational, ordered, and associated with all of the good stuff of modernity. Meanwhile, the religious was defined in counter-distinction as a threat to the secular. It was irrational, backwards, a threat to the emerging order. A not-subtle presumption in all of this is that the new modern state and the international system would serve as a bulwark against archaic, dangerous, religious, and other traditionally cultural, in particular, worldviews and practices in—it would be a bulwark against that, and a support for this neutral and considered universal international law and system—secular system. Now, I realize I’m making some, like, huge, broad historical sweeps here, given the short amount of time I have. But within that story I just told, there is a lot more complexity that one can dig into. But part of what I seek to do in offering religious literacy in international relations theory and practice to students, and to practitioners in this realm, is to help those operating in the system think through how that historically and contextually derived conception of religion and the co-constitutive conception of secularism continues to operate within and shape how we interpret and respond to global events within the system. And this occurs—I see this happening in two dominant ways. One is, first, in thinking about religion as a distinct sphere of life that can be disentangled entirely from the political, when in reality religion is deeply entangled with the political, and vice versa. And scholars like Talal Asad and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd have done really great work to show how even our understanding of the secular and secular norms and so on is shaped by Protestant Christian commitments and understandings. And saying within that, our understanding of what religion is—like, a focus on belief, for example, which has been codified in a lot of religious freedom law, as part of the international system—again, tends to emphasize Protestant Christian understandings of what religion is and how it functions. So that’s the first reason for doing that. And then second, in understanding religion to be a threat to modernity, and sometimes seeing and responding to it as such rather than taking into account its complexity, its ambivalence, the ways in which it has been a powerful force for good, and bad, and everything in between, and in ways that sometimes let the secular off the hook for ways that it has driven forms of violence, colonialism, gender injustice, global inequalities, the climate crisis, and so on. So those are the consequences of when we don’t have that religious literacy, of those potential pitfalls. And, on that second point, of the ways in which religion continues to be defined in ways that can overemphasize its negative aspect at time within the international system, I commend the work of William Cavanaugh in particular and his book, The Myth of Religious Violence to dig into that a little bit more. So what we’re seeking to do, in bringing that kind of religious literacy to even thinking about the international system and its norms and how it operates, is to raise the consciousness of what Donna Haraway calls the situatedness of the international system, the embedded agendas and assumptions that inevitably operate within it. And it invites students to be skeptical of any claims to the systems neutrality about religion, how it’s defined, and how it’s responded to. So I recognize that that approach is very deconstructionist work. It’s informed by, post-colonial critical theory, which reflects where religious studies has been for the last couple decades. But importantly, it doesn’t, nor shouldn’t ideally, lead students to what is sometimes referred to as analysis paralysis, when there’s sort of groundedness within hypercritical approaches, only looking at the complexity to a degree that it’s hard to understand how to move forward then to respond constructively to these concerns. Rather, the purpose is to ensure that they’re more conscious of these underlying embedded norms or assumptions so that they can better operate within the system in just ways, not reproducing forms of Eurocentrism, Christo-centrism, or forms of cultural harm. So the hope is that it helps students to be able to better critique the ways in in which religion and secularism is being—are being discussed, analyzed, or engaged within international affairs, and then be able to enter into those kinds of analysis, policymaking, program development, and so on, in ways that can help disrupt problematic assumptions and ensure that the work of religious literacy or religious engagement is just. So I’m just going to offer one example of how this kind of critical thinking and critical—the way of thinking complexly about religion in this space can be fruitful. And it speaks back to one of the things Irina noted about my biography, the work I had done looking at women and religion and peacebuilding. So while I was at USIP, in that program, we spent several years looking specifically and critically at forms of theory and practice, and this subfield that had emerged of religious peacebuilding. And we were looking at it through the lens of gender justice, asking how religion was being defined in the theory or engaged in the peacebuilding practice and policy in ways that unintentionally reinforced gender injustice. And what we found is that there were assumptions operating about certain authorities—often those at the top of institutions, which tended to be older, well-educated men—representing entire traditions. Assumptions made about their social and political power as well. When in reality, we knew that those of different genders, and ages, and socioeconomic locations were doing their own work of peacebuilding within these religious landscapes, and had different experiences of violence, and so different prescriptions for how to build peace. So we began to ask questions, like whose peace is being built in this field of religious peacebuilding that was emerging? And the work that USIP had been doing in this space of religious peacebuilding? Whose stories were being left out in the dominant analyses or narratives in the media about religious dimensions of certain conflicts, and what are the consequences of that? So these kinds of questions are grounded in the recognition of, again, the internal diversity, the change over time of religious traditions. And they help ensure that analysis and policy actions aren’t unintentionally reproducing forms of harm or structural violence. I’m almost done. So please do bring your questions so that we can engage in a discussion with each other. But I wanted to end by offering a couple examples of resources that I think might be helpful to both enhancing your own religious literacy but also as potential pedagogical tools in this work. So first is Religious Peacebuilding Action Guides that were produced by the U.S. Institute of Peace, in partnership with Salam Institute for Peace and Justice, and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. There’s four guides. They’re all available for free online. Once I close down my PowerPoint, I’m going to throw the links for all of these things I’m mentioning into the chat box so you can all see it. But one of the things—I’m just going to dive in a little bit to the analysis guide, because one of the things that I think is useful in helping, again, to help us think a little bit more complexly about religion, is that it takes you through this process of thinking about the different dimensions of religion as defined here—ideas, community, institutions, symbols and practices, and spirituality. So it’s already moving beyond just an idea of religious institutions, for example. And it takes you through doing a conflict assessment, and asking the questions related to religion with respect to the drivers of the conflict and the geographic location and peacebuilding initiatives, to help you craft a peacebuilding—a religious peacebuilding initiative. I have used this framework as a means to help students think through the ambivalence of religion as it manifests in different places. So I have an example there of a question that I have sometimes used that has been fruitful in thinking about how these five different dimensions of religion have manifested in American history in ways that either have advanced forms of racialized violence and injustice or that have served as drivers of peace and justice. And there’s lots of examples across all of those dimensions of the ways in which religion has shown up in ambivalent ways in that respect. There’s also—USIP’s team has produced a lot of amazing things. So I’ll put some links to some of their other resources in there too, which includes they’re doing religious landscape mappings of conflict-affected states. They have an online course on religious engagement in peacebuilding that’s free to take. Another resource is from here, at Harvard Divinity School in the Religion in Public Life Program. And we provide a series of case studies that is for educators. It’s primarily created educators in secondary schools and in community colleges, but I think could easily be adapted and used in other kinds of four-year universities or other kinds of professional settings, where you’re doing trainings or workshops, or even just holding discussions on religious literacy. So there’s a series of kind of short, concise, but dense, case studies that are looking at different religions as they intersect with a host of issues, including peace, climate, human rights, gender issues. And it says something about that case study here—the example that I have here is the conflict in Myanmar, pre-coup, the conflicts that were occurring between religious communities, and particularly between Buddhist communities and Muslim communities. And then there’s a set of discussion questions there that really help to unearth some of those lessons about internal diversity and about the ways in which religious intersects with state policies and other kinds of power interests and agendas—political power interests and agendas. And then also, at our program, Religion and Public Life, we have a number of courses that are available online, one that’s more on the substantive religious literacy side, looking at different religious traditions through their scriptures. Another course, it’s on religion, conflict and peace, all of which are free and I’m going to throw them into the chat box in a moment. And we also have ongoing workshops for educators on religious literacy, a whole network with that. So you’re welcome to join that network if you’d like. And then finally, we have a one-year master’s of religion and public life program for people in professions—quote/unquote, “secular” professions—who want to come and think about—they’re encountering religion in various ways in their work in public health, or in their work in journalism. And so they want to come here for a year and to think deeply about that, and bring something back into their profession. And then the final thing, and then I’m going to be done, and this one is short, is the Transatlantic Policy for Religion and Diplomacy, which brings together point people from—who work on religion across different foreign ministries in North America and Europe. And their website,, has a lot of really great resources that—reports on various thematic issues, but also looking at religion in situ in a number of different geographic locations. They have these strategic notes, that’s what I have the image of here, that talk about, at a particular time, what are some of the big stories related to religion and international affairs overseas. And they list a number of other religious literacy resources on their website as well. So I commend all of that to. And with that, let me stop share, throw some links into the chat box, and hear responses and questions from folks. FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you for that. That was terrific. And we are going to send out—as a follow-up, we’ll send out a link to this webinar, maybe a link to your presentation, as well as the resources that you drop into the chat. So if you don’t get it here, you will have another bite at the apple, so to speak. (Gives queuing instructions.) So I’m going to go first to the written question from Meredith Coon, who’s an undergraduate student at Lewis University: What would be a solution for India to have many different religions live in peace with each other, especially since most religions share a lot of the same core values of how people should live? And how can society prevent the weaponization of religion, while still allowing broad religious freedom? HAYWARD: All right. Thank you for the question, Meredith. And one thing just to note, by way of housekeeping, I’m not sure I can actually share the links with all of the participants. So we’ll make sure that you get all of those links in that follow-up note, as Irina said. So, Meredith, I think a couple things. One, I just want to note that one of the assumptions within your question itself is that folks of different religious persuasions are constantly at conflict with one another. And of course, there is a reality of there is increasing religious tensions around the world, communal tensions of many different sorts, ethnic, and religious, and racial, and so on, across the world. And the threat to democracy and increasing authoritarianism has sometimes exacerbated those kinds of tensions. But there’s also a lot of examples presently and historically of religiously incredibly diverse communities living in ways that are harmonious, that are just, and so on. So I think it is important—there’s a lot of work that supports forms of interfaith dialogue and intra-faith dialogue. And I think that that work is—will always be important, to be able to recognize shared values and shared commitments, and in order to acknowledge and develop respect and appreciation for differences as well on different topics—again, both within religious traditions and across them. But I think that dialogue alone, frankly, is not enough. Because so often these tensions and these conflicts are rooted in structural violence and discrimination and concerns, economic issues, and political issues, and so on. And so I think part of that work, it’s not just about building relationships kind of on a horizontal level, but also about ensuring that state policies and practice, economic policies and practices, and so on, are not operating in ways that disadvantage some groups over others, on a religious side, on a gender side, on a racial side, and so on. So it’s about ensuring as well inclusive societies and a sense as well of inclusive political systems and inclusive economic systems. And doing that work in kind of integrated ways is going to be critical for ensuring that we’re able to address some of these rising forms of violations of religious freedom. Thanks again for the question. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question from Clemente Abrokwaa. Clemente, do you want to ask your question? Associate teaching professor of African studies at Pennsylvania State University? I’m going to give you a moment, so we can hear some voices. Q: OK. Thank you very much. Yeah, my question is I’m wondering how peacebuilding, in terms of religious literacy, how would you look at—or, how does it look at those that are termed fundamentalists? How their actions and beliefs, especially their beliefs, those of us—there are those outside who perceive them as being destructive. So then to that person, is their beliefs are good. So they fight for, just like anyone will fight for, what, a freedom fighter or something, or a religious fighter in this case. So I’m just wondering how does religious literacy perceive that in terms of peacebuilding? HAYWARD: Right. Thank you for the question, Professor Abrokwaa. I really appreciate it. So a couple things. One, first of all, with respect to—just going back, again, to the ambivalence of the sacred—recognizing that that exists. That there are particular religious ideas, commitments, groups, practices that are used in order to fuel and legitimate forms of violence. And I use violence in a capacious understanding of it, that includes both direct forms of violence but also structural and cultural forms of violence, to use the framework of Johan Galtung. And so that needs to be addressed as part of the work to build peace, is recognizing religious and nonreligious practices and ideas that are driving those forms of violence. But when it comes to religious literacy to understand that, a couple ways in which the principles apply. One is, first, not assuming that their—that that is the only or exclusive religious interpretation. And I think sometimes well-meaning folks end up reifying this idea that that is the exclusive religious interpretation or understanding when they’re—when they’re offering sometimes purely nonreligious responses to it. And what I mean by this, for example, let’s look at Iran right now. I read some analyses where it’s saying that, the Iranian authorities and the Ayatollahs who comprise the Supreme Council and so on, that they—that they define what Islamic law is. And there’s not a qualification of that. And in the meantime, the protesters are sort of defined as, like, secular, or they’re not—the idea that they could be driven by certain—their own Islamic interpretations that are just as authoritative to them, and motivating them, and shaping them is critical. So being able to recognize the internal plurality and not unintentionally reify that particular interpretation of a religious tradition as exclusive or authoritative. Rather, it’s one interpretation of a religious tradition with particular consequences that are harmful for peace. And there are multiple other interpretations of that religious tradition that are operating within that context. And then a second way that the religious literacy would apply would also look at the ways in which sometimes the diagnoses of extremist groups that are operating within a religious frame doesn’t right-size the role of religion in that. It sometimes overemphasizes the religious commitments, and drives, and so on. And so, again, we need to right-size. There are religious motivations. And we need to take those seriously. And we need to develop solutions for addressing that. And there are economic interests. And there are political interests. So there’s a whole host of factors that are motivating and inspiring and legitimating those groups. And being able to take into account that more holistic picture and ensure that your responses to it are going to be holistic. And then one final thing I want to say that’s not with respect to religious literacy as much—or, maybe it is—but it’s more just about my experience of work at USIP, is that—and it kind of goes back to the question that Meredith asked before you about religious harmony between multireligious relations and harmony, is that I sometimes finds that engaging with groups that are defining themselves and motivating themselves with a primary grounding in religion, that they’re not going to participate generally in interfaith initiatives, and so on, right? And so that’s where some of that intra-faith work can be particularly important. I saw this, for example, in Myanmar, when their—when previously the movement that was known as Ma Ba Tha, which was defined by some as a Buddhist nationalist anti-Muslim kind of Buddhist supremacist group. The folks who were most successful in being able to engage in a values-grounded conversation with members of the organization were other Buddhist monks, who were able to speak within the language of meaning and to draw attention to, like, different understandings of religious teachings or religious principles with respect to responding to minority groups, and so on. So I think that’s in particular, with addressing those groups, that’s where that intra-religious work or intra-communal work can be really critical, in addition to some of that cross-communal work. FASKIANOS: Thank you. So we’ve seen, obviously, the war in Ukraine and how Christian Orthodoxy is being—or, Greek Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and the division. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it’s playing out with Russian identity? HAYWARD: Yeah, absolutely. There’s been some really good analysis and work out there of the religious dimensions of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. So again, the sort of dominant story that you see, which reflects a reality, is that there are ways in which political and religious actors and interests are aligning on the Russian side in order to advance particular narratives and that legitimate the invasion of Ukraine that—that are about sort of fighting back against an understanding of the West as being counter to traditional and religious values. Those are some of the religious understandings. And then that concern gets linked then to the establishment of an independent or autocephalous Orthodox Church within the Ukraine context. And you see—in particular, what’s pointed to often is the relationship between Patriarch Kirill in the Russian Orthodox Church, and Putin, and the ways in which they’ve sort of reinforced each other’s narrative and offered support to it. And there’s really great analysis out there and stories that have been done about that. And that needs to be taken into account in responding to the situation and, I would say, that some of the religious literacy principles would then ask us to think about other ways in which religion is showing up within that, that go beyond the institution too. So a lot of the news stories that I’ve seen, for example, have focused exclusively on—sometimes—exclusively on the clerics within the Orthodox Church and their positions, either in support of or in opposition to the war. But in reality, on the ground there’s a lot more complexity that’s taken place, and a lot more of the ways in which different individuals and communities on both the Russia and the Ukraine side are responding to the violence, to the displacements, and so on. It paints a more complex and, I think, fascinating story, frankly. And sort of illuminates ways forward in support of peacebuilding. For example, there’s ways in which different kinds of ritual practices within Orthodoxy have served as a source of support and constancy to folks who are living in this situation of insecurity and displacement, in ways that have been helpful. There are, of course, other religious traditions that exist within both Ukraine and Russia that are operating and responding in different ways. Like, the Jewish community in Ukraine and the Catholic—the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. So looking at those complexities both within Orthodoxy, but there’s many different ways that Orthodox Christians are responding in both countries. There’s not one story of Orthodox Christianity and the invasion of Ukraine. But also looking at some of the religious diversity within it. And that helps to ensure, like I said, one, that we’re developing solutions that are also recognizing the ways in which religion at a very ground level is serving as a source of support, humanitarian relief, social, psychological support to people on the ground, as well as the ways in which it’s sort of manifesting ambivalently and complexly in ways that are driving some of the violence as well. And it also helps to push back against any sort of a narrative that this is about a Russian religion—on the Russian side—this is about a religious war against a secular, non-religious West or Ukraine, right? That that goes back to what I was talking about with the historical sort of contingencies that are baked into this system a little bit. And in defining it in that way, Russia’s religious and its motivations are religious, Ukraine’s not religious, that’s both not true—(laughs)—because there’s many religious folks within the Ukraine and within the West generally, but also feeds—it feeds the very narrative that Putin and Kirill are giving of a secular West that is anti-religion, that is in opposition to Russian traditional values. FASKIANOS: It seems like there needs to be some training of journalists too to have religious literacy, in the same way that we’re talking about media literacy. HAYWARD: Yeah. FASKIANOS: Probably should be introduced as well. (Laughs.) HAYWARD: Yeah, Irina, it’s funny, we did—one of my students actually did a kind of mapping and analysis of stories about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the religious dimensions of it. And she noted that there was—for example, it was—almost always it was male clerics who were being quoted. So there was very little that was coming from other gendered perspectives and experiences on the ground, lay folks and so on. And again, for that—for that very reason it’s sort of—because we know so many policymakers and international analysis are depending on these kinds of media stories, I worry that it creates a blinder to potential opportunities for different kinds of ways of addressing needs and partners for addressing needs on the ground. