Category: SAIS Events

Smash for Coffee


Nanjing – “You know hips don’t lie!” exclaimed Christian Flores, a second-year MAIS student. He wasn’t referring to Shakira’s famous song “Hips Don’t Lie,” but Princess Peach’s ability to knock her opponents off the stage using her hips in Super Smash Brothers.

A group of Super Smash Brothers enthusiasts came together to participate in the first ever Smash Tournament at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. With a 100 RMB gift card to the HNC coffee shop at stake, HNC smashers brought their A-game and used their favorite characters during the competition.

smash 1
Spectators and Players

Spectators livened up the competitive arena with fun comments such as “He plays like an economist!… Well, I mean, he did go to the University of Chicago!” and “That game between Wolf and Toon Link … is like Little Red Riding Hood, except that Riding Hood (Toon Link) has a sword and a shield!”

smash 2
Students Enjoying Super Smash Brothers

Andrew Rankin, a first-year MAIS student and tournament organizer, told the SAIS Observer that the Super Smash Brothers community is a representation of positivity that is everywhere at the HNC.

“The students come every now and then for a couple of hours, several times a week and play. It’s a good way to take a break from reading and studying. I also notice that students would then go back to studying afterward,” Andrew explained. “It gives you energy and fun. You can completely escape from studying and then go back to studying afterward.”

smash 3
Intense battle in session

After several hours of battling, first-year MAIS student Nathan Frit emerged victorious. The veteran Smasher described the tournament as “stressful” and “overwhelming.”

smash 4
Tournament Champion, Nathan Fritz

“I didn’t expect that I would win! I am not great when playing under pressure. But I like this game a lot,” said Nathan.

While Nathan took home the gift card, the participants were able to share the real prize, a fun time with good company.

All photos courtesy of Khun Nyan Min Htet.

Khun Nyan Min Htet is a staff writer at the Nanjing Bureau. He is a HNC Certificate/SAIS MA student currently completing his Certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC this fall.

A Hopkins-Nanjing Halloween

Photo by: Alexandra Hansen


NANJING – Halloween came early this Saturday at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center with a night-long celebration for the students and staff. The event featured music, a live band and a gift card raffle. Costumes were mandatory for attendance and did not disappoint. Highlights included a full-piece Winnie the Pooh costume, Daenerys Targaryen, and Rorschach from Watchmen.

Attendees voted on awards such as “scariest costume” and “funniest costume” for a Center-wide costume contest. Winning “most creative” were Sun Yi and Anneliese Gegenheimer for their pairing of Frozen’s Anna and Elsa. Gegenheimer explains, “Sun Yi had never done Halloween before and wanted to dress up. I wanted something where we were sisters because we’re roommates, and was trying to think of something she’d know that’s also famous in China. I said Frozen, and it just worked.”

The Hopkins-Nanjing student band took the stage at 9 p.m. The set-list featured seven songs, including Halloween classics like “Monster Mash” and “Thriller,” as well as some non-holiday hits like “Toxic.” To prepare, the band practiced twice a week for about a month and every day in the week leading up to the party. Bassist Joel Forsstrom’s favorite song to play was “Uptown Funk” because the band’s version had solos for the drums, guitar and bass. The song ended with a three-minute extended jam session. “Thriller” was a hit among the American students, including Brian Hart. “I always love Thriller, because that’s the most Halloween-y song ever,” he says.

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center ‘banwei’ committee (a student council consisting of elected international and Chinese students) organized the night’s festivities. The committee spent the majority of Friday and Saturday putting up $200 worth of decorations, including a spider-web wall where party-goers could take pictures.  

The Halloween celebration was relatively unique as the holiday is not widely celebrated in China, though it is becoming more popular according to Certificate student Mao Tingting. Gao Yaqian, a master’s student, notes the growing popularity of Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day in Chinese culture, since “businessmen have a great opportunity to sell things, and people like to have fun and go to parties.”

Interview with Marie-Lucie Spoke, founder of the CSR Consulting Company “Community Roots China”


NANJING–Community Roots China works with underprivileged children in 12 provinces around China. Their programmes include the One Heart Gift Bag, which gives bags to primary aged children, the Bookworm programme, which provides books for schools, and the Educational Sponsorship, which pays the fees for students to attend high school or university.

Spoke Photo
Marie-