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JHU's annual Foreign Affairs Symposium showcases 'alternative viewpoints'

Novelists Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Junot Díaz among speakers for 2017 spring semester

Foreign Affairs Symposium speakers include (clockwise from top left): Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Junot Díaz, Aneesh Chopra, Ai Weiwei, Suroosh Alvi, and representatives from the Veterans Writing Project

Image caption: Foreign Affairs Symposium speakers include (clockwise from top left): Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Junot Díaz, Aneesh Chopra, Ai Weiwei, Suroosh Alvi, and representatives from the Veterans Writing Project

The students organizing the 2017 Foreign Affairs Symposium realize that their speaker lineup for the spring semester is considerably subversive. And that's exactly what they were going for this year.

On Wednesday, the symposium welcomed Nadya Tolokonnikova—co-founder of the anti-Putin punk rock artist collective Pussy Riot—for a talk on activism and reshaping the future.

The remaining lineup, announced today, includes two novelists, a former high-ranking White House official, a media mogul, and an exhibit by an artist whose work addresses human rights issues.

They're people who represent "a steady rebellion or revolt against the status quo, or increased social justice and inclusivity in our political, economic, and social spheres," says Mollie Cueva-Dabkoski, one of the symposium's three executive co-directors along with Jonathan Brown and Tim Shieh.

The theme this year—the symposium's 20th anniversary—is "Undercurrent." Student committees within the Foreign Affairs Symposium staff selected the speakers.

"In the past, the symposium has featured speakers representing the policy-making side—they've been ambassadors, or diplomats, or people in the government," Shieh said. "This year, we wanted to specifically consider people who are working from the ground up, or working for more micro-political or alternative viewpoints in the arts, or fiction, or technology that aren't traditionally associated with politics."

Added Cueva-Dabkoski: "If you look at the history of the Foreign Affairs Symposium, we found that the speakers we have represented this year—more speakers of color and women than in previous years—their voices haven't been as represented in the past. If you think about our symposium this year as one part of a larger dialogue, we feel there is definitely diversity represented throughout the years."

All Foreign Affairs Symposium events are free and open to the public. Seating is first-come, first-served, but those who want to guarantee their seat can purchase reserved seating in advance. Tickets typically become available in the week before the event takes place, and because details for some of the events are still being finalized, the Hub will provide updates on the locations, times, and ticketing for the talks.

The 2017 Foreign Affairs Symposium lineup includes

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A Johns Hopkins alum, Adichie is the author of several books, including the critically acclaimed Americanah. She delivered the highly publicized TEDx talk "We should all be feminists" that has been sampled by Beyonce and published in book form by Fourth Estate. She will give her talk Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m. in the Shriver Hall auditorium.

Junot Díaz: An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Díaz—an author, professor, and editor—also serves on the board of advisers for Freedom University, an organization that provides post-secondary education to undocumented immigrants. Notable among his publications are the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and the short story collection This Is How You Lose Her. He will visit the Homewood campus Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. in the Shriver Hall auditorium.

Aneesh Chopra: Chopra was the first Chief Technology Officer of the United States, serving under former President Barack Obama from 2009 through 2012. His work supported technological innovations aimed at improving job creation, reducing health care costs, and protecting national security. He will speak Thursday, March 9, at 8 p.m. in a location to be determined.

Veterans Writing Project: The Veterans Writing Project, recipients of the Foreign Affairs Symposium's Smedinghoff Award honoring the memory of the 2009 Hopkins graduate who died while delivering textbooks to schoolchildren in Afghanistan, works to connect veterans, service members, and their family members to writing seminars and workshops to help them tell their stories. Representatives from the program will speak Wednesday, April 5, at 8 p.m. in a location to be determined.

Suroosh Alvi: Alvi, founder of Vice Media, is an award-winning documentarian focusing on investigations into subculture movements and social issues. Born in Toronto to Muslim Pakistani parents, Alvi now heads an international digital media and broadcasting empire. He will speak Wednesday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in a location to be determined.

Ai Weiwei: Known for his human rights activism, artist Weiwei is in the process of designing an immersive exhibit for display in the Glass Pavilion. Weiwei will not be in attendance, but the exhibit is expected to open this spring.

An earlier version of this article did not make it clear that Ai Weiwei would not be in attendance when his art exhibit is displayed. The Hub regrets the error.

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