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. I’m going to go next to Liam Wall, an undergraduate student at Loyola Marymount University: With so much diversity within religions itself, how can we avoid the analysis paralysis you mentioned and take in as many unique perspectives as possible, without letting that stand in the way of progress? How does one know that they have enough religious literacy and can now become an effective practitioner? HAYWARD: Well, OK, the bad news is that you will never have enough religious literacy. (Laughs.) This is a process, not an end. There are scholars here at Harvard who have been studying one particular sect of a particular religious tradition for their entire adult lives, and they would still say that they are students of those traditions, because they’re so complex. Because so many of these traditions are composed of a billion people or just—just 500 million people. But that means that there’s going to be an incredible diversity to explore. And so that’s the bad news. But the good news is, one, like, first take the burden off of your shoulders of having to be an expert on any one particular religious tradition, in order to be able to help to develop and enhance your own religious literacy, and those of others, and to operate in ways that reflect the principles of religious literacy, is the good news. As well as there are many different kinds of resources that you can turn to in order to understand, for example if you’re going to be working in a particular geographic location, scholarship, people you can speak to in order to begin to understand at least some of the specific manifestations and practices, and some of the disputes and diversity that exists within that particular country or geographic location across religious traditions. But, secondly, I would say, it’s almost more important than—like, the substance is important. But what’s just as important, if not more important, is understanding what kinds of questions to be asking, and to be curious about these religious questions and their intersection with the political and social. So we sometimes say that religious literacy is about developing habits of mind in how we think about these religious questions, and what kinds of questions we ask about religion. So it’s about developing that kind of a reflex to be able to kind of see what’s underneath some of the analysis that you’re seeing that might be relevant to religion or that might be advancing particularly problematic understandings of religion, or reinforcing binaries like the secular and the religious and so on. And that’s just as—just as important. So the extent to which you’re continuing to, like, hone those—that way of thinking, and those habits of mind, that will set you up well for then going into this space and being able to ask those particular questions with respect to whatever issues you’re focusing on, or whatever geographic location you’re looking at. FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go next to Mohamed Bilal, a postgraduate student at the Postgraduate Institute of Management in Sri Lanka. HAYWARD: Yay! FASKIANOS: Yes. How does sectarianism influence our literacy? In turn, if we are influenced by sectarianism, then would we be illiterate of the religion but literate of the sect? Thus, wouldn’t such a religious literacy perpetuate sectarianism? HAYWARD: Thank you for the question, Mohamed. It’s—I miss Sri Lanka. I have not been there in too long, and I look forward to going back at some point. So I would say sectarianism, in the sense of—so, there’s both religious sects, right? There’s the existence of different kinds of religious traditions, interpretive bodies, jurisprudential bodies in the case of Islam. And then broader, different schools or denominations. The term that’s used depends on the different religious tradition. And that reflects internal diversity. Sectarianism, with the -ism on the end of it, gets back to the same kinds of questions that I think Professor Clemente was asking with respect to fundamentalism. That’s about being sort of entrenched in an idea that your particular religious understanding and practice is the normative, authentic, and pure practice, and that all others are false in some ways. That is a devotional claim or—what I mean by a devotional claim, is that is a knowledge claim that is rooted within a particular religious commitment and understanding. And so religious literacy in this case would—again, it’s the principles of internal diversity, recognizing that different sects and different bodies of thought and practice are going to exist within religious traditions, but then also ensuring that any claim to be normative or to be orthodox by any of these different interpretive bodies is always a claim that is rooted within that religious tradition that we sometimes say is authentic. It’s authentic to those communities and what they believe. But it’s not exclusive. It’s not the only claim that exists within that religious tradition more broadly. And the concern is about—sects are fine. Different denominations, different interpretative bodies are fine and a good and sort of natural thing, given the breadth and the depth of these religious traditions. The problem is that -ism part of it, when it becomes a source of competition or even potentially violence between groups. And so that’s what needs to be interrogated and understood. FASKIANOS: So another question from John Francis, who’s the senior associate vice president for academic affairs at the University of Utah: If you were training new diplomats in other countries to be stationed in the United States, where a wide range of religious traditions thrive, how would you prepare them for dealing with such religious variation? HAYWARD: The same way I would—and thank you, again, for the question. The same way that I would with any other diplomats going to any other—the same way I do with foreign service officers at the Foreign Service Institute, who are going to work overseas. I would—I would invite them to think about their own assumptions and their own worldviews and their own understandings of what religion is, based on their own contexts that they grew up in. So how that shapes how they understand what religion is, in the ways I was speaking to before. So for example, in Protestant Christianity, we tend to emphasize belief as the sort of core principle of religious traditions. But other religious traditions might emphasize different forms of practice or community as sort of the central or principal factor. So recognizing your own situatedness and the ways in which you understand and respond to different religious traditions. I would invite those who are coming to work here to read up on the historical developments and reality of different religious communities and nonreligious communities in the U.S. and encourage them to look not just at some of the—what we call the world religions, or the major religions, but also at indigenous traditions and different practices within different immigrant communities. And I would have them look at the historical relationship between the state and different religious communities as well, including the Mormon tradition there in Utah, and how the experience of, for example, the Mormon community has shaped its own relationship with the state, with other religious communities on a whole host of issues as well. And then I would encourage—just as I was saying earlier—no diplomat going to the U.S. is going to become an expert on the religious context in the U.S., because it’s incredibly complex, just like anywhere else in the world. But to be able to have sort of a basic understanding to be able to then continue to ask the kinds of questions that are going to help to understand how any political action is taken or response to any policy issues kind of inevitably bumps up against particular religious or cultural commitments and values. FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to take the next question from Will Carpenter, director of private equity principal investments at the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, and also taking a course at the Harvard Extension School. HAYWARD: Hey! FASKIANOS: I’m going to ask the second part of Will’s question. How will the current polarized domestic debate regarding U.S. history, which is often colored by the extremes—as a force for good only versus tainted by a foundation of injustice—impact America’s capacity to lead internationally? HAYWARD: Hmm, a lot. (Laughter.) Thank you for the question. I mean, I think the fact of polarization in the U.S. and the increasing difficulty that we’re facing in being able to have really deep conversations and frank conversations about historical experiences and perceptions of different communities, not just religiously, not just racially even, but across different—urban-rural, across socioeconomic divides, across educational divides and, of course, across political divides, and so on. I think that—I think that absolutely hampers our ability to engage within the global stage effectively. One, just because of the image that it gives to the rest of the world. So how can we—how can we have an authentic moral voice when we ourselves are having such a hard time engaging with one other in ways that reflect those values and that are grounded within those values? But also because I think get concern—with respect to religion questions in particular—I get concern about the increasing polarization and partisanization of religion in foreign policy and issues of religious freedom, and so on. Which means that we’re going to constantly have this sort of swinging back and forth then between Republican and Democratic administrations on how we understand and engage issues related to religion and foreign policy, different religious communities in particular, like Muslim communities worldwide, or on issues of religious freedom. So I think it’s incredibly critical—always has been, but is particularly right now at this historical moment—for us to be in the U.S. doing this hard work of having these conversations, and hearing, and listening to one another, and centering and being open about our values and having these conversations on that level of values. To be able to politically here in the U.S., much less overseas, to be able to work in ways that are effective. Irina, you’re muted. FASKIANOS: Thank you. (Laughs.) With that, we are at the end of our time. Thank you so much for this. This has been a really important hour of discussion. Again, we will send out the link to the webinar, as well as all the resources that you mentioned, Susan. Sorry we didn’t have the chat open so that we could focus on what you were saying and all the questions and comments that came forward. So we appreciate it. And thank you so much, again, for your time, Susan Hayward. And I just want to remind everybody that this is the last webinar of the semester, but we will be announcing the Winter/Spring Academic Webinar lineup in our Academic bulletin. And if you’re not already subscribed to that, you can email us at cf[email protected]. Just as a reminder, you can learn about CFR paid internships for students and fellowships for professors at Follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter and visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. Good luck with your exams. (Laughs.) Grading, taking them, et cetera. Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving. And we look forward to seeing you again next semester. So, again, thank you to Susan Hayward. HAYWARD: Thank you, everybody. Take care.
  • Middle East and North Africa
    Higher Education Webinar: Migration, Refugees, and Education
    Rebecca Granato, associate vice president for global initiatives at Bard College and program director of the Open Society University Network’s Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives in Eastern Africa and the MENA region, leads the conversation on migration, refugees, and education. FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We are delighted to have Rebecca Granato with us to discuss migration, refugees, and education. Dr. Granato is associate vice president for global initiatives at Bard College, and program director for the Open Society University Network’s Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives in Eastern Africa and in the MENA region. She also serves as an associate at Bard College’s Institute for Writing and Thinking, and has developed and delivered teacher professional development in Myanmar, Jordan, and Kyrgyzstan, among other places. Her work focuses on contextualized, learner-centered experiences in undergraduate courses, teacher professional development, and research-oriented training in places affected by crisis and displacement for refugees, internally displaced people, and those in host communities. So, Rebecca, thank you very much for being with us today. I thought we could begin with you sharing your insights on some of the barriers refugees and migrants face in higher education. GRANATO: Thank you, Irina. And thank you to CFR for having me here today. I’m just going to share a few slides. And I’ll talk for just ten or twelve minutes to Irina’s question. Let me share my screen. So what I thought I would do is give you some background on higher education in displacement context, including some of the barriers, challenges, successes, and goals. And I was also going to talk a little bit about the need for close collaboration across seemingly disparate actors in order to open opportunities for those affected by displacement. So some of you may know this, but as of the month of May 2022, the number of forcibly displaced individuals across the globe crossed the 100 million mark. This is significant. I mean, this is the largest jump in displacement since World War II. And what this really means in real terms is that one in every seventy-eight people on Earth have actually been forced to flee. Nearly half of these individuals are youth. I think as many of us know, sustainable development goal number four demands that we ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. But we have a long way to go when it comes to full participation of refugees and exercising this right to a full educational experience. That said, a lot of work has gone into awareness-raising of the barriers that this population faces, as well as into establishing and promoting global markers for success. Sone example of a really important marker out there is something that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) established, a global goal called the 15by30 Roadmap, which sets a target of enrolling 15 percent of refugee youth into higher education by 2030. Which means about a half a million individuals. This would raise the numbers up to 15 percent from 5 percent, which is what we have today in terms of enrollments, which hovers around 90,000 refugees taking advantage of higher education opportunities. In order to reach this goal, as this roadmap articulates, there are five education pathways that refugees can pursue. And the five are intended to ensure that refugees’ needs are met in different ways. Just like our needs when we want to go to university are also met in different ways. One would be national university enrollment in countries of first asylum. Another would be UNHCR tertiary scholarship programs, which could be in universities of—universities and countries of first asylum, or also in third countries. Connected higher education programs, which use online education and blended learning. Complementary education pathways for admission to third countries, which are third country scholarships that include a durable solution. And then TVET opportunities, technical and vocational education and training. So through these five pathways is how UNHCR intends for the global community to help refugees actually move in greater numbers into higher education. The UN has also launched a campaign called Each One Take One. This was launched quite recently. And what it asks is that universities across the globe each take at least one refugee student onto their campus. So it’s a catchy tag. It won’t have a major impact on its own, but the goal of some of these catchy tags is really to help promote the idea of refugee inclusion in higher education. But in order to make this a reality, there are still a number of barriers that need to be overcome. So I’m going to go back a little bit to some data that isn’t just focused on the tertiary education numbers. So we’ll look at a couple of global data points. All of these numbers are actually drawn from UNHCR’s Global Trends report, which they publish annually. And they collect data from across the globe, across many, many countries that host refugees. So when it comes to the number of youth who are actually eligible for higher education opportunities in refugee contexts, this chart, as you can see, does not tell a very promising story. Sixty-eight percent of refugees have access to primary education. This is compared to a global average of about 91 percent for primary school. So there’s a big gap there. When it comes to secondary education, we’re looking at about 37 percent of refugees accessing secondary education, compared to a global average of about 84 percent. And then, of course, when we get to tertiary, which I’ll come back to, we’re looking at 5 to 6 percent, compared to a global average of about 37 percent. And as you can see here from this slide, the enrollment numbers drop off precipitously after primary education. And this happens for a number of reasons. It could be caretaking of younger siblings, wage-earning possibilities, a sense of hopelessness that education actually isn’t opening up opportunities, hearing from bigger brothers and sisters and others that a university education, while it might have been possible for a refugee, resulted in no additional livelihood opportunity within a camp setting. And for girls, of course, there are additional barriers—early marriage, safety concerns, cultural barriers. Second, I would say that—and as indicated by this chart too—that the quality of K-12 education is often very poor in displacement contexts. Primary and secondary education for refugees is most frequently treated as an emergency response, so as a kind of temporary stopgap measure before the refugees are repatriated. But we also know that the average refugee status lasts around two decades, which is a number that extends far beyond the typical school years. So treating primary and secondary as an emergency response is actually—it’s very damaging. When education is treated like this, as a humanitarian issue, what partners end up doing is they end up setting up special schools in parallel systems. So you can see here on the slide, I note three different ways in which emergency response education plays out at the K-12 level. Partially integrated systems, like what you have in a case like Jordan where students in some cases are in what are called second-shift schools. The refugees go in the afternoons. The host communities go during the day. Often there are less-qualified teachers teaching the afternoon. Jordan’s trying to move away from that, slowly, slowly. But it’s just an example. A parallel system is like an example of what Kenya does, where all of the students in the K-12 system go through the Kenyan national curriculum, but the teachers are actually employed by NGOs. And they have no training, or virtually no training, and they also do not have the—they don’t have the Ministry of Education pay scale. So they’re treated like what we call incentive workers. They make about $110 a month. And then we have the example of an informal system, which is probably the weakest of all. And an example of that is what we have in the Cox’s Bazar camps for the Rohingya in Bangladesh, where the students actually, up until recently, were completely blocked from attending any kind of formal school system. And they were attending four levels only of a curriculum that was designed by the British Council. So very few host countries actually allow for inclusive educational opportunities in which refugee education is fully embedded into the host country education system. And an inclusive system would really mean that teacher quality, school infrastructure, financing, access to learning materials, and other resources are the same for all students, citizens, residents, and refugees alike. And of course, refugee students before they get to tertiary often need even more support beyond what is needed by the host community. They need assessment of prior learning when their certificates are not verifiable, when they’re coming from another country. They might need language learning and will certainly need psychosocial support. So this is the—this is a major barrier leading up to the attempt to get more students into higher education. And even for those who do make it, and the numbers have slowly crept up, there are significant and often paralyzing barriers to actually accessing or being successful in these tertiary education environments. Language is one of them. Most refugees are displaced to countries in which the language of instruction is different from their own. And graduation from secondary school in that country of first asylum does not necessarily mean academic fluency, as many of these refugee contexts are in rote learning environments. Even in places where refugees do speak the same language as their hosts, such as Syrians in Jordan, there are limited higher education opportunities for refugees in, for example, Jordan, in the country of first asylum. So in many cases, even if they make it through the secondary school system in their native language, they still have to learn another language to be competitive in a tertiary environment. There’s a major skills gap, especially when applying to university programs more so than TVET or some of the other certificates or diplomas. Between interrupted education and poor-quality opportunities in host countries, even the brightest youth often lack the necessary skills. And this could be as simple as they don’t have the basic ICT skills to fill out a college application. They don’t have the ability to frame and promote themselves. They don’t have the confidence to do so. They don’t have the content knowledge to pass entrance exams, not to mention the more advanced skills like critical thinking and academic writing. Navigating the system is a major barrier. Lack of access to quality information on higher education opportunities and scholarships. Refugees often have to rely heavily on word of mouth, on social media, on WhatsApp groups, on NGOs and informal networks in order to know where they can get access to higher education. And most of them, even when they identify that opportunity, they don’t have the support in understanding the application procedures, the prerequisites, how to obtain study visas if they need them, or how to even arrange for recognition of prior learning. And then finally, I mean, there’s the obvious one of limitation on numbers of scholarships and places for study. Opportunities in host communities are extremely limited. And this often has a very politicized aspect to it, you know, where refugees sometimes are treated as foreign students. Like in Jordan, where they have to pay foreign tuition. And then there’s the issue of the possibility of, say, complementary education pathways, where they go to a third country but many of the scholarships out there right now don’t have a durable solution attached to them. So a student may go to study in another country, but