Scholars at Risk Seminar Gives Students the Chance to Fight Erosion of Academic Freedom

Posted February 22, 2023
News Image

Illustration by iStock/Jorm Sangsorn

February 13, 2023 —  Read about student & faculty experiences participating in SAR Student Advocacy Seminars: “This class was a great opportunity to learn more about how we can advocate for human rights and these scholars,” William Moody ’24, Muhlenberg College.

Muhlenberg students across disciplines have the opportunity to take a hands-on approach in advocating for academic freedom with the Scholars at Risk seminar. The course has evolved over the past three years with Professors of Political Science Brian Mello and Lanethea Mathews-Schultz at the helm and with support from Sharon Albert, a senior lecturer in religion studies. […]

“It can be very difficult sometimes to think about ways we can, from Allentown, Pennsylvania, engage students in global politics,” Mello says.

Although Muhlenberg College does not host threatened scholars, its Scholars at Risk seminars are designed to educate students on the threats to academic freedom and to elevate individual cases for which they can advocate.

For example, in one seminar, Mello focused the course around Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian graduate student who was detained and tortured for spreading “false news” related to an op-ed Zaki wrote chronicling violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt. (Zaki has since been released from prison, but remains prohibited from leaving the country pending his formal trial.) Mello’s students worked with students at the University of California at Santa Barbara to advocate for Zaki.

And in the spring of 2022, Mello’s students traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with 13 Congressional delegates and staffers to discuss highlighting the cases of threatened or imprisoned scholars when meeting with Egyptian delegates, as well as asking for increased conditions on future aid to Egypt tied to improvements in Egypt’s human rights record. Mello acknowledges that these discussions were already in the works with U.S. Rep. Susan Wild and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, but “what we were doing didn’t hurt.” It also gave students a rare hands-on opportunity to meet with and work with policymakers.

Read the full piece here. Listen to Professor Brian Mello, and his former Student Advocacy Seminar student Bhavna Prakash, on episode 23 of the Free to Think podcast here.