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Inclusive Global Leadership Initiative Bridges Gap Between Art and Academics

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Choman Hardi

On January 12th, Dr. Choman Hardi joined the Sié Center in a discussion on feminist activism in Iraq. In the event titled Women’s Resistance: On the Page and on the Ground’, she discussed what it meant to be Kurdish and feminist in her home country and her transformation into an activist. In 2015, Hardi founded the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani’s (AUIS) Center for Gender and Development Studies, and in 2017, she established Iraq’s first interdisciplinary gender studies minor. Her research includes a range of topics from poetry and feminist literature to masculinity and women’s activism, to gender and genocide. It was that night, in a room full of people from the US and around the world, that Hardi read the words of her poems, talked about living the life of an activist, academic, and poet, and brought, for those who haven’t been to Iraq, her world into the intimate setting of Maglione Hall.

This has been but one of the opportunities the Sié Center’s Inclusive Global Leadership Initiative (IGLI) has provided community members. The Center’s mission, “to improve the world through exploring connections among security, prosperity, and social justice concerns” is embodied in everything it does. Thanks to IGLI, one of the Sié Center’s major initiatives, the center has emerged as a leading institution when it comes to the intersection of academics and practitioners on topics of inclusive activism, leadership, and grassroots organizing. The collaboration at the crux of academia and activism, where the line between the two is blurred, is one of the spots the Sié Center engages in with people around the globe to make the world more inclusive, welcoming, secure, and just.

“The Sié Center is focused on multiple ways of knowing,” Berry told me as we sat in her office. Around us, her shelves were lined with books on genocide, conflict, gender studies, and titles that implied the combination of all those topics, one of her many areas of expertise. She continued, “So, we look to bring people of different expertise, people with different types of knowledge, into our conversations.” The Sié Center, aside from its 19 faculty affiliates, post-docs, visiting scholars, fellows, and research assistants, includes a broad network of policymakers, journalists, activists, and artists. All these individuals are sought out with the intent to bring multi-dimensional knowledge into the Korbel and Denver community.

Not many schools of international relations are targeting the intersection resting between the arts and academic circles, a point that is far from lost on Berry. “What’s unique about the Sié Center is that we’re bringing the arts and artists into the conversation of global affairs,” she tells me, “There tends to be a gulf between the performing arts and IR people.”

To bridge this gulf is no small task, but one that starts with passion and a drive to conceptualize the academy, and knowledge itself, in a new way. Berry’s objectives for the Sié Center embodies her passion and excitement about its future. In the Fall of 2022, the Center absorbed the cultural diplomacy program in partnership with the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. In the Fall of 2023, it also plans to introduce a global justice certificate that emphasizes tangible skills for bringing about social change from the bottom up. “Our goal is to be a flagship institution for this type of programming,” Berry tells me, “And I think we’re very well-positioned to do that.”

Bringing about social change means grasping the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of conflict and resistance, which requires the kind of understanding that can only be partially satisfied in academic articles. “The goal of Hardi’s visit was to introduce Korbel students to a way of thinking about women in war that stemmed from her lived experience, and whose poetry seeks to move people’s hearts and souls and minds in a way that resonates in a different way than academic scholarship,” Berry says. One of the most prominent points she took away from the discussion with Hardi was that feminist struggles and the struggle for human rights don’t only take place in visible spaces, but also take place on the page. “The written word is often a record for how people are seeing oppression and seeking change,” Berry says, “What her poetry offered us that night was a chance to remind us that successful advocacy takes multi-dimensional strategies.” 

Hardi didn’t only come to Korbel for one night, she spent two weeks in Denver and around the university’s campus. “From those two weeks she was here,” Berry tells me, “I took away the importance of sustaining this type of programming.” She believes that for activists around the world, the connection, intimacy, struggle, and sharing of successes, is the only way that solidarity can be built. “It’s that kind of solidarity that is required to sustain activists like Choman,” she says.

Next month [in May], the Sié Center is welcoming its fifth practitioner in residence, Carolina Barrero, a Cuban artist and human rights activist who has been forced into exile by the Cuban regime. Like Hardi before her, Barrero will help broaden the scope of how the field of international relations is viewed, shifting it from academic rigidity into a mode of understanding that recognizes it as diverse and fluid.

Crossing the gulf between the arts and academia and broadening how people understand global affairs is embodied in the works of Choman Hardi and the Center’s other practitioners in residence, making it an integral component of its mission. The Sié Center is at the forefront of understanding this intersection, and it has become an institution that acts as a bridge between this gulf of knowledge. By amplifying voices such as Hardi, who binds the academic and broader community to different ways of thinking about international relations and conflict, the Sié Center gives these fields a scope of humanity and plants the seeds of perspective and understanding that can’t be found in a textbook.


This article was written by Korbel graduate student David Kelm