there’s no sustainable post-graduation option for them. And they risk being left in kind of an administrative limbo, which is a serious protection risk. So as you can see, in spite of these many barriers the numbers have gone up over the past few years. Since the Global Refugee Forum in 2019, we have been able to move from 3 percent to 6 percent, which is not insignificant. But the goal of reaching 15 percent by 2030 is a lofty one, especially considering that almost 90 percent of the world’s refugee population is hosted by developing countries. So just to give a kind of comparative data point, in places like sub-Saharan Africa, the enrollment rate of non-refugee youth in higher education across the region still hovers only around 9 percent. So if we’re trying to get to 15 percent with the refugee population, we also need to think about the host community. And this is another sort of political issue that comes up a lot. So there are many different actors working in the field to address some of these barriers to reach the goal of 15by30. There are foundations providing significant funding for scholarships for displaced learners. MasterCard Foundation, Education Above All, some of which you might have heard of. There are regional actors working to open places for learners at national universities and countries of first asylum. I live in Kenya. I’m talking to you from Nairobi. We have a network here called the African Higher Education Network. And then there’s another network that works in Africa that is called the Men’s Network, that works primarily in francophone Africa. And they work on complementary education pathways. So there’s lots of actors doing lots of work. And then there are networks that are working along multiple lines and with diverse actors, such as the network I work for. And I’m going to talk a little bit about what OSUN has done just for a couple of minutes, and what makes us unique in our ability to support the opening of higher education opportunities for refugees. So OSUN is a truly global network. We have representation on almost every continent. Partners are quite diverse, including higher education and research institutions. All of them are at various stages of their own institutional development, but all of them also share a set of similar values, including a commitment to open society and also to collaboratively addressing inequality. Because we work horizontally across partners, we’re able to support new and continued educational access in both emergent and protracted crises. And it’s important to keep both emergent and protracted crises in mind. When we have, you know, the news inundating us with Ukraine and Afghanistan, there are many refugees who have been displaced for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years. So we do a lot of work as well through connected learning programs, also by supporting student movement to institutions across our network for the purposes of education. And, luckily, we also work in countries of first asylum, where we might be able to take students into national universities. And when it comes to emergent crises, networks are a really important contributor. Not just OSUN, but all networks. In our case, we’re capable of mobilizing human and financial resources for really rapid response. And we’ve done this in three different—three very different contexts over the past nineteen months, with Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. For example, we were able to support over two hundred students from Afghanistan to continue their education after displacement. Still a drop in the bucket, though. And by working across multiple partners, we’re also able to support students in the more protracted situations in Africa, the Middle East, and Bangladesh. In urban settings and in refugee camps, which are the places where I work. As Irina mentioned, I direct something called the OSUN Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives. And we have what’s called the Refugee Higher Education Access Program, which is a bridging program. It takes about fifteen to eighteen months and it’s really intended to prepare students to really be ready to go into any academic English-language university program. Critical thinking, writing, analysis. All of these things they’re not getting in their very poorly equipped secondary schools. And some of the content knowledge upskilling that’s needed. So working within our network, these students are also eventually integrated into classrooms alongside matriculated students at campuses across the globe. And this has an added benefit for those students of humanizing the refugee student and exposing them—exposing the non-refugee matriculated students—to the very different perspectives that the refugees can bring. So even these very diverse networks can only impact a finite number of students. But what they can do, and the reason I’m mentioning networks—and what OSUN is working hard to do—is really to create models that can be locally contextualized, and also replicable in other contexts and by other institutions. Likewise, I mentioned earlier UNHCR’s Each One Take One campaign. Again, a catchy little slogan, but once a university sets up a system for one student, it becomes much easier to take in many more. Universities realize it’s possible. And in the context of the American system, there’s going to be the opening of a new refugee category—a visa category in the coming months, which some of your universities—if you’re dialing in from the States—might be involved in down the line. And the initial pilot will be asking universities to just take one or two students through a complementary pathway, with the intention that it would be scaled up over time. So I guess one question is, why should we be putting so much emphasis on higher education for refugees? And, first, I would say there’s the moral imperative. Many of us who work for universities have social missions attached to our universities. And we try to emphasize this element, of course, with our institutions and also with other university actors. But beyond that, there are many other players who need to be convinced at this importance of this, particularly governments, state actors, people that we deal with a lot on the ground. And we need to make a different argument there. The moral imperative does not hold weight for them. We need to show them that educating refugees is a good investment of human and financial resources. And as actors in the refugee education space, I believe we really need to think of higher education as an instrument that fosters growth, reduces poverty, and boosts shared prosperity, not only for the individual receiving the education but for the country in which the individual is residing. We can clearly articulate the global gains of tertiary graduates, OK. So we have that data. And I’m sure many of you are familiar with this. For example, some of the World Bank data shows that tertiary education graduates—and not just refugees—experience a 17 percent increase in their earnings. In sub-Saharan Africa, which of course is hard hit by many refugee crises, it’s a 21 percent increase in earnings for tertiary education graduates. So in addition to wage-earning capacity, there’s data indicating that tertiary education graduates are more environmentally conscious, they have healthier habits, they have a higher level of civic participation. So when refugees, if we expend that argument, are allowed to study and work in host—in third countries, they have the potential to contribute to societies and economies. So there needs to be a lot more data collection on this, in order to make a convincing case. But I’m going to give a couple of quick examples before I end, upon which we could base an argument for opening higher education opportunities and increasing potential earning power. So when refugees travel to Canada for higher education through complementary pathways, they’re granted permanent residency upon arrival. The World University Service of Canada, WUSC, leads on this movement of refugee students between countries of first asylum and Canada. And they’ve been able to show that 90 percent of the refugees who were brought into their universities contribute to the economy as taxpayers within several months after graduation. They too need more data on actually what the numbers are. In 2017, the U.S. government completed a study that looked at a period that’s now a little bit distant, they need to update this, but 2005 to 2014. And what they found is that while resettling refugees can cost thousands of dollars in the first couple of years, the tax contributions outweigh the cost. So during the period studied, the federal government spent approximately 206 billion on refugees. And yet, over that same period the refugees contributed more than 269 billion in tax revenue. So that’s a positive—net positive economic tax contribution of 63 billion. And then finally, if we’re looking beyond first-world countries, refugees often send remittances back to their country of origin. And one example is Liberia, which is a big refugee providing country. And about 18.5 percent of their GDP comes from remittances abroad. So I’ll just conclude by saying that, there’s a couple of things that we need to—we need to do to promote further access. One is, we need to be thinking differently about how to prepare youth in the countries that—the countries of first asylum, before they get to the tertiary level. What’s happening now with the donor community, there’s a lot of investment in primary education. There’s a lot of attention on tertiary. And secondary is just being left out. Teachers are not trained. Students are just falling behind. And then we have this major drop off of ability before they can get to tertiary. We also need to rethink refugee participation. Those of us who work on the ground, we think we’re always including refugee voices. We need to do a lot more on that. The refugees themselves are the experts in what their informal economies look like. So in many countries they can’t work legally, but they have informal economies. What do they really need to be studying? What skills do they need? We need to be tapping that. And UNHCR’s working on a kind of refugee-led mentoring program that might tackle some of this. And then finally, the last point I would make is that we really need to create pathways and pipelines between different higher education institutions and programs. We need to include connected opportunities, scholarships in countries of first asylum, and also third-country opportunities so that students can move between degree possibilities, like any of us would, who want to get a higher education. So there needs to be options out there. So I think I’ll end there and turn it back to Irina. FASKIANOS: That was fantastic. Thank you so much, Rebecca. And we’re going to turn to all of you now for your questions and comments. You can share what you’re doing and your thoughts. (Gives queuing instructions.) So the first question is from Patricia McCormick, who I think is at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, because she says she hopes you will reach out to her. How are universities contacted to admit refugee services? Who pays for the housing and tuition of refugee students? GRANATO: I think I had a moment of internet instability. Can you hear me, Irina? FASKIANOS: I can hear you now, yes. So start at the top. Did you hear the question? GRANATO: I think it’s the question that’s in the Q&A, how are universities contacted to admit refugee students? FASKIANOS: It is. GRANATO: OK. Sorry about that. Sometimes Kenya has unstable internet. If you can’t hear me, please let me know. Flag it. FASKIANOS: I will. GRANATO: So that’s a good question. Admitting refugee students. So in the U.S. right now there isn’t currently what we call a durable solution. That’s what’s being designed. In order for those of us who work in the field to responsibly send refugees to countries—to what we call third countries, there really needs to be a legal framework in place so that they can remain after. Once refugees leave camp settings, they’re often not allowed to go back. So what that means is they become not only stateless but they become campless. They’re statusless. They’re in this kind of administrative limbo, was the term I used earlier. So when—the U.S. is currently designing this process that many of us are very involved in. And what will happen is a coalition of NGOs will reach out to universities and try to find interest in universities taking in students. The question, though, you had was about all the wraparound services, because many universities are often willing to forgive tuition. I know in OSUN we do that all time. But there are so many other costs associated with bringing a refugee student to another country. There’s the cost of the flight, the cost of the visa, the housing, the living stipend, all of that. So some of that’s going to be covered by the U.S. government during this pilot, but really what needs to be looked at is what a more sustainable mechanism is for this. And there are different ways it’s done in different parts of the world. So in Canada, they use a—they use a community sponsorship model. So sometimes—well, they do two things. The community sponsorship model, and what’s called the student levy. I don’t think this would work in the U.S. But the student levy, there’s also money put on the tuition bill—like a dollar or two dollars—on every single tuition bill. And that money goes to cover refugee students at a given institution. And community sponsorship involves the community coming together and identifying pots of money that can be used for these wraparound services. And then, of course, universities need to also spend both human and financial resources on building out what’s needed in terms of the structures on campus to support these students, because there’s always legal advising, there’s psychosocial support, there’s all of the upskilling that might not have happened on the end when they’re being sent from their country of first asylum into the third country. I hope that answers your question. But if institutions are interested, though, you should pay attention to what’s coming, because there will be a call for interest for universities to participate in this new refugee visa category pilot program. And you can also contact me. I’ll be—I’ll know what’s going on and be involved in some ways, too. FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go next to a raised hand from Beth. And you’ll need to share your last name and your affiliation. If you can unmute yourself, that would be great, or accept the prompt. Q: Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: We can. Q: OK, great. My name’s Elizabeth, I go by Beth, Bryant. I’m with Texas State Technical College. I’m on a campus about twenty miles from the Texas-Mexico border. We specialize in associate degrees and technical training for occupations that are in demand in Texas, of course, since we’re such a big economy, and, you know, other places—wind technology, cybersecurity, nursing, education, things like that. I teach state and federal government. We’re all online now. Some of the technical courses have hybrid classes. So my first question is, I know the definition in the dictionary of a refugee, but one of the things that we face here is just an influx of people from Mexico and Central and South America that are not necessarily fleeing war or famine. I think those folks, it’s easy to look at them as a refugee. What we have here are folks that are fleeing economic crises, societal unrest. I have two immigration lawyer friends who I used to help students whenever I can, and they’ve been very generous. One story is a guy got sent back to Honduras when he finally had his trial, was not granted asylum, and was killed two weeks later. So that’s what we’re dealing with here. It’s like an administrative backlog and these people are fleeing difficulty, but it’s hard to get them classified as a refugee. And with the backlog, with the administrative courts that determine asylum, has people just sort of hanging out for two years, and then they make their way into the country and the best they can do is get a job washing dishes at a restaurant, or working at South Padre Island cleaning hotel rooms. So all these countries that you mentioned, it’s easy to see. But for us here on the border, we have a difficult time actually thinking of some of these immigrants—some of these immigrants as refugees. So in order to access what OSUN is doing, how can—what are some of your thoughts on that? And then, just to follow that up, access to technology. Access to the computers. I have students that are trying to do their assignments on a smartphone because they don’t have a computer. We do have funds. We try to get them to those students to help them. These may be first-generation Americans or immigrants. So the technology, the digital divide, is really wide with this group. And this is in our own country. This isn’t a first or second world issue. This is a—I mean, a second or third world issue. This is—this is right here in the United States. And it is a—it is a big problem, because we can’t get these folks to that next level because of the classification and because of the access to technology. So just—just some thoughts on how we could work with our administration, here at TSTC on that. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. GRANATO: Those are big questions. They’re really big questions. I would say, what you pointed to, Beth, of this person who ended up being sent back to, I think it was Honduras you said, and killed, I mean, that’s exactly—when we’re thinking about more traditional refugee pathways, I think there’s also a consideration there that needs to apply to immigrants into the United States. I guess, illegal immigrants. I’m not sure I know the politically correct term for the U.S. right now. But that kind of unofficial immigration into the U.S., because asylum does take a long time, and often fails, and then it leaves people in, again, this kind of limbo where they end up having to go back to a place where it’s not safe. So having that legal framework planned out in advance before taking students into an institution is really—I think that’s just a—that’s an important starting point. I think that was one of your points, but your other point is really about this technological gap. And I guess what I’m not sure I’m understanding, Beth, is, are these students—they’re enrolling in your university as fully matriculated students? Q: Yes. Yes, they’re—I mean, TSTC has open enrollment. And, you know, I’ve taught DREAMers before, who came over here when they were babies because their mother was fleeing, you know, economic insecurity, et cetera. And then I have, you know, people who have—who have migrated. It’s not hard to do. And we take them. And we try to get them into an English as a second language course, et cetera. But it’s—now that so much—even if my courses weren’t online, you still have to have a computer to complete higher education. I mean, period. It’s one of the things that I noticed. I mean, when I tell my students I had to type all my research papers on a typewriter, it freaks them out, you know? And so there are funds available, since we’re a state institution. We’re state-funded. The state of Texas funds us. So we do have access to funds to try to get the computers to those that need them. But it’s coming out of hiding, interacting with the government. A lot of my students won’t apply for the funds because they’re scared. And they’re bright people. Mexico has a pretty good secondary education system. So do you see that as an issue with the people that you deal with? And how do you— FASKIANOS: And then we’ll—if you could take a crack at that, and then we have several other questions. We’ll move on. GRANATO: One of the—one of the things we do, though, is we really work with our faculty on adjusting assignments so that the assignments work in these lower-resource settings, so that students don’t have to have a computer. There actually is quite a bit that students can’t do on their phones. And students—we find that our students, who are very used to not having access to technology, are very adept at being creative in how they’re going to get some of these assignments done. They often handwrite them, and then they’ll type them up in WhatsApp, you know. But we do a lot of faculty work around how to kind of adjust content so that it works in the environment, because you can’t—we simply can’t provide a computer for every student. That would be an unsustainable model. So faculty development is one way we grapple with it. And then upskilling the students so that they know how to kind of adjust and how to be flexible. FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to next to a written question from Dr. Damian Odunze. Does the refugee education program include internally displaced persons, especially in countries in East and West Africa? Is there a collaboration between your organization and local communities? And Dr. Odunze’s with Delta State University in Cleveland, Missouri. GRANATO: Thanks, Dr. Damian. So, yes, we do—we do work with internally displaced students, and many other programs in the region do as well. I would say that, in terms—when you ask about collaboration with local institutions, we—at least from the perspective of OSUN. I can speak from OSUN’s perspective. We attempt to collaborate with local universities here. And there’s a lot less flexibility with local institutions, say in Kenya, in terms of the ways in which refugees are credentialed, the ways in which their qualifications are kind of framed, than there would be with, say, an online program in the United States or even a third-country pathway. There’s often just more flexibility with foreign institutions. So we try to work on opening opportunities for students here with local institutions, but the other ways in which we work with local institutions is we do a lot of work with refugee-led organizations. And those refugee-led organizations work with us on developing the contextualized programming. It also builds their capacity. So some of our attempt at local work is also just with sort of organizations that have been developed by the refugees themselves, which are also educationally oriented, but not higher education institutions. FASKIANOS: Thank you. And just to correct myself, Delta State University is in Cleveland, Mississippi. My apologies. So I’m going to go next to Candace Laughinghouse. Q: Good afternoon. Well, first, thank you for this presentation. It’s really opened my eyes to a lot. I teach at a HBCU, St. Augustine’s University. And we have students—it’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. We have a lot of international students I was unaware of until I joined the faculty. And a lot of that is through the Episcopal Church. Because the school is an Episcopal University. But I just had some questions. And I’m wondering, in our attempts to provide education to students—I’m going to do some research further myself—I was just wondering, also as a—probably because as—(inaudible)—and the importance of listening to our language as instructors—because I actually have to engage in this with some professors in addressing our larger student population of African American students—is, I guess, educating our language and how we’re creating a community to transform. It reminds me of a book by bell hooks called Teaching to Transgress. And a lot of that—and what I’m hearing some of the questions, and some of the things I know, things are sometimes kind of intention or not being aware of addressing certain things. But how does it impact a student’s learning? Because we often feel that the desire to learn just makes us all equal. These students want to come learn, but then even when I just use the language these students, like, you know, what does it—how does it impact our ability to teach and the students’ ability to learn at whatever level, when they are pretty much labeled and categorized in the different areas I’ve heard? Like, you’re an immigrant. You’re a DREAMer. You’re a—you know? That definitely has an impact, even when—I have three small children. And one went through some troubles because of COVID. And they’re even in private school. So the learning development for