Free to Think features conversation with interesting, thoughtful, and inspiring individuals whose research, teaching, or expression falls at the always sensitive intersection of power and ideas. We'll be speaking with those who have the courage to seek truth and speak truth, often at great risk, as well as with those who support them and share their stories.
Free to Think is a podcast presented by Scholars at Risk, where we celebrate people with the courage to think, question, and share ideas. For information on membership, activities, or donating to Scholars at Risk, visit www.scholarsatrisk.org.
“Empathy is Active.” Henry Reese, on Salman Rushdie, City of Asylum, and the “Reader Effect.”
In 1997, Henry Reese and his wife, Diane Samuels, were at a public talk by writer Salman Rushdie, and inspired by his call for communities around the world to offer sanctuary to exiled writers. They "kicked each other under the chair" and thought, why not? Six years later, they founded the City of Asylum, Pittsburgh, a multi-unit residency program that has welcomed exiled writers and artists from China, Syria, Bangladesh and beyond.
Twenty-five years later, Reese was invited to interview Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institute Amphitheater. Just as the interview was about to begin, Rushdie was violently attacked. Reese has described the audience’s rushing to the writer’s aid, attributing it to what Reese calls the “reader effect” – a real time demonstration of how reading literature and sharing stories builds empathy and meaningful community.
“The Fear has Fallen away…” Roya Hakakian and Sasha Gladkikh on the Death of Mahsa Amini and the Protests in Iran
Free to Think talks with Roya Hakakian, a writer and founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, and Sasha Gladkikh, a student activist and director of philanthropy at the Iranian Student Group at UCLA about the recent protests in Iran.
On September 16th, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman died in the custody of Iran’s notorious state morality police. Since then, sustained mass protests have erupted across Iran, including at more than 50 universities, led by women and girls demanding freedom from state-directed violence. Hakakian and Gladkikh discuss the importance of Mahsa Amini, the protests, and the fight for women’s dignity and rights.
“They Were Trying to Keep Education Going.” Ukrainian Higher Education Endures the Conflict
Free to Think talks with Yulia Bezvershenko, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, and Liz Shchepetylnykova, a civil society activist, on the state of higher education in Ukraine after four months of war.
As Russia invaded Ukraine, and war broke out across the country, professors and students in Ukraine fought to keep education going. Even from bomb shelters, they provided lectures online and completed their coursework. “[I]t’s very important to provide this feeling of future, of opportunities." They describe how Ukrainian students and researchers are experiencing the war, explain why many scholars are opting to stay in the country, and offer advice on immediate and long-term strategies for supporting the students, scholars and higher education institutions of Ukraine.
"The Life of Dr. Djalali is Paramount."
Free to Think talks with Hadi Ghaemi, founding Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). Why is Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian scholar and 2021 SAR Courage to Think Award winner, at risk of imminent execution in Iran? And what can advocates worldwide do to help? Ghaemi describes Dr. Djalali’s imprisonment since 2016, academic hostage taking in Iran, and current efforts to support Dr. Djalali’s case.
“There’s No Way You Did That!”
Free to Think talks with Brian Mello, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, where he leads a Scholars at Risk Student Advocacy Seminar. He’s joined by his student, Bhavna Prakash, a biology major and political science minor at the university. “You’re 19,” said Prakash’s friend. “There's no way you got a meeting at the Senate's building.” But she did, joining 30 other students and faculty at SAR’s Student Advocacy Days in Washington DC this April. Prakash and Mello describe speaking with members of Congress to advocate on behalf of wrongfully imprisoned Egyptian scholars, the value of non-traditional classrooms, and their advice for students and faculty interested in getting involved on their own campuses.
“A Virtual Target Painted on my Back…”
Free to Think talks with Colin Harvey, a Professor of Human Rights Law and former Head of the School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast about what UN experts described as a “smear campaign” against him for his work debating the possibility of new constitutional arrangements for the island of Ireland after Brexit. An expert on human rights and constitutional law and former Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Harvey references growing up during the ‘conflict,’ achievements under the Good Friday Agreement, and how these are threatened by Brexit. Harvey sees the pressures on him as part of a larger struggle against human rights and democratic values going on around the world and says that academics have a responsibility to robustly defend those values, despite the risks.
Best episode yet…..Loved the idea that today’s youth does not need permission to get involved.
Will share with my college kids!