Members of the Global Young Academy’s At-Risk Scholar Initiative participated in the AAAS Science, Technology and Human Rights Conference, from 23-25 October 2019 in Washington, DC, USA. Üzeyir Ogurlu, Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, and GYA member Teresa Stoepler, co-lead of the At-Risk Scholars Initiative, organized and spoke at an interactive workshop “Supporting at-risk and refugee scholars in our research institutions and communities.” Burcu Seyben, Theatre Scholar, College of Southern Idaho, S. Karly Kehoe, GYA member and At-Risk Scholars Initiative co-lead, and GYA project officer Jennifer Plaul also contributed to the workshop.
The conference, which celebrated the ten year anniversary of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, brought together scientists, engineers, human rights and legal professionals, and members of vulnerable and impacted communities to share lessons learned on science and human rights partnerships to meet human rights challenges.
The goals of the GYA workshop were to (1) Raise awareness of the specific needs of at-risk scholars among the academic community, and identify concrete means of support; (2) Collaboratively identify gaps and ways to improve existing programs, and (3) Form new connections and seed new collaborations amongst participants. Participants discussed the need to increase awareness of at-risk scholars and the value they bring to our institutions, to increase awareness among at-risk scholars and academic institutions of the available support programs (e.g., IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund, Scholars at-Risk, cara, Harvard Scholars At-Risk Program), to facilitate hiring mechanisms for at-risk scholars, and assist scholars in navigating the institution’s bureaucracy.
With respect to mentoring initiatives, Üzeyir Ogurlu highlighted the need for support with daily life tasks, such as shopping, navigating health care and tax systems, and finding a place to live, before academic challenges can be met. He also emphasized the importance of hope: “We are forced to start making a new life not from zero but from less than zero because we are already broken and frustrated. We need something to hold onto because we are lost. We need to keep hopes alive. If our hope dies, then it might be too late to save that scholar.” Burcu Seyben, also an at-risk scholar, added, “What the GYA is doing is life-saving voluntary work. The best part of the panel was listening to the questions posed to understand the extent of work young academics do to help threatened scholars and the impact it has on the threatened scholars.”
Participants also discussed the need to train mentors to support at-risk scholars and to manage the expectations of mentorship programs from the perspective of both the mentor and the mentee.
Video recordings of the plenary sessions of the conference are available here: https://www.aaas.org/coalition/conference/2019