my youngest was a challenge. But even then, at a private institution, I had to address how she was then being labeled immediately by performance or labeled by even from where she comes from. So I was wondering, has there been any sort of investment or consideration of this type of thing? Because that does—wouldn’t you agree that that would impact, one, a teacher’s ability to teach at a certain level, and also a student’s connection with receiving the education, if you have these labels that are, like, these folks, those people, these refugees, do they deserve this? Instead of, these are young adults experiencing refugee status. These are young adults—because then it reclaims the humanity of them. Just like my girls know, I’m African American, our ancestors were not slaves. They were enslaved. Because we are aware now of what that denotes when you place labels. So I was wondering, has there been any sort of inquiry into that? Because I really believe that that could be a strong—there could be a correlation to the outcome of these programs as well, and how we are addressing the students. Because it kind of places a barrier between us and these young adults. GRANATO: I think it’s a really excellent question. And, again, an area that needs more research, especially when we’re talking about integrating displaced learners into—primarily into environments where the majority of students are not displaced. So a student going to your university, for example, there by necessity needs to be an awareness of the context of where this person came from, at least among the staff, administrators, and faculty, because they will bring with them—they will bring with them a certain experience that needs attention. Definitely trauma that might or might not need attention, but legal questions that will need attention. So that has to be—there has to be awareness. But the question of how they are perceived by their classmates and the ways in which they kind of categorize themselves, I mean, I certainly can’t speak for the refugee population. But I’ve heard a number of our students speak to when they go to third countries and they enroll in universities, where they’re not surrounded by their compatriots in the same way. And they don’t want to identify as refugees. They don’t want to be labeled that way. They want to be identified as students. Now, what kind of psychological studies have been done on that, I think that’s an area that’s somewhat under-researched still. But there’s—I think there’s a difference between awareness and labeling too. And that awareness is critical in these university settings, where these students are going to come with a very different set of needs and requirements. Q: OK. So I guess—I guess my only question is—and you’re seeing what I’m saying about research. So is that something separate from what you’re doing? That cannot be integrated into the praxis in what your—and the pedagogy in which you’re—which you brilliantly presented earlier? Because I’m saying that that is a huge impact. Because we can have all the tools to say, hey, this can work, and this can work, and this can work. But something like that, in its—you know, it has a huge impact. And I’m not just speaking for the students, because the students, yeah, they bring their own things. But I’m talking about—I’m speaking as an educator. And as educators, how that can be perhaps—or, not perhaps—how that should be included in faculty around what you’re addressing. But thank you for letting me ask the question. GRANATO: Yeah. And I mean, I think you’re absolutely right. And, the work that we do with students in the bridging program, again, this is my example from the context I work in, we do a lot of work, you know, you mentioned bell hooks. We do a lot of work in trying to get the students to think – to think about content and ideas outside of their own contexts. And yet, they’re very much in their context there. And the label in a camp is important to them. They use it. You know, in their camp setting, it becomes a tool. But that’s very different when they’re then removed from that kind of majority area, where everybody is the same as them. So, no, I mean, you’re raising a really important question, and one that needs to be thought of, especially in third countries. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Sana Tayyen, who’s at the University of Redlands in California. When developed countries, like Sweden and Germany, accept refugees, do they usually have an agenda as to the types of jobs and pathways they want refugees to end up in? Not 100 percent sure on this, but I’ve heard of Syrian refugees being brought into Sweden to fill service jobs for an aging population. Will higher education cater to government agendas? GRANATO: It’s a good question. So the path—this question is really about what we would call third country pathways, where refugees are moved from a country of first asylum to a third country for the purposes of higher education. I think that’s what you’re asking, Sana. You know, in the programs that we work with, as OSUN but also OSUN co-chairs what is called the Global Taskforce on Third Country Higher Education Pathways, we work with institutions and governments that don’t have that agenda. Promoting an agenda like that, that refugees should be coming in to fill a particular service, undermines the purpose of higher education and the mission of a higher education opening up possibility. So if you look at Germany, higher education pathways, students can come in and they can study—they can study anything at an institution that they’re accepted to. They have to be accepted to the institution. In France, it’s the same. There are many different options that the students can choose from in terms of majors. The important part is that they have the ability to work after, and that their ability to work—that their work permit allows them to work across sectors. So those are the pathways that are under development. And those are the ones that we, for example, support. I’m not—I don’t know about that case you’re referring to in Sweden. I can’t really speak to that because I’m not sure. But I can’t imagine that’s 100 percent accurate, but I will look that up. FASKIANOS: Great. So next question from Ellen Chesler. Can you speak in more detail about OSUN’s program for Afghan refugee students at Bard College in the U.S. and the American University of Central Asia in Tashkent? And how are these programs going? GRANATO: So Bard took in—Bard, and our partner, American University of Central Asia, took in a number of students, it’s around two hundred, into BA and MA programs. The number will go up. There will be another intake. The program is partially—the scholarships are partially funded by Bard itself. You know, we do tuition remission. AUCA does tuition remission. There’s donors that contribute. I guess how is it going? It’s been a heavy lift. You know, it’s very different from bringing in international students. And international students, they’re already quite complicated to bring into a university setting, as you all well know. But bringing in the Afghan students into America was particularly complicated because we don’t yet have this refugee visa category. So the students came in through referrals, the P4 process—sorry—the P3 process. But many of them came in on student visas. And student visas are not a sustainable mechanism. They only last for the duration of the degree. So now what Bard is trying to do is figure out what’s next for these students. And we’re having to do it on a case-by-case basis. You know, figuring out what’s going to happen to them after, what kind of legal status they’re going to have. Are they going to claim asylum and be stuck in that system, and not be able to work? Are they going to be able to transition to some kind of residency? And this is all because this special refugee visa category does not exist yet. Next year, hopefully, it will be a very different scenario. At the American University if Central Asia, it’s also had a different set of struggles. I know that the university there has struggled with a lot of—a lot of trauma. I mean, there’s been a lot of psychosocial issues that have come up, and a lot of issues with students attending classes, because they’re really struggling. And the university—Bard and AUCA, you know, it’s a bit lift to equip your staff with the extra skills they need to deal with this, and the extra staffing you need. I mean, you need more people. And it happened so quickly that I feel like there’s been kind of a catch up. So I think—I hope that answers your question. I’m not sure if your question was how is it going was a different one, but I hope that answers it. FASKIANOS: Great. So we have two more questions I’d love to get in, from Dr. Adegbola Ojo, who’s at the University of Leeds in the UK. Apart from financial remittances, is there evidence of other forms of positives, e.g., brain gain, in home countries resulting in the human capital flight of refugees? GRANATO: When you say “home countries,” do you mean their countries of origin, or do you mean the countries they are going to becoming their home countries. FASKIANOS: Right. I’m not sure. Dr. Ojo, do you want to unmute and clarify? Because I read exactly what was in the question. (Laughs.) Q: Yes. Yes, thank you very much. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. Q: Yeah, yeah. It’s countries of origin. GRANATO: Countries of origin. Q: Yes. GRANATO: That’s a good question. And, again, it’s an understudied area. The number—you know, an understudied area of people who have gone and sought an education, gone from a third country—sorry—a country of first asylum, to a third country for education, who have then gone back. I don’t actually know the exact numbers. I don’t know what the exact numbers are of people who might have gotten a university education—say, in the UK—and then they return to their country of origin. I imagine it’s quite small. So I don’t—and there aren’t studies on that particular question. When it comes to brain gain, of course, most refugees who leave, say, a camp-based setting, they don’t—the vast majority do not go back to the camp. Most of them can’t. In Kenya, you can return to a camp. In a place like Cox’s Bazar you wouldn’t be able to. In a place like Rwanda, you could. So it’s different in every—in every place. In Jordan, you wouldn’t be able to return. So it would also be difficult to track if people return what kind of impact it would have because most of them actually don’t. Most of them remain in the country that they go to educate—to be educated. But it would be interesting to look at the numbers that return to their countries of origin, and what that net brain gain is. I think it’s a really good question. I’m sorry I don’t have an answer. Q: Well, thank you. I do think that that would be a knowledge gap there, and potentially area for further research. Yeah, something to think about. GRANATO: It’s a good research question, yeah. Q: Thank you. GRANATO: What I can say—although, maybe there’s another question. I was going to add something, but maybe— FASKIANOS: No. No, go ahead. Just have a—go ahead. GRANATO: OK. I was just going to say, it’s a little different from your question about brain gain, but there have been some recent studies on refugees who don’t leave the camp but get an education, and have a degree, and then actually have really no very pronounced livelihood opportunity that’s connected to their degree. And some of those studies have looked about the increase in things like depression and anxiety. And the sort of negative impacts of higher education, when then there’s no livelihood opportunity that really is connected to the degree itself. So I know it’s different from your question, but just it made me think of it. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. So we’ll take the final question from Sneha Bharadwaj, who’s a professor at Texas Woman’s University. How can we get involved in this mission? So that’s a good question to end on, on what administrators and educators can do in their own institutions. GRANATO: So I think there’s a couple of things. First, I’ve already mentioned a few times that there will be this initiative in the U.S., and of course, Texas Woman’s University would be an institution that could participate in this, with this new refugee visa category and taking students in from countries of first asylum. But that’s going to still be a very small number. I mean, the vast majority of refugees will not be traveling for third-country opportunities. The vast majority will need to be educated in their country of first asylum. And, you know, offering online opportunities for students is always something that refugees are interested in, in camp-based settings. We find that online opportunities really only work if there’s also some infrastructure on the ground to support them. Very remote instruction, often, there’s just major attrition. But if you have online offerings, you could come together with other partners, you could think about ways that you could offer some kind of online degree, if that’s something that your institution is accredited for. Again, getting back to this network idea. Networks of institutions can do that collaboratively, so it’s not as much of a heavy lift. There’s always opportunities as well, and need, in refugee settings for additional research to be done, and for collaboration on things like faculty development inside camp settings, and training of teaching assistants. Those are also areas where there’s quite a bit of need. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Well, we are at the end of our time. So I thank you for taking your evening—giving your evening to us, Rebecca. You are in Nairobi, so it’s late there. And to all of you for being with us, and for your questions and comments. We really appreciate it. GRANATO: Thank you. Thank you for having me. FASKIANOS: You can follow Rebecca Granato on Twitter at @rebecca_granato. And you will receive an invitation to our next Higher Education Webinar shortly. But in the meantime, I encourage you to follow us at @CFR_Academic on Twitter and visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. Thank you, again, for joining us today. And we look forward to your continued participation in the Higher Education Webinar Series. (END)
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    Higher Education Webinar: Navigating Digital Equity
    Mordecai Ian Brownlee, president of the Community College of Aurora, will lead the conversation on navigating the digital equity gap in higher education.   FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We are delighted to have Mordecai Ian Brownlee with us today to talk about the digital equity gap in higher education. Dr. Brownlee is president of the Community College of Aurora in Colorado. He also teaches for Lamar University in the College of Education and Human Development. Dr. Brownlee publishes frequently and serves as a columnist for EdSurge. He has been featured on a number of national platforms including by Diverse Issues in Higher Education magazine as a new school leader representing the next generation of college presidents, and he was most recently appointed to serve on the board of directors of the American Association of Community Colleges. So, Dr. Brownlee, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us. I thought we could begin by having you define digital equity and give us an overview of the digital equity gap in higher education, and I know you are going to share a presentation with us so we look forward to seeing that on screen. BROWNLEE: Absolutely. Thank you so much for the opportunity to the Council on Foreign Relations. Just thank you all so much. And to answer that question as we talk about digital equity, it’s the assurance of ensuring that all have access to the information technology available and to have the capacity to engage in society and productive citizenship. And so we’ll talk about that and let me just start sharing the screen and we’ll jump right into it. All right. Here we go. So, once again, thank you all for the opportunity, again, to the Council of Foreign Relations for this opportunity to talk about navigating digital equity. Bringing greetings on behalf of the Community College of Aurora here in Aurora, Colorado. And let’s just jump right into it. You know, as we talk about defining this work, how to navigate this work, we have to first understand the work, and to understand digital equity we must first understand the digital divide. And so, you know, as we talked about the digital divide at the beginning of the pandemic it, certainly, was dealing with the voice and mindset, the texture and tone, of accessibility and being able to engage in learning throughout the pandemic and, first of all, I would say as educators it’s so critical that even as we are, quote/unquote, “coming out of the pandemic” that we still acknowledge part of the challenges that are happening across the country and across the world in regards to accessibility—equitable accessibility to information technology, to the tools, and to have the capacity to not only learn but, certainly, engage in the economy and society. So as we talk about digital equity, we must understand the digital divide and so let’s kind of define that. One of my favorite definitions for the digital divide defined comes from the National League of Cities and they say the digital divide is the gap between individuals who have access to computers, high-speed internet, and the skills to use them, and those who do not. There’s two critical components as we talk about digital equity that I want to call out with the digital divide definition here. One is access. The other is skill. Access and skill. So as we think about equity and just think about how do we level the playing field, how do we close the gap on accessibility and skill attainment to engage. And it’s not just being able to access and that’s the other—I think the complexity here as we think about the term equity because just because I provide you the computer, right—and we found this during the pandemic—just because I provide you the computer do you even have broadband access? And if you have broadband access do you have dependable sustainable broadband access? And then if you have sustainable broadband access, are you skilled to not only learn but and engage through this instrument and tool, and that in itself is where we have found there to be challenges as we think throughout the pandemic and, certainly, beyond the pandemic on what we must do to close the gap for equity and the digital divide. So digital divide provides that access, skill. Equity will then take us deeper into this work. Here are key factors I want to call out in regards to how we must eradicate or address these challenges, these factors, in order to close the gap on the digital divide. Number one, what we have seen through research—and has done a great job of calling this out—number one, age-related issues as we think about the various generations that are engaged in society and still present in society. We have digital natives. I consider myself to be a digital native as a millennial. But this is very different than previous generations that may not have had the proper training and skill and their jobs do not have them engaging, utilizing these tools and instruments on a regular basis and so that in itself has created some challenges. And, again, there is, certainly, all those that are outliers and those among the generations that have been able to engage in these instruments and tools. However, it is truly a fact through research that age-related issues have been a part of this challenge, more specifically, speaking to our older population. Socioeconomic factors—have to talk about it. I think about it, especially in the higher education space. Our tribal institutions is where I’ve heard throughout the pandemic some of our most severe challenges that have been experienced in regards to the digital divide. One of the stories that I heard that just breaks my heart—I remember the first time I heard it, it truly had me in tears—we were at the height of the pandemic at this point and what we were learning is in one particular tribal community in order for those students to complete—these are young K-12 students—in order for them to complete their assignments they had elders and community members of that tribe that would walk the students up to the highest point on the mountain within that particular tribal territory just to be able to pick up an internet signal, and they were able to do this when there was not as much traffic on that internet broadband access—that grid, if you will. And so those students were having to do their work—their homework—between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. in the morning. Very interesting reality—unfortunate reality. We, certainly, have to come up with the solutions to addressing this. This in itself is part of that digital divide conversation. Geographic causes—it depends on where you are in the country. I remember at one point in time I was teaching and served the University of Charleston out of Charleston, West Virginia, and for those that are familiar with that part of the country in the Appalachia, I would have my students that were having to use their own cell phones in order to complete their assignments and upload their assignments. They did not have either, in some cases, the actual tools or accessibility, would have to drive in to more populated spaces to pick up a signal. This was impacting their learning experience. This in itself is all a part of that digital divide. Last, certainly, not least, racial, culture, language. All of this plays a role and more in that skill set component along with accessibility component and how are we going to as educators, as key stakeholders within our community, leaders, be a part of the solution to close that divide. Age-related issues, socioeconomic factors, geographic causes, racial, cultural, and language. Again, is the source on that there. Step two, to navigate digital equity we must understand digital equity, and so now we’re going to go and delve into what does it mean—what does digital equity mean. So I’m taking my definition, again, from the National League of Cities. Digital equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. This is huge. So, again, as you heard me talk about the digital divide just moments ago, it’s the component of accessibility and skill. That skill is then where we get into productive citizenship through society, democracy, and economy, and so now we’re talking about how does this tool, this instrument—it’s much more than just accessibility. Now how do I engage? How am I advancing my family, my economic—social economic realities through this instrument and tool? The definition goes on to say—again, by the National League of Cities—digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. Case in point, life. As we think about all aspects of life from employment to social participation—as we think social media engagement, employment, we all understand what that means; lifelong learning, certainly as educators we have to think about that component—and then accessibility to the tools that we need, I think about my own child who this past weekend had to reach out for virtual assistance from medical care for an earache that he was having. My ability to have the skill set and accessibility to reach out, obtain those resources for my family, and engage through an electronic means to fulfill what my needs were are all a part of this equity. Life in itself should be able to remain whole in what I produce and how it is able to produce within me, and that is in itself digital equity. So step three, let’s discuss how to navigate digital equity in higher education and, again, hello to all of our educators that are on the call today. So here’s some tips that I want to leave for you on today just to think about, and I look forward to our conversation that we’re about to have here in a moment. Number one, as educators—and we’re talking about navigating digital equity—it is so important that we understand who we’re serving. I say that because, unfortunately, what can happen is especially as educators and we think about the economy, the disruptions that we’re experiencing in the marketplace right now, we’ll sometimes pursue who we want, not necessarily who we have, and that’s unfortunate. As we think about the respective institutional missions and the spaces in which we serve, we have to be mission centered and embrace who it is that we’re serving because we owe it to those students who are pursuing their academic endeavors and their professional endeavors through our respective institutions to totally be served. We must understand their realities. One of the conversations we have here at the Community College of Aurora is the conversation about you don’t know who is actually sitting, respectively, in that seat in that classroom and what they had to overcome in order to sit in that seat that particular day. Do we know how many bus routes they had to take? Do we understand the challenges that they were having with their children? Do we know are they now leaving their second job that they’ve worked for the past twenty-four hours to now sit in your classroom? So we have to understand, be aware, and approach that engagement with a sense of grace. I think that’s a word that we, perhaps, haven’t necessarily embraced in the academy in the way in which we have—should have, but now more than ever we have to. Secondly, create systems that level the learning engagement field. So it’s this idea of privilege—this thought of privilege—and, perhaps, what we assumed that everyone had access to and what everyone had the ability to engage with that they don’t necessarily have, and if they do have accessibility to it do we have a true understanding of what all they have to do to have that level of engagement and accessibility? Again, case in point, bus routes. Think about what’s happening around our country. There has been a reduction from a transportation standpoint financially, and many of the routes and the transportation services that have been provided—some of this due to disruption, others due to areas in which there have had to be a funneling of tax dollars and resources in other spaces and places in our communities. Long story short, the reality is, is that in many communities the bus routes have had to be reduced, which means that individuals are either having to walk or find ways to public accessibility to some of these resources in terms of broadband access and computer access. So then as we’re teaching and we’re instructing and we’re providing services, we have to think about how can we level the playing field and remove barriers? Does it have to be performed—does that learning outcome have to come in the form of computer access and broadband accessibility? And maybe it does, so this takes us to point number three. Let’s promote community resources to close the digital divide. I think that laser focus on how we’re going to close that divide creates this space for equity, and so, perhaps, it’s through libraries. There’s one organization out of North Carolina in some of their rural spaces they have now through grant funds created different spaces in their rural communities for those in more rural spaces to gain access to a computer lab and the grants are sustaining that accessibility through computer labs in those rural spaces. Amazing resource. There’s many others and examples that we can share around the country. So with that said, let’s promote these community resources. Sometimes it’s a library. Sometimes it’s a grant-funded opportunity. Sometimes it’s a local nonprofit. So let’s talk about how we can be creative in our respective communities to close the gap there. Fourth, adjust learning experiences to be more inclusive. Not only do we need to create the systems to level the playing field but we must then adjust the learning experiences to be more inclusive to create learning spaces and engagement spaces for all, going back to not only accessibility but skill. Last, certainly not least, providing institutional resources to close the digital divide. What I mean by this is, is that, in closing, due to—through the pandemic and many of our institutions received the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds—the HEERF funds. Those HEERF funds were utilized in many different ways. In many cases, we were able to do laptop loan programs. In some spaces they were even doing hotspot loan programs. And so now that we are coming out of the pandemic what does it look like to sustain these resources, OK, because now that we provide these resources how do we sustain them? How do we ensure that we’re having long-term engagements? One of the things that I want and I ask from my educators, especially administrators, to look at: How do we close this—(inaudible)—without placing the costs on the backs of our students? They already have enough going on. We don’t need to just move the cost of something on to their tuition and fees. How can we be even more creative with the engagements and enrollments of our students to being laser focused on what we’re doing to close, again, many of those factors and gaps that were highlighted earlier? So grateful for the opportunity. Have a website. Would love to engage with you all more. I know we’re getting ready to go into conversation. But and, again, thank you all so much for the opportunity. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you so much for that overview. So we’re going to go to all of you for your questions now. You can click the raised hand icon on your screen to ask a question, and on an iPad or a tablet click the more button to access the raised hand feature. When you’re called upon accept the unmute prompt and please state your name and affiliation followed by a question. You can also submit a written question by the Q&A icon and I will read out the question, and if you do write your question please include your affiliation just to give us a sense of where you’re coming from. And there are no questions as of yet but I know that will change, or else you were so thorough that nobody has questions. (Laughs.) So do you see now with the pandemic experience that there will be continued—I’m going to ask the first question—you know, that this has opened up the space now for deeper understanding of the digital divide and bringing the resources to bear? Or now that we’re kind of post-pandemic or whatever this is people have forgotten about it and are moving on? BROWNLEE: Thank you so much for the question, my friend. I think that it’s twofold. There’s two sides of this coin, right. So there’s the one side of the coin where the awareness now is so much deeper and richer than it ever has been because of the amount of resources and what it took to sustain since 2020 those resources that were being provided to the students in the community. So now there’s many that have learned and they’re now having those conversations about how to sustain the resources because, as we all know, while there’s been an extension of HEERF funds through the Department of Education, that day is coming to an end here pretty soon and so we have to talk about sustainability. The other side of that coin is, unfortunately, there are those that acknowledge what the realities were but their agenda is more on how do we move past it, not necessarily sustain what we were providing. That’s part of the issue for some that we have to address because we don’t just move on from hardship, right. That hardship is real and we have to still maintain a laser focus on how we’re going to close the digital divide, especially in the academic spaces, but also understanding our responsibility as not only educators but community leaders, stakeholders within our community, to be a part of the solutions and the expansions on equitable access and resources being made available. And so I think with both sides of those coins we’re seeing two different realities. But I think that there’s also a need now more than ever to maintain the senses of urgency around the haves and have nots and what we’re going to do to be a part of the solution to ensure that we’re raising the level of accessibility and skill for all within our communities. FASKIANOS: I noted in your presentation you talked about knowing who your students are. So what advice do you have for higher education educators and leaders who are trying to navigate the digital divide in their classroom and to get to know—to figure out where their students are coming from and what their needs may be? BROWNLEE: So, as we all know, especially in the IR space, right, there’s different tools, resources, that we can use to survey our students. There’s different splash pages, if you will, that we can utilize in terms of the enrollment processes or the readvising processes, or even think of some of our learning management tools that we can engage with students to determine what their needs truly are. I think that it’s important that we create tools and instruments that will have high engagement rates. Sometimes those have to be incentivized. But we have to think about outside of our normal student leader responses how we’re capturing the voice of all of our students. And so that’s those that would not typically provide response, and as we think about the digital divide we have to acknowledge that that tool, that instrument, can’t just be electronic. What are we going to do to have paper resources or maybe through phone conversations, outreach, being able to have, certainly, the walk around conversations around our respective campuses and the universities. And so we need to have those conversations to make sure that we’re capturing the voice of all of our students, I think, is in the true spirit of continued improvement. We have to understand who we serve and then acknowledge, through the development of systems and the recalibration of our student experiences, are the voice of these students. FASKIANOS: Right. And in terms of the skills, because community colleges are so focused on developing the skills, what specifically are you doing at Aurora or are you seeing in the community college space to help students develop those skills that they need to navigate digitally? BROWNLEE: Absolutely. One of the things I’ll talk about—and those that may not be aware and I don’t know who all has visited Denver—but the history of Aurora—Aurora is the most diverse community—city—in the state of Colorado. I call that out because immigrants—it has a strong—there’s a strong population in this community and so part of our young thirty-nine years of existence in this community has been providing English second language courses. We’re noticing that especially our immigrant families and communities that are seeking social and economic mobility, highly skilled from where they come from but now we must create learning opportunities to close that gap, not only through language but through accessibility in this American market. And so through our community ESL programs we’ve been able to educate upwards of two thousand students a year and walk them through the various levels of learning and engagement with the English language, and then at some point in that process—learning process—we then engage and begin the computer engagement in utilizing the English language in their native language and beginning to close that gap. So I think that that work in itself is a part of that digital equity that must be created—how do you create the foundation to build upon to then advance the engagement. And there’s been some other great examples that I’ve seen around the country in doing that work, a lot of grant programs that I’ve seen in respective communities. You heard me talk about what’s happening out there in the Carolinas. But I think about what’s also happening over in California. California has been a great state that’s been able to do some work about working and identifying through heat maps and institutional resource—research and resources and community resources, looking at demographics, identifying low socioeconomic spaces, and putting concentrated efforts in those particular communities to increase the level of engagement, accessibility, and skill, and it’s critical and key. FASKIANOS: Great. We have a question from Gloria Ayee. So if you can unmute yourself and state your affiliation. Q: Hello. Thank you so much for sharing this important work that you’re doing. I am Gloria Ayee and I am a lecturer and senior research fellow at Harvard University, and my question is about the connection between the digital divide and also how it mirrors to current inequities that we see in the educational system in general. So thinking about that type of relationship, what do you think are the most significant challenges to addressing the digital divide, given the issues that we continue to see with the educational system in general at all types of institutions, and what do you foresee as the best way to actually address these challenges? BROWNLEE: Oh, that’s a great question. Great question. Thank you so much for asking that question, Gloria. I would say two things come to mind—funding and agenda, right. So if—I’ll tell you what comes to mind for me. So as we think about financially and we look at how these institutions are funded around the country, let’s think K-12. So grade schools. Think K-12. Let’s also think higher education. Are we talking headcount? Are we talking full-time equivalency? Are we talking success points? Are we talking—even as we think about developmental education, how are these institutions being funded to sustain the work of working especially with low socioeconomic communities? Let’s just take, for example, full-time equivalency, especially in this higher education space. So if I were someone who wanted to work to create programs that I’m going to help in the advancing and addressing of the digital divide and advancing digital equity, I need funds in order to do that. Now, could I pursue grant funds? Absolutely. But even—we all know that grant funds are not necessarily all the time sustainable funds. Short-term funds, but it still has to be a hard-lined. So then as we think about doing this work—I’ll go back to funding and agenda—realizing and looking at what would need to shift within particularly my state’s legislative agenda or, perhaps, in that particular district how the funding is occurring. If I’m working with a high population, which we are here at the Community College of Aurora—a high population of part-time students, these are students that are maybe taking one class and engaging. However, if I’m funded by a full-time equivalency model it then takes several students that are taking one class to then equal that one full-time equivalent, which then impacts my funding structure. So then how do I then serve, yet, I am seeking to obtain? And this is where we then get into, I think, a part of that friction of agenda and funding models. So I think that as we think equity—with an equity mindset beyond just the initiatives of overlay—we actually want to bake in the equity experience within our respective states and communities—then we’re going to have to take a look at the funding agenda, the agenda and funding—how are we truly going to advance equity and closing the digital divide. It has to be funded properly towards sustainability. We’ve seen this same thing occur in developmental education as well for those who’ve been a part of those conversations where we saw around the country there will be a reduction in developmental education funding, which has been impacted, in some cases, the success rates and resources that were historically provided through community colleges in certain communities. Same thing in this digital divide space and digital equity. So funding an agenda, and I think that the solution is, is really coming to the table and saying what does equity look like without it being an overlaid agenda, without it just being a conversation? What does it look like for it to be baked into the experience of how we’re going to transform lives, which then means that, in many cases, legislatively and funding models. We have to move from a transactional mindset to a transformational mindset and we have to go all in on ensuring that we’re creating equitable communities and engagements for those that we serve. Oh, you’re muted, my friend. FASKIANOS: Yes. Thank you. After two-and-a-half years—(laughter)—I should know that. Encourage all of you to share your best practices and what you’re doing in your communities as well. You know, we have seen the Biden administration really focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They’re focusing on bringing more diversity to the State Department and other parts of the government. Is the Department of Education looking at the funding model? Is this an area that they are actively trying to reform and adjust? BROWNLEE: I get the sense—and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking in front of several legislators in different venues—I get the sense that there is a major conversation that’s happening. I do. I truly get the sense that there’s a major conversation happening, not just with our current administration from thinking about our U.S. president but also thinking local legislators as well. I really think that there’s conversations—many conversations that are happening. If anything, I feel as though the major—I don’t want to use the word barrier so I’m searching for the appropriate word here. But I think the major hurdle that we’re going to have to think about is how we have built and designed our funding models to date. You know, some of these funding models were built in early 1990s, mid-1990s in some cases. Really, you don’t see it too much early 2000s, and so we have older financial modeling infrastructure that we’re trying to pursue this work and how to change it. And so it can’t be a Band-Aid approach. I think in some spaces and communities that’s what’s been done is that rather than changing the actual model, the infrastructure itself, it’s received a Band-Aid in the form of grants. And I do believe that grants are significant and, certainly, necessary and appreciated. However, I think that we’re reaching a point in society where there has to be a total restructuring of our funding models and taking a look at what percentages are going where, taking a look at the demographics in our respective communities, taking a look at the economic realities in our respective communities. Take a look at just how much the demographics are shifting in our respective communities and building a model that’s ready to engage, sustain, and raise the level for all, and I think that we’re on our way. I, certainly, hope that we are. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Rufus Glasper. Q: I am here. FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Q: Hi, Mordecai. How are you today? BROWNLEE: How are you, sir? Q: Hi, Irina. FASKIANOS: Hi, Rufus. Great to hear from you. Q: Mordecai, talk a little bit about digital equity and faculty. How have they accepted, rejected, embraced what you were describing as all of the different factors that are affecting our students, and what kind of practices have you developed or can be developed to ensure that faculty can continue the progress and include our students who are most needy? BROWNLEE: Great question, Dr. Glasper. I didn’t expect anything different coming from you. So, let me just say, we’ve had some very intense conversations, and I have to really give our faculty and our instructors kudos because I will tell you this is probably by far one of the most engaged communities that I’ve ever worked in of educators that are committed to just truly getting to the solution. There’s some strong work that was done around inclusive excellence here at the Community College of Aurora, certainly, prior to my arrival. It led to this college receiving an Inclusive Excellence Award from the American Association of Community Colleges right around 2017. Part of their work at that time was looking at, as our faculty and our academy, how were we going to close the gap on success rates, particularly in English and math, and part of that work was creating resources towards gap closure to ensure that those that had not traditionally and historically had access to some of those learning materials and plans and resources that they were being provided those in a more intensive way. Now as we think more into the digital space and, certainly, think through the pandemic, what we’ve now done as an institution is that we’ve become—Community College of Aurora has become the very first Achieving the Dream institution in the state of Colorado and one of the projects that our faculty and our instructors are delving into—I’ve got a big meeting tomorrow on this, matter of fact—is taking a look at the respective success rates in our gateway courses—our key courses that are gateways into our respective academic programs—and asking ourselves how can we create more equitable learning experiences. Two things—critical things—that I’ve seen our faculty do. Number one, looking at the data. I think that the data is key and critical—taking a look, disaggregating that data. And our faculty and our instructors continue to do that work, looking at a three-year spread, a five-year spread, and saying: Where is the success occurring? Who’s it occurring with and those respective identities of those students? And then really asking the hard questions: Why isn’t this population succeeding at the same rate as this population? The other part of this criticality is, is also then accepting that there can’t be an excuse in the work. There can’t be an excuse in the work and that we must ensure then that we are creating the equitable resources and infrastructure to close the gap, create learning experiences, and say, listen, if our students can’t access the internet and the Web then what can we do to create for them the resources, whether it be paper? If they can’t come to the teaching demonstration at this particular day how can I create an opportunity for them to engage and obtain that information at another given time? Perhaps they’re a working parent and can’t necessarily attend at 10:00 a.m. but they can at 5:00 p.m. What are we doing to level the playing field with accessibility? And the other aspect of that is just that our faculty and instructors have been partnering to create these more holistic learning engagement opportunities where if we’re having a conversation in English then what can we do within our math department and almost cohorting, in a sense, the learning experiences amongst those two separate classes but then creating like engagements where the same conversations happening in English could be happening in math and science to begin to bring about a new learning within the students to say, OK, well, this particular world issue, now I’m understanding it through various lenses and I understand the interconnectivity in these learning experiences. And so more integrated learning, and I think that we’ve got a long way to go but we’re committed to doing that work. FASKIANOS: So Rufus Glasper is the chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges, and I just thought I would ask you, Rufus, to maybe share your experience as the chancellor what has been working in your community. Q: I am the chancellor emeritus. I have not been at the colleges for a little over six years now. But I am the president and CEO for the League for Innovation in the Community College. And one of the things that I’d like to connect with with our experience right now we are involved in the state of Arizona with a project which is—which we are embracing. We are working with four different types of institutions right now—urban metropolitan, we have a couple of rural institutions and we have a couple of tribal, and we’re trying to make that connectiveness between insecurities—student insecurities. So we’re looking at housing. We’re looking at hunger. We’re looking at jobs. And one of the things that we have found is that we can’t make either of these items connect and work without broadband first, and the reason being when you’re looking at access it’s critical when you start to look at the activities that are occurring throughout the U.S. now and specifically within Arizona—I’ll talk about the connections we have now made that are national in scope, that are city, town, and county in scope, and the commitments that we are now working to obtain from all of those who are in position relative to enhancing broadband access and digital equity. There’s actually a Center for Digital Equity at Arizona State University (ASU), and last week we had a gathering of all of our institutions to get a better understanding of what does digital equity mean as it comes from the ASU center. What does it mean for each of our different types of institutions, and I will tell you that the one that was hardest hit was the one you talked about and that’s tribal just in terms of access, in terms of resources. But I am pleased with the dollars that are out there now at all levels. So if this is a time for us to increase access, increase affordability, than I think we should seize the moment. My question then, which would lead to another one, is on the whole notion of sustainability and you talked about that in terms of stimulus kinds of resources, and equity is in everyone’s face right now, especially broadband and others. Is it a sustainable initiative and focus and what are the elements that need to be connected in order to make sure that it stays in the forefront and that our students who may have benefited from buses sitting in their neighborhood during the pandemic and others but are still trying to make choices? And I’ll make the last connection point, and you made the opening—how flexible should our institutions be around work-based learning so that our students who are not able to come to the campus and be there on a regular basis but want to balance having a virtual environment? Do you see a balance coming or do you see us forced into staying the old, antiquated model of face-to-face classes and sixteen and eighteen weeks? BROWNLEE: Let me start with the sustainability component then. Thank you again, Dr. Glasper. From a sustainability standpoint, I’ll say here at the institution part of the conversation—it’s a hard conversation. But I encourage every educator to have this conversation, this brave conversation, in your spaces. Let’s take a look at your success rates, and I’m just particularly speaking to higher education right now. Let’s take a look at your various academic profiles. Let’s take a look at what has been your engagements with your workforce partners, your advisory councils, in many cases, and let’s talk about two things—one, the sustainability of those programs and, two, the social and economic mobility of those programs directly to workforce. I think what we will find is what we found here at the Community College of Aurora is that over time the various disruptions that have occurred has shifted the needs of our students. However, the institutions respectively delivering these services have not shifted with the times. And so it is quite possible that either our approach to the work or the actual lack of proper programming is prohibiting social and economic mobility in many of these communities and especially for us. Fifty-two percent of our students are first generation. Sixty-seven percent of our students are students of color. So as we talk about sustainability, we’re right there on the front line of having to take a look at enrollment, full-time equivalency, completion, graduation, and employment rates, and we began to find a shifting of that. And so when we talk sustainability, I bring this up as a framework, if you will, to say once you’ve had those conversations now let’s talk about where there are losses—financial losses—and areas in which we can truly be innovative and reallocate dollars that were once going in certain areas and infuse that into other areas that are going to have a higher return. So I think thinking, truly, with a return on investment—an ROI mindset—will then help us to not only meet the needs of our mission, meet it in its current state and its current needs and the disruption that’s currently being experienced, which will then help create new opportunities for sustainability beyond what has just been HEERF funding or potential grant funding, it can be hardlined into the institutional mission. I think the other component of that sustainability, too, is looking at the strategic plans of our respective organizations, looking at those—not only the mission but the objectives and asking how equity is not necessarily a separate objective but equity is actually ingrained in all aspects of the objectives—the strategic objectives—because, at that point, we can then understand the significance in resourcing and funding equity all the way through the entirety of the institution. In regards to your latter question about work-based learning and the old model of doing things, I, certainly, believe and hope, Dr. Glasper, that there’s this new movement that’s occurring where we’re going to have to embrace, whether we like it or not, the next era of higher education, and that next era will require us to not approach things in the same modalities and same ways. We’re watching, especially in research, the confidence levels reduce—heavily reduced now in the public’s perception of what higher education is to provide in comparison to what it once provided. Higher education in many communities isn’t necessarily being seen as the sole or the primary tool towards social economic mobility as it once was twenty, thirty years ago. So what does this mean? Our approach to sixteen-week instruction is, certainly, going to have to be transformed. What does it look like to have five-week instruction? Eight-week instruction? What does it look like for us to have true noncredit instructional programs that’s in direct partnership with business and industry to ramp up the training and social economic mobility opportunities within our communities? Folks aren’t necessarily looking for a two-year or a four-year or a six-year learning experience. They need to put food on their family’s table today. What does it look like for them to engage with the institution and have that kind of learning experience, and we have to do it with a digital equity mindset, right, because they’re seeking opportunity. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have accessibility in their current state. We want to get them to a state where they can have that accessibility. So how then do we create those tools? One key component of this is even looking at our college application processes. What is the readability score on some of these applications? We want to educate those that may have a reading level of a—seventh or eighth grade reading level. But some of these college applications are reading at a fourteen, fifteen grade reading level. That in itself is creating a barrier to those that are seeking opportunity, that need the opportunity to up skill. And so I think that the old model is going to, in my opinion, and hopefully quickly deteriorate and we’re going to have to be more effective. But let me also say this. It is critical that we have our faculty and our instructors at the table. These decisions shouldn’t be thrown upon them. It should be conversations that we’re having collectively together, and then how can then we resource our faculty and our instructors and our staff to be a part of those solutions, drive those solutions, reinvest in them to be able to create more innovative and more, I’ll say the word, relevant learning experiences because I truly believe that relevance is not necessarily a word that we’ve used in higher education in terms of our approach, but now more than ever we’re going to have to. FASKIANOS: OK. So I’m going to take a written question from Nicole Muthoni, who is an entrepreneur and innovator at the University of Connecticut. She has been passionately working on bridging the divide in emergent nations, especially Kenya. Therefore, in this regard, the key factors creating the digital divide in this space is geographic causes, socioeconomic factors, and culture. So the question is what tools and programs can we use to effectively educate teachers to learn the necessary skills that they can use to teach their students in the classrooms. This is because most of the teachers have not been empowered with the necessary and needed skills for educating in the space of digital equity. BROWNLEE: I think—I began to speak to that right towards the end of what I was just sharing, right. FASKIANOS: Right. BROWNLEE: It’s this idea of we’ve got to get out of the blame game. Oh, I want you to come up with the solution. Well, how are you investing in me to be a part of the solution? How are you even engaging me in part of being the solution? You know, as I talked earlier about those conversations we’re having at CCA about what are those programs that have been unsustainable or times have shifted and changed and we needed to create some more relevant learning experiences. It is our faculty and our instructors that made that decision to be able to say, hey, it’s time to pivot. They were at the table. Not just present for the sake of inclusion but, truly, the decision makers in that work. Now, I think, the next component of this work as we talked about achieving the dream and us being the first in the state of Colorado, part of our strategic plan is creating a—we don’t have a name so just work with me here conceptually. We don’t have a name yet. But I can tell you what the desired outcome is, and the desired outcome is that we create a learning center for our faculty and our instructors to grow and to be invested in and to learn what are those emerging approaches that will—on the verge of becoming best practices. However, they’re not, quote/unquote, “best practices” around the country yet. What could we create here at CCA to be a part of those solutions? And also exposure to national best practice. What are we doing to invest into our people? So I think that part of that shifting that Dr. Glasper was calling out is going to have to occur now more than ever because, unfortunately, what’s happened, I think, in the academy too many of our instructors and faculty have been blamed. Too many of our staff had been blamed, not engaged and brought about to be the solution, and not just thrown right out there in the fire to say come up with something. No. You need to care for your folks more deeply, more passionately, and more genuinely than we have ever before and really ask the question how are we going to be relevant and make sure that our folks feel cared for and that they’re valued in the spaces in which they’re serving. FASKIANOS: Thank you. So the next question is from Krishna Garza-Baker from the University of Texas at San Antonio. What would you say is the role of private service providers and their ability to assist in reducing the digital divide? Are they doing enough to collaborate with higher education institutions to address this area, specifically, internet service providers? And I’m going to add on to that. What are your recommendations for how schools can and should be leveraging corporate and community partnerships to help address the digital divide? BROWNLEE: You know, you heard me earlier talk about how we can’t just do this overlay approach. Yes, I want to give you a voucher for reduced broadband access. That’s wonderful. It is. It is grateful. It’s better than not having it. But now let’s talk about how we’re truly going to hardline in opportunities for all. As we think about the spirit of advocacy, unfortunately, sometimes, as they say, it’s the squeaky wheel gets the grease, I think, is how it’s communicated. And so what I would say is, is that now we have to think about those that don’t have a voice how we’re still meeting their needs. And so working directly with corporate industry partners, those who have the access. What does it look like if we focus less on trying to make a dollar and more on trying to create opportunity? What would it look like if we all came about and said we want to be the solution to the issue? Yes, there’s areas and opportunities where we’ll make that dollar. But as we think about society as a whole, what does it look like to create experiences and a life for the goodness of all? And so I think that now we really more than ever have to have these conversations. More than ever it just can’t be who gets the voucher. It’s how do you create the accessibility for all, those who have a voice and those who know how to use their voice. And I think that—if I understand the nature of that question now, I will say with private entities, corporate partnerships, I think it’s more visibility in these colleges and universities and these nonprofit spaces beyond the cameras and just looking at the campaigns. What does it look like for us to have the conversations day in and day out to say we’re neighbors, we’re all going to collectively be a part of the solutions and to bring the rising up, if you will, of our communities to raise the level for all and that’s, certainly, what we’re seeking to do. We’ve seen some major responsiveness in this particular community to say, listen, outside of just some campaign and a picture, what does it look like for you all to be a part of our learning experience, a part of our community, a part of our solutions, and to hardline these experiences for all. So equity causes and it charges and it demands that, and we have to realize the power of that. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Laila Bichara from SUNY Farmingdale. Many of my students are immigrants and are first-generation college students. My question is about skill transfer—once our students get access to technology for themselves and their families who are then losing their jobs due to automation. BROWNLEE: Demographic shift. I talked about it earlier. You know, I think about here in the Denver Metro area and I’m going to—I attended a site visit conversation with their chamber of commerce there in Denver. It was pretty telling. In looking at the demographics, it broke down how for millennials, I think, there’s currently—so there’s 3.3 million in the greater Denver area. It broke down for millennials, which I fall into this group—I think it was eight hundred and sixty-four thousand millennials currently in that space. Then it had Xers. Not Xers. It had generation Z. Z accounted for, roughly, six hundred thousand. But get this. So my children, my eight- and my four-year-old—they’re generation alpha—were only accounting for, roughly, three hundred thousand in the space currently right now. I say that as an example that I’m going to walk us through really quickly, and that is, is with the lens of equity and we think about the shifting and the disruptions in market and we think about especially now in the markets humanization versus automation, and we want to create social and economic mobility for these respective spaces wherever those realities are and we think about accessibility to the internet and we talk about that digital equity and the digital divide, we then have to have a high degree of urgency within us to say that what will—can we create today that will prevent communities of color and low socioeconomic communities that traditionally in this current market would have been given opportunities but that in the future market, due to a lack of potential skill and accessibility, will not be provided the resources and the opportunities that they once were in an automated world. And so what do we do then to make sure that they’re not the one pressing the button. They’re the one that’s coding the button, right, and that’s all a part of that work and that shifting. So it’s going to take stronger math and science skills and accessibility and equity all built into their learning experiences because if not the wide—we will widen the gap—the poverty gap—because we move, again, deeper into automation, lessen the humanization, and then we are essentially moving an entire population of folks further down the supply chain, if you will, which then will prohibit their learning—not learning, their earning ability. And so we have to be laser focused on those realities and, really, look to eradicate what’s going to be future barriers now so systematically we are able to address it. FASKIANOS: Great. So the last question I wanted to ask you is you’ve just completed your first year as president. What are the lessons that you’ve learned? BROWNLEE: Oh, my gosh. I will tell you that, you know, I just released an article on this talking about my first year in the presidency and through EdSurge and lessons learned, and one of those lessons I would say is is—that I highlighted in that article is, you know, don’t do more for an institution than you would do for your own family. I think that as educators, as community leaders, and anyone that’s on this call, I’ll just take the opportunity to encourage you. You know, sometimes we give our all to these entities in which we serve, and we do it and we give it countless hours. You know, we say it’s a forty-hour job but we’re probably spending fifty, sixty, seventy, if not more, and we get lost in that, right. And so there’s good work to be done. However, what is the biggest mockery of all to save the world but lose your own family? And I think that part of my lesson that I had to really reflect on was, like, right now as I’m giving this lecture my eight-year-old son is here in the office with me right now that I’m trying to get to be quiet and work with me as I’m giving—having this time with you all now, right. He doesn’t have school today. It’s an in-service day. But really creating those engagements for my family to be engaged in the experiences and making sure that they’re part of the process. I think the other component of this is, too—and I talked about this in the article—is realizing that it is a privilege to serve, never taking for granted the ability, the opportunity, that we have to serve because there’s others that wish that they had these opportunities. So, yes, even in our most—our days of most frustration it still is a pleasure and a blessing and an opportunity to serve and honor. And so what would life look like if we embraced it for the pleasure and the honor that it truly is and how we treat and create spaces for others to thrive, because they’re sacrificing being away from their families and loved ones to do this work. We need to create more communities for all to thrive. FASKIANOS: Oh, your son should be very proud of you. I have to say that—what a role model. BROWNLEE: Thank you. FASKIANOS: I’m going to go next to Laurette Foster. Laurette, please say your affiliation. It’s great to have you on. Q: Hi. Laurette Foster, Prairie View A&M University in Texas. And I really don’t have a question. I just want to say how delighted I was to hear the conversation and hear about what the next steps are, because looking back at the pandemic and how we wanted to step up and do so much and I’m just afraid that even though we did those things that needed to be done that many of us now are settling back into the old ways. And it’s still funny that when you told the story about the tribal community happened to go to the top of the mountain from 2:00 in the morning to do—the passion for education is there with the kids. But we have to continue to do our part. So I just appreciate all the comments and—that you did today. It was really enlightening. So thank you very much. BROWNLEE: And thank you, and I will say that my wife is a proud product of Prairie View A&M. The Hill as well. So just thank you for your comments. FASKIANOS: We have another thank you from John Marks of LSU of Alexandria just saying that it was really great to take time out of his day and to—said they—definitely in Louisiana access and skills are, indeed, real obstacles that are typical of every online class that he’s taught. I’m going to take the final question from Haetham Abdul-Razaq from Northwest Vista College, again, from San Antonio, Texas, working on a research project regarding online learning and community college students. One of the interesting findings is that some students might be considered as tech savvy, yet they have problems engaging in online classes. Do you think that we should build on the strengths of our students’ digital knowledge when it comes to these sorts of skills? BROWNLEE: Great question. Absolutely. I think, you know, we talk about creating student-centered approaches and sometimes we’re successful at that and other times we’re not, perhaps, because if we were to really delve into student-centered approaches just how far from our base currently of how we approach higher education just how far it’ll take us. But I would say, going back to an earlier conversation, now’s the time more than ever to go there. Matter of fact, we should have went there already before. It’s time, truly, for a revolution and an evolution in our approach to learning and engagement and advancement with an equity lens. And I go back to that word relevance. We have to create more relevant learning experiences. Think about business and industry. If we look at what’s happened over the past ten years due to some of our bureaucracies and our lack of responsiveness. Look at business and industry. They’re creating learning experiences right around higher education, in some cases not even engaging higher education anymore, directly working with middle schools and high schools to create their own strong pipelines. What has happened that that even came about, right? And so due to a lack of responsiveness, perhaps, innovation—true innovation—and that student-centered approach that we, perhaps, moved far from or maybe just took parts of that was easier to tackle, not the harder aspects of that, and so we now have to tackle it. We have to embrace it, because if not I think that five, ten years from now, certainly, twenty years from now, we’ll have more institutional closures, more reductions in enrollments, if we fail to be responsive and create these more equitable learning opportunities that are geared at creating a digital equity. FASKIANOS: Right. Well, we are just at the end of our time. Thank you very much, Dr. Mordecai Brownlee. We really appreciate your being with us and sharing your insights, and to all of you for your questions and comments. And so you can follow Dr. Mordecai and also go to his website,, and at @itsdrmordecai, correct? BROWNLEE: That is correct. That is correct. I look forward to engaging with everyone. FASKIANOS: Wonderful. We really appreciate it. Just as a reminder for all of you, our next Higher Education webinar will be on Wednesday, November 2, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. Rebecca Granato, associate vice president for global initiatives at Bard College, will talk about refugees, migration, and education. So we hope you’ll tune in for that. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out CFR fellowships for educators at, and this is a program that allows educators to come for a year in residence at CFR or else go work in—we place you in government to get some policy-relevant experience. The deadline is October 31. So if you’re interested email us and we can send you information about that. Also, go to,, and for research and analysis, and follow us at @CFR_Academic. Thank you all again. Thank you, Dr. Brownlee. We appreciate it, and we hope you have a good rest of the day. (END)  
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  • Climate Change
    Academic Webinar: Climate Justice
    Adil Najam, professor and dean emeritus of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, leads the conversation on climate justice. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to today’s session of the Fall 2022 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We’re delighted to have Adil Najam with us to talk about climate justice. Dr. Najam is professor of international relations and Earth and environment and dean emeritus of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. Previously he served as vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan, and as a director of the Boston University Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. He has also taught at MIT and Tufts University and served on the UN Committee on Development and on Pakistan’s Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs. Dr. Najam was a coauthor for the Third and Fourth Assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, and has served on various boards and written over a hundred scholarly papers and book chapters. So, Dr. Najam, thank you for being with us today to talk about this very important topic. Can you talk a little bit about what climate justice is, and why it is so important for international relations? NAJAM: Thank you. Thank you, Irina. It’s wonderful to be here. It’s wonderful to see a lot of participants here. So I’m looking forward to this conversation. I want to just maybe sort of frame a few ideas in the next ten, fifteen minutes on global climate justice. And I purposely added the “global” to it. I am very happy, and I hope we will have a discussion also and questions on domestic climate justice, because climate justice is not simply a global issue. It is a live issue in many countries—all countries, actually, including in the United States. I want to focus on the global aspect partly because I think we in recent years don’t focus enough on it, and because I think it’s about to hit the ceiling. I think we will hear a lot about it in the coming months in this year and going forward, including because of Pakistan, which is where I’m from and where I was literally sort of two days ago. And this background you see behind me is Lahore University of Management Sciences. And I say that because of the massive floods that you and your viewers have been reading about. In many ways, that has brought not only for Pakistan but for the world this issue of global climate justice back into focus, as the UN secretary-general came to Pakistan, and all that. If you allow me to just share a few slides to say a bit about what climate justice is, I’m hoping you see a black screen now, and you see my name sort of coming up. If people are seeing that and they are seeing my slides. I won’t go into the details of sort of who I am. You have done that. But I wanted to use this to contextualize a couple of questions around this. And the first one of this is about what I was just saying, which is we are beginning to sort to think again about what the climate is telling us. Not want we want from the climate, but we are now at a point in climate change reality where the climate is giving us signals, and it is giving us signals about justice. The second is, just to raise a few questions and thoughts about what I call the age of adaptation, which essentially—I’m assuming all your viewers know the difference between mitigation and adaptation. We have been fixated, as we should have been, about mitigation, which is what can we do to keep climate change from happening. The fact is, we have failed. The fact is, we are now in what I call the age of adaptation where, at least by my calculation, about 2.5 billion—2 ½ billion people—are now having to adapt to global climate change, including, for example, the thirty million Pakistanis who were displaced in these recent floods. And what that means for climate justice is that in the age of climate adaptation, justice becomes much more of an issue. Because let’s just put it up there to think about what that means as individual countries, beginning developing countries now, the impacts are happening on the people who have very little and sometimes nothing to do with causing the problem. And then the argument becomes, well, you have a fingerprint. You live in Boston. You have been emitting many times more than, for example, your brother living in Pakistan. And yet, the impacts there are happening to people who have got nothing to do with it, and that’s the justice argument, right? And that leads to what we call sort of talks of reparation. That leads to loss and damage, which is a language that you hear a lot about. And finally, this question of why is climate now and in the future essentially a justice issue? And I would add, you know, essentially is the key thing that I mention there. It is good to see people on Zoom, though Zoom is not essentially my favorite medium. I think the only good thing it does is we can change our backgrounds. That was me teaching my class on sustainable development last year. But that’s not the point. The point I want to come to about climate justice is the following: That, as I said, we are coming to a head. I think you have done this literally at the point when we are coming to a head. And the reason we are coming to a head is, A, the age of adaptation I talked about and, B, sort of where we are in this post-Paris, the climate agreement, world. And there were two essential things that came out of that. One was this number. And if you count the zeros there, I don’t know how many of the people sort of, find it easy when there are that many zeros, but that’s 100 billion. That’s the number that came out of Paris, saying that’s the amount that will be invested in developing countries in particular, per year, on climate adaptation as well as mitigation. I’ll only put the point out there, why this is a climate issue. It hasn’t materialized. The last couple of climate negotiations were entirely about that. And therefore, you have a lot of countries that are now beginning to face the impacts saying: We in good faith went and started doing something about this issue that wasn’t even of our making on this agreement that the world would come together. And the world hasn’t come together. The reality of climate is even more stark. These two numbers that you’re all familiar with, 1.5 and two (degrees). The fact of the matter is, I know of no science at this point where 1.5 (degrees) can actually be achieved. I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I think we cling to the hope, but just from a reality perspective 1.5 (degrees) is nearly out of the game. And two (degrees) may be very closely coming to the game. And that is making a lot of countries very scared. If you remember why 1.5 (degrees) came, it is that Paris actually wanted a two-degree target. And then the small, especially island, states said: By two degrees we aren’t there. It’s existential for us. We are underwater, or nearly underwater. So what I’m trying to set up here is that there’s a moment that we are in global affairs where this issue of climate justice is just boiling. If I—if you will allow me just a bit—you know, we often talk about 2020 because of COVID as a year like no other. Let me remind us what else was happening other than COVID in that year. Why it was really a year like no other. January 2020, hottest January ever—ever recorded since we started recording. February, second hottest ever recorded. March, second hottest. April, second hottest ever. May, hottest ever. You see the pattern here, right? And you remember seeing these. You might have tweeted about it. By July, no one was tweeting about it because the cat was more interesting—the dancing cat. And we had started getting used to this, you know, just barrage of climate data coming every month. Eight out of those twelve, as far as I can tell, records have been broken since then. Why am I putting this as climate justice? Again, you have a lot of places in the world—floods in Pakistan being one, heat in India being another, floods in Bangladesh being another—all across the world who are now seeing that impact in the age of adaptation. I’ll give you just two very quick other pictures, and then come to the climate—sort of, you know, open up very soon. And why I mean—why I state that we are in the age of adaptation, right? I hope people can see this. I some years ago decided I’m not going to put future data on climate. This is recorded, past data for every month ever since we started keeping climate records. So this is not about what will happen. This is about what has happened. And this ends around 2016. You can take it to 2022 now. And it starts touching 1.5 (degrees) even more. Touching 1.5 (degrees) doesn’t really mean that the barrier has been crossed because sort of, you know, that’s the way sort of it’s counted. But you see the pattern again. And you see, again, for a lot of countries—and it’s not just countries. For the poorest people in the countries. This is true about the Pakistan floods, for example. If you look at the floods, it’s not the affluent in Pakistan whose homes get sort of blown away. It is the poorest. So essentially what we are seeing is that the poorest people, the most vulnerable people around the world, are paying the cost of our inaction—my inaction, other—(inaudible)—inaction, right? Now, you might be saying, that’s fine, but I don’t live on the planet. I live in a particular place. So choose your place. Same data. For every point on Earth that we have data for, ever since we have data on climate. So what I’m trying to say is the age of adaptation is here. Just look at that picture. Choose the place you are interested in, and you start seeing that pattern. And if we are in the age of adaptation, once people start seeing impacts, right, they’re starting to see impacts. As soon as you start seeing impacts, you start demanding a very different sort of action. And that’s where—that’s where climate justice comes. Let me show a quick map. This is actually an old map, 2014. But the interesting thing—the reason I still use is it’s from Standard & Poor’s. It’s from a rating agency of risk. And if you look at that map, and you look at the red countries where the impacts are the most immediate, and you start thinking about where the emissions are coming from, this tells you what the climate justice argument globally is. One very last—one very last point, and then I move to you. That while it is a global issue, it is also a domestic issue. And again, we think of climate justice by linking it to other justice issues, as we should. I’m only putting one picture here. What happened in the age of adaptation that makes it a justice issue? One of the things that happens is it immediately changes from an energy issue—a primarily energy issue, to a predominantly water issue. When you’re thinking about mitigation, right—mostly when we talk about the climate, we talk about how we can reduce emissions. And as soon as you talk emissions, you’re essentially talking energy. You’re essentially carbon management, right? You’re bringing down carbon emission. Most of them are in energy. And therefore, a lot of our policy is about that. As soon as you start talking age of adaptation, a lot of it is about water. What do I mean by that? Think about impacts. When you think about what’s happened, not just in Pakistan. I’m using the Pakistan example because I’ve just come from there but think about wherever you are. A lot of the immediate impacts are about water. Water rises, sea-level rise. Water melts, glaciers. Water disappears, drought. Water falls from the sky like no one’s business, extreme events. That’s what a flood looks like in a country like Pakistan, but it’s not just Pakistan. It’s many other countries. And again, if it becomes water, it immediately becomes something that affects the poorest people, the most vulnerable people, the most marginalized people, and those who have historically been least responsible. To give you just a picture of what a flood like this means in Pakistan, this is from 2010. But if you look at that blue squiggle, that’s the area covered by the flood. That blue, the dark blue and light blue, is the severe and very severe. I put that on a map to scale of the U.S. to give a sense of what is covered like what you see in that picture. It’s up from Vermont down to Florida. I put it on the map of Japan, it covers the whole country. I put it on a map of Europe, Denmark to France. And the point of that is now you are in this moment that I’m talking about where it becomes a justice issue because within developing countries there is this immense pressure of climate being see as a reality, right? And that pressure then starts pushing domestic politics, and domestic politics start pushing international politics. So that’s my context of climate justice, as we see it. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much for that sobering overview. And I think the slides that you showed really bring it to life and make it so much—you see it really so starkly. So thank you for that. So now we want to go to all of you for your questions. (Gives queuing instructions.) So now I’m just going to go to questions and see—we have several raised hands. OK. So I’m going to take the first question from Fordham University. I don’t know who’s asking the question, so please let us know who you are. Q: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for the discussion. My name is (inaudible), representing the International Political and Economic Development—I’m part of that program. And my question is just in regards to what we’re currently seeing. So I’m originally from South Africa and the just transition was a very topical point when it came to climate change and climate adaptation. And there was a push for the emerging markets to actually adopt renewable energy, moving away from coal. However, we see that recently, with the Russian and Ukrainian war, there has been an increase in demand and exports from Africa to the northern regions for coal. And you see that certain regions, such as Germany, has started powering up their coal-powered station, due to the lack of energy that they’ll see from the Russian nation. So my question is, what is the impact of what we see with this event being the war, and the impact on the increase in coal? And what does this mean for climate adaptation? Especially from regions from Europe, where African regions will be looking to them to actually see them adapting this change in climate and energy, I guess. NAJAM: Irina, do you want to take a few questions and then come back, or? Whichever way you want. FASKIANOS: I think we should just go—let’s go through them one at a time. NAJAM: Sure. Sure. Thank you for that question. It has many layers. I’ll pick up on a few. And the first one is that you are exactly right. In a world that is crisis prone, in a world that is turbulent—we saw that with COVID, we are seeing that with the economic turmoil of COVID that still continues in all sorts of ways, and we’ve seen that with the war in Ukraine—climate comes as this sort of—you know, we used to say climate is a threat multiplier. And now I think climate is the threat, and everything else is multiplied. And so we should expect that climate is going to be exacerbated by all these other things, and these other things are going to be exacerbated by climate. So what you are talking about in terms of energy is one issue, but as I talked to my friends in Africa, it is not just energy. Food, for example, is going to be hit equally hard. So in terms of energy, in terms of the Ukraine war, we see that not just in Africa but in other parts of the world. We see it in some places in coal. We see it all places in oil prices. But what is—what is hitting Africa particularly hard, for example, is food. Now, what does that have to do with climate adaptation? What it has to do with climate adaptation is that it comes at a time when the stress on food production—because, for example, water stress is already there, right? So that’s the multiplier thing. One of the most difficult things I find in my work for policymakers is that they want clarity. And I keep telling them, there isn’t clarity. There isn’t going to be clarity. This is why the floods, for example, were important. Immediately the question is, but how do we know this is because of climate? We’ve had floods before, right? Or we have had droughts before. And what is now becoming increasingly clear is it’s not like climate is going to give you a new set of issues. It is going to take the issues and do two things. One, the magnitude increases. And two, the frequency goes berserk, because whatever you thought was a twenty-year flood or a fifteen-year drought, now you have no way of doing it. And that creates an uncertainty for developing countries. But the justice question really—the justice question is that whose fingerprint is on it? And that’s the one that I would say you should keep—it is not going to be made for good politics. What I say is coming, I am very scared, because the politics it leads to is the politics of division. Till now we’ve had the politics on climate mostly—you know, even if it’s ineffective—it’s about mostly in the form of let’s all come together, it’s a common problem. What you saw in these floods—and the reason I keep mentioning it—one important thing is the UN secretary-general goes to Pakistan and for the first time clearly says: This is because of climate. That means, you know, this is coming from the top. You hear it at the top, and that is going to lead to a divisive politics. FASKIANOS: So there’s a written question from Mark Hallim, who’s a doctoral student, global security student, at the American Military University. How can climate change be achieved without leadership, political will, and development by nation-state leaders? NAJAM: (Laughs.) Not easily. Not easily. (Laughter.) Not easily. The fact, Mark, you said, right? FASKIANOS: Mark, yes. NAJAM: Mark. The fact, Mark, is that we have been kicking this one down the road. And that’s why we are confronting it. Till now—you know, I’ve been on this thing for at least thirty years. I was at Rio in 1992. I’ve been following the climate for nearly at every COP, at least until Copenhagen. And it’s not that the issue is new. We knew this from the beginning. The hope, the hope—because those of us who work on climate are essentially optimists. We want this problem to be licked. The hope was that we won’t come to the age of adaptation. The hope was that we would do enough on mitigation, right? What is adaptation? It’s the failure of mitigation. We would do enough that we wouldn’t come to this point of finger pointing. And therefore, it is going to become more and more difficult. Now, interestingly, again, if—the most important thing that’s happened in climate justice, to answer your question, this last week—I still haven’t read the exact document. But for the first time a country, in this case Denmark, has said that they are going to acknowledge the principle of loss and damage. Now, this is huge. For those of us who study—so, I’m assuming all of our audience are people who study this. Loss and damage, what’s loss and damage? You know, it’s just words. But it is more than words, if you take it seriously. Loss and damage means that if there is loss to someone or damage to someone, those who are responsible for it will somehow pay for it. We don’t do international relations like that. There are nearly no other areas in which we have things like that. I think what Denmark is trying, to answer Mark’s question, is saying: Let us restart, rethinking how we do climate assistance and climate aid, to address loss and damage. The challenge—the reason I’m scared about this is, imagine—you know, not even imagine. You don’t have to imagine. Just remember what happened in the summer. You had about twenty countries that had potentially climatically induced massive events—whether they were of heat, whether they were of fire, whether they were of drought, right? You get a planet where you see more and more of these things happening. It is not just the appetite for assistance. It is simply the capacity for assistance that will go. One last line, because I want to hear from others. And at the same time you have climate justice issues within developing countries, right? Now you have to choose between climate justice within the U.S. and countries elsewhere also pushing. That is why I’m insisting that it doesn’t make for pretty politics. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Isaac Alston-Voyticky, who has raised your hand. Q: Thank you very much. Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: Yes. NAJAM: Yes. Q: Great. So I’m actually a CUNY law student. And I am working on kind of the intersection between technology and environmental change. And I have kind of a combination question. First, what are your predictions for the combination of sea level rise and tides for mean higher high-water levels? For example, can we predict that higher sea level will actually have an effect on tidal highs and lows outside of the traditional modeling? And then, as a follow up to that, are there any models or maps out there which illustrate combination climate data. One of the most annoying things I find in my research is that, for example, NOAA’s sea level rise and tidal flooding can’t be compounded on its interactive map. They don’t show what will happen when sea level rises and tides also happen. So I don’t know if there’s anything out there. NAJAM: Isaac, I’ll be honest. I don’t know the answer to that, to the technical part of that. But the question is very, very good from a policy side. And I’m particularly happy that you’re coming from a law direction to this. So what policymakers often want, and they are also disturbed, just like you are, they want clear answers, right? I’ve been working on this for years. And they say, well, tell us what climate will do to my agriculture. I say, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I could tell you it will be ten times worse, this or that. Because then at least you would have something to plan with. The thing about climate change is not just the climate, it is the change. What makes it scary is that we don’t know what the change will be. But let me—let me, in not answering your question—not knowing the answer to the technical part—I have not seen those maps either. And I do not know what the combination is. There are many people I know who are as worried about that combination as you are, particularly in small island states. Because what people are realizing is that it’s not going to be one thing at one time. You get here, and you get hit there, and then you get hit in the face again, right? And again, just because of what—where I’m coming from, I’ll give you the Pakistan example. These floods that you’ve been hearing about, actually, the flood isn’t that bad. Pakistan is used to floods, and it isn’t that bad. Something happened there which was in some ways synonymous to what you are talking about. What happened is that six weeks before the floods, there was massive heat and near drought, which means you essentially get a clay soil, right, that has been totally depleted. Three weeks before what we call the floods, there was massive rain—monsoon which was seven times the expected normal—seven times. And those were the first pictures that came. And again, that is clearly because of climate. Seven times doesn’t happen. You know, and they came. And what that meant was on totally dry land they created this sort of lake effect, the type of picture you saw. And then came a flood which was higher than usual, but would have been manageable. Why am I giving you this example? That’s the one punch, two punch, three punch, much like your tides. Now, if you are a small island country, that’s what you are worried about. You are worried about that even if sea level rise on its own you can deal with in adaptation, you can prepare for. What happens when that happens, and the tidal change happens? It is the uncertainty—what makes climate particularly unpredictable is the uncertainty of what we are seeing, not simply the magnitude of the change. Now, and this is particularly true for sea level rise. I am an optimist still. I think we are a wise enough species, particularly for sea level rise. We are able to change our life patterns and where we live. We have technology in many places to deal with it. But the reason we worry about is not because sort of—you know, it’s not like Hollywood, where New York will be half underwater. I really don’t think that will happen. I think we will get—come to our senses well before that. But it is this one-two-three punch of multiple climatic events happening together. Sorry I don’t have a technical answer to your question, but it is a very good question. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next question from Molly O’Brien, who’s at George Mason University. Climate change demonstrates the complex ways in which food, energy, and water are interconnected systems. What are the most promising approaches you’ve seen to addressing climate change from a nexus perspective, rather than addressing distinct aspects of food, energy, and water individually? NAJAM: Thank you for that. I have seen some promising discussion, even if not fully implemented yet. You know, I’ve talked about—and I’m glad you talk about this. So as I’ve talked about this age of adaptation, there is a—I don’t know if it’s an opportunity—but there is—there is a hidden opportunity in that. And the hidden opportunity is that adaptation is essentially development. Show me any adaptation activity, and I will show you a development activity. I’m particularly talking about developing countries. And it is particularly about food, water—in particular about food and water. Food, in many ways, is nature’s way of packaging water. And so that’s—the nexus is the answer. Now, one of the things—I’ll give you one example of work that I had done many years—a few years ago. Again, in Pakistan, where we looked at potential climatic impacts on agriculture. This is a mostly agriculture country. And what we found—we were only looking at certain crops and certain parts of the country. So it’s not for the entire—but still for a country that majorly depends on this. The finding—I may be slightly off on the numbers, but I’m trying to recall—was that yield could go down by about 12 percent, right? Twelve percent is huge, if countries’ economies are depending on something. The interesting thing is not that. As I said, the number may be slightly off, somewhere in that range. What was interesting was that with adaptation interventions, good management, agricultural management, water management, better water use efficiency, better use of various technologies and so on and so forth, there could be a net benefit, even after accounting for climate change. And what that means is that there may be an opportunity around the world, if we take the nexus approach—and this is why sort of moving simply from carbon management to what you’re calling the nexus approach is not only a good answer, it is the only answer. And again, we see this not only in developing countries. We see this as countries think about net zero. I want to come to net zero again, because I’m not fully a fan of it. But the good thing about net zero is that it says: What can we do as a system rather than as a one-point lever on carbon going up and down? So short answer to your question is, what you’re calling the nexus approach is the only approach to adaptation. And in fact, having the most vulnerable countries start focusing on that food-water nexus, rather than only on emissions, is a good thing. You know, Bangladesh can bring its emissions down to zero. World emissions aren’t going to see much of a dent, right? But if Bangladesh starts focusing on food and water, it can make an actual difference on the type of impacts that 200 million people will face. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question, raised hand, from Evaristus Obinyan. Q: Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: Yes. Tell us your affiliation, please. Q: I’m Dr. Evaristus Obinyan. I’m a criminologist. (Laughs.) As you can see, I’m not in the science field, but I’m very interested in this particular issue. I’m a professor at the Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia. Now, I—listening to you intently, I thought I heard you say stop it from happening. But after I’ve seen the digitized presentations, I realized that you were—you wanted to use it—it’s sort of happening or deteriorating. Because you are saying that to stop the—this from happening—you know, absolutely, it’s already happening—to stop it from deteriorating. Now, some say, like myself—I said nothing works. This is just the story of the planet. It has to go through this major evolution. How, then, can we stop the deterioration? Maybe, actually, it won’t matter really, or maybe we can use science and technology to manage or attempt to mitigate the natural planet evolution. FASKIANOS: Thank you. NAJAM: I hope I got the gist. I think I did, but if I failed—if I missed something, my apologies. There are two central points I want to pick up from that. I am not as pessimistic as you seem to be. I do think things work. I think—first of all, you’re right. You’re right, what we are seeing is a deterioration. Our efforts to try to mitigate have not yielded. And despite the fact that we have much higher interest in climate, and despite the fact that people sort of want to do the right thing, the fact of the matter is that line about emissions is just going upward, and upward, and upward. So that’s a reality. You are exactly right. But I am not going to extrapolate that into the belief that we can’t do anything. I think we have been reluctant to change lifestyle. And despite the fact—you know, we are an amazing generation. We are—my generation was amongst the first generation in the world which had more food than the world needed. And yet, people were hungry. We have more technology, better science than ever before. And we had more money, and yet people were sleeping poor. So the question is not of the ability to do it. The question is of willingness to do it. I mean, I have—I have faith in our species. I believe that it is a race between human knowledge and human wisdom. I think we have the knowledge to lick the problem, without creating lifestyles that are extremely uncomfortable. I’m not sure we have the wisdom to do it in time. We keep seeing that again. So I’m not willing to give up and say, well, this is inevitable. This is not inevitable. This is a choice. We make the choice. And I hope we can make an alternative choice. Now, the question then is, how will we do that? And I know it’s going to sound glib, I think at least theoretically the answer is what we've had for a number of years, which is sustainable development. But we need to look at this growth model again, that growth for its own sake as a goal keeps too fixated on this constant growth pattern, as opposed to moving towards a lifestyle that is comfortable and yet that doesn’t kill the planet that has given you this amazing sort of set of resources. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. I’m going to take Ivan Ramirez’s question, from the University of Colorado, Denver. And he’s originally from Ecuador. When I think about and discuss climate justice, I focus or relate it to health, existing disparities, and how climate exacerbates inequities. From your perspective, how is health being leveraged in the climate negotiations, as it relates to climate justice? NAJAM: On that last part, unfortunately it’s not. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a beautiful question. Thank you very much for asking that. And health is just one of the areas, like many that, you know, the first question pointed out about that, about—from South Africa. This is the nature of not just climate, but of the development. That once one thing goes wrong, there is a cycle of other things unraveling. Again, since today I’ve been talking about floods in Pakistan, right now the biggest issue in Pakistan is actually not water. It is dengue. It is the mosquito. It is health, right? So that is one way in which climate events trigger. The other and more important way to answer this is, you know, you’ve noticed that I talk about ourselves as a species. I hope other people do too. I think it is useful to think of ourselves as a species, amongst many, on this planet. If you think about that, one of the things that happens is you realize we’re not the only species adapting to climate change. That’s why dengue is happening in Pakistan, even in the north, next to the Himalayas. It shouldn’t. It’s a tropical disease. So the mosquito also changes when the climate changes. And that is what’s called vector-borne disease. So amongst the scariest things in the science, and amongst the things that we actually know much less about—because we’ve been focused on carbon—is what is going to happen on vector disease? But just about all climate scientists are worried about if the climate changes, it is not just what happens to humans or, you know, the big sexy species like panda bears and polar bears. But what is going to happen to disease vectors? And disease starts moving to places where it wasn’t endemic. Which means those places are not ready for it. And again, we are still struggling to come out of COVID. Now, COVID wasn’t because of this, but people who study Ebola have been—started worrying about that, that disease vectors move. Dengue is probably amongst the one that is talked about the most, because here is a tropical, maybe equatorial disease, that has been moving upwards, both in South Asia and the Mediterranean. So the health impacts are, in fact, one of those big ones, though they have not been talked about as much as climate change. Which is not to say that people are not interested in it, it is just that we don’t know enough about it. But people are worried about it. The justice issue of all of these things—I don’t want us to lose the justice aspect. The justice aspect essentially comes from the fact that those who are most vulnerable, those who are most likely to see the impacts, are not the ones who are most responsible for creating this. That’s the dynamic that creates that divisive politics of injustice. FASKIANOS: Let me go next to Gary Prevost, who’s raised his hand. And if you could—there we go. Q: Gary Prevost, College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. As I understand it, you’re basically suggesting that the resource allocation in the coming years needs to be much more on the side of adaptation than mitigation, especially in the global south. Does this mean that, say, the $100 billion a year, if it could be achieved, that would be used in the global south would be primarily more traditional development aid for the—in all of the fields that we’ve talked about, and not so much to create green energy in the—in the south? And that in the north it would still continue to be the focus on mitigation, since we’re the ones creating the carbon footprint. Am I understanding your basic argument that way? And then finally, if it is going to be traditional—more traditional development aid, do you think that’s going to make it easier or harder to achieve it politically from the global north countries? NAJAM: Gary, that’s a brilliant question. And you’ve really sort of unwrapped what I’m saying, what I was saying politely you have said more bluntly. And you’ve also highlighted, very, very politely and diplomatically, why it is very, very difficult. So the easiest part of your question is the last part, will it make it easier or more difficult? Clearly, more difficult. Will it even be possible? Probably not. So when I say that’s what—if I think that’s what should happen, that doesn’t mean that I think it will happen. Because we don’t have any models of massive reparations or, you know, international affairs doesn’t work on your fault, you pay me. There isn’t an international environmental court, or any court, that is going to do this. So how is this going to happen, except through goodwill? And at the scale, that goodwill there is no evidence we will be seeing. But let me first come to your question, because your—the way you framed it, which is—which is kind of right. Kind of right. So I do think that going to the old essential principle that no one else talks about these days, but which was part of the original UN agreements on climate, et cetera, which is common but differentiated responsibility. I wish we had taken it more seriously. The idea of common but differentiated responsibility was: Global climate change is all of our responsibility, but it is a differentiated responsibility. Those who have had high emissions already have a high responsibility to bring them down. Those who have low emissions now have a responsibility to try to keep it lower and not go on that same trajectory by using better technology, et cetera. And those who have historical high responsibility for emissions should help create the conditions that whatever impacts happen are not catastrophic. So which meant that all countries should do something, but different countries should do differently. In a way, if you are a developing country person, as I am, one of the arguments that comes to mind, and many people say it out loud, is that the north, if you will, the industrialized countries, have been pushing developing countries to do what they were supposed to do. We aren’t really cutting our emissions that much, but why don’t you do it, Bangladesh? Bangladesh, you do EV policy. Bangladesh, you do solar policy. Or Pakistan. Or Papua New Guinea, or Burkina Faso, or whatever. I do think that it will be better, rather than pushing them only on emissions—because, you know, their emissions aren’t that much—so it is to bend the curve so that their future emissions are restricted, I understand that, right? But it’s not really solving the problem. Now that we have adaptation looming at us, I do think it is the right policy to have countries, especially with large vulnerabilities and large populations, get ready for the hit that is coming, that is already there. I don’t see that easily happening, but I do think that that is the right thing. Now, you have rightly exactly pointed out the argument from my climate friends usually is: But that’s not climate. That’s just development. That’s what they wanted to do anyhow, right? And the argument is, you’re trying to divert our climate money to your traditional development agenda. I understand the argument. I don’t agree with it, because, A, I hope it is not traditional. So let’s take a country that’s not a developing countries, the Netherlands. If there’s any country in the world that is historically prepared for climate impacts, past climate impacts, it is the Netherlands. How did it do that? Infrastructure. So I understand a lot of adaptation investment will be infrastructure. A lot of adaptation expenditure will look like traditional development. But I hope it is not traditional development. I hope it is sustainable development. And you are exactly right. I think one of the reasons we haven’t gone back—(audio break)—that route is because my old friends, people like myself maybe, who come to the climate side look at adaptation as somehow a dilution, even stealing climate money for development. And that is why—Irina has heard me say this before—climate is not, must not be, cannot be seen as the opposite of development. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to combine two written questions from Leda Barnett at Our Lady of the Lake University, who says: You’ve discussed insights on shared governance via COP and the shortcomings of multilateral diplomacy. We should continue that, of course, but do you think approaches like sanctions or smart power would be effective? Are there examples of this being used effectively? And then Diamond Bolden, who’s an undergraduate at Xavier University of Louisiana: U.S. is not impacted as much as other countries. However, we contribute to it. What policy can we implement to progress on environmental justice? Or I guess, she meant to help progress on environmental justice. NAJAM: You know, because of, again, the recent events, I see a lot of anger in a number of developing countries. That’s what I’m trying to bring here that, you know, there’s something growing out there. And a lot of it, you’ve seen that in major newspapers, New York Times, Washington Post, sort of, you know, people from developing countries are writing op-eds about reparations, about—some compare it to slavery and payments have to be made, and all that. Logically, I partly sympathize with that. But I am a realist enough to recognize that’s not how politics happens. So sanctions on who, right? (Laughs.) Are we going to put sanctions on floods? The flood isn’t going to—just because I tell it to stop, going to stop. So I’m sure you don’t mean that. Are we seeing sanctions on rich countries or rich people to pay? That sort of power dynamic, I don’t know any example in history where the weak can impose sanctions on the rich, on the strong. Now, one of the things, by the way no one has pushed me on this. You should. I keep talking north and south, but it’s not just north and south. It’s not rich countries, poor countries. It’s rich people, poor people. The same flood in Pakistan, you know, people ask me, is your family safe? Yes, they are. I come from middle class, affluent enough. The flood impacts the poorest people in Pakistan. And the richest people in Pakistan also have high emissions, right? So it’s not as stark as that. And this goes back to the last part of the second question you asked. Yes, the U.S. has higher emissions but, again, the question that hasn’t come, the U.S. has serious environmental injustice questions of its own. It doesn’t mean that all of the U.S. is equally responsible. And as the climate changes, it is the poorest and most vulnerable in the U.S. who are going to be impacted. Again, the reason I keep saying I am particularly worried about this is as that happens whatever will there might be amongst my U.S. friends to talk about global climate justice, they are going to be distracted immediately by the most real, much more close, much more visible impacts of climate justice within the country. I’ll take a slight detour, Irina, but I think it’s a relevant one. This is from Professor Bullard’s work many, many—thirty years ago. You know, when he used to point out—this is not about climate, but it’s very much related—take a map of the U.S. And on that map, put a pin on wherever a superfund, most hazardous waste dumps are. And what you have just created is a map of the poorest African American communities in the U.S. OK, that’s the environmental justice question here. So just—it hasn’t come up, but I don’t want to sound as if this is simply a north-south issue. Within the south, within the north, and then within the north-south, because climate is not looking at those borders. Those are our creations, not the climate’s. FASKIANOS: Yes. I’m going to take the next question from Keith Baker, who has a raised hand. Q: Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: We can. Q: Hey, yeah. I’m Keith Baker. I work for Dallas College. I teach accounting and finance. One of the things I’ve noticed of the last several years is that rural water systems in the United States are deteriorating at a very rapid rate. As a matter of fact, some ones I’m personally aware of, because I have some friends who work in the education industry for teaching water treatment plant people, is that they’re sending out notices to very large populations of people that says it’s not safe to drink this water. It’s not safe to bathe in this water. Do not get this water in your eyes. Oh, by the way, extended exposure to this water in taking a shower might give you cancer. Now, if that’s happening in rural America, that means that some of the other infrastructure problems that we have, like in the Dallas area where I live where we’ve had these what I call downpours that have increased in intensity in the last several years, where our water runoff system has been overwhelmed. And neighborhoods that are a good hundred feet above the normal floodplains coming from creeks are having waters back up from the storm sewer system being overwhelmed, and starting to see some houses flooded that you would have never seen flooded twenty years ago or thirty years ago. NAJAM: So, Keith, this goes back to my previous point that climate doesn’t discriminate, in this sense. Now, the map I showed there is greater vulnerability in certain parts of the world, but all parts are vulnerable. The distinction also is that if you are in a richer country, you at least theoretically have the ability to deal with it. Like hurricanes, I mean, the same hurricane comes to Haiti and then to Florida. We here in the U.S. have a greater ability to—to just to be able to buy our way out of the impacts. We can build better. We can move people. We have the resources. And therefore, one of the things you always notice about with hurricanes is that when they hit the Caribbean the headlines are about how many lives lost. And when they hit our shores, the headlines are usually about the economic cost of that. That’s a good thing. I hope for every country it’s only an economic loss, right? But you are exactly right, now the—again, from a political point of view, as these things that you are describing in rural America, and some of it very scary from what you say, as that happens countries are going to find it more and more difficult. They’re already not inclined to support other countries for environmental justice, for climate justice. And if the pressure from within their country is higher, they’re going to be less and less inclined. And this relates, for those of you who study geopolitics, not even climate, what that means is that another fault line in a very fractured world appears. So you already have a world, in terms of geopolitics, that seems to be fracturing in various ways, and you have various pulls and pushes. In comes climate, just like we saw in COVID, right, when we thought vaccine diplomacy from different countries. That reaction is also going to exacerbate. But that’s the multiplier. FASKIANOS: So I’m going to take the next question from Jeanie Bukowski, who is at Bradley University, and sitting in now with her undergraduate class. Thirty-four students, science and politics of global climate change. Could you talk a little more about how individuals, especially young people, can take action on climate justice? NAJAM: I hope I’m amongst friends. (Laughs.) I’ll tell you what I tell my students and what I tell my kids. The good news is that we have now the type of—particularly in the U.S., but all across the world, actually—all across the world, all across the world, particularly in the young, there is a very heightened sense that this issue is real and that something has to be done. A lot of that has been channeled at you guys, meaning my generation, haven’t done what you were supposed to do, which is exactly correct. But not enough—as, you know, my grandmother used to say, point one finger at someone and at least three point back at you. Not enough is being spent on what we are doing with our own lifestyle. And I think sort of that—the reason why we keep talking more about it but the graph on actual emissions doesn’t shift we need to interrogate, right? And some of those easy answers don’t really work. So, for example, and I hope I am among friends so I’ll be blunt. It is—it is nice not to have a car and say, OK, because I don’t have a car therefore I don’t have emissions. But if you’re using a lot of Uber, those are your emissions. Those are not the emissions of that car—the Uber driver. When you get UberEats to deliver food, those are not the emissions of the restaurant. Those are your emissions. When I get Amazon packages three times delivered to my home, the world’s statistics might count them as China’s emissions, because something was created in China, but those are my emissions, right? And ultimately, it is this question of lifestyle. And what I was saying earlier about we are—we have the technology. We have the knowledge. I am not sure we have the wisdom. And ultimately, that wisdom will come individually. I do not see scientifically any way—absolutely we are running out of time. I’ll be absolutely blunt. We are still living the dream that somehow I won’t change anything I do, but by corporations doing it or governments doing it there will be a magic wand by which this will be solved. I just do not see the math. And therefore, responsibility does begin with the letter I, me. FASKIANOS: I think that is a perfect place to end this discussion. So thank you for that. Adil Najam, this was a terrific hour. And there are so many questions—good questions and comments, both raised hands and in the Q&A, I regret that we could not get to all of them. But we’ll just have to have you back. So thank you very much. Appreciate it. NAJAM: Thank you for having me. Good luck to the planet, everyone. FASKIANOS: Yes, exactly. We all—we all have to think about the “I” of what we are doing, for sure. The next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, September 28, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. We are hosting Christopher Tuttle, who is the senior fellow and director of the Renewing America initiative here at CFR. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to follow CFR at @CFR_Academic. And you can visit,, and for research and analysis on global issues. Thank you all, again, for being with us today. And we look forward to you joining us again next week on September 28. So thank you, again. And thank you, Dr. Najam, for this hour. NAJAM: Thank you all. (END)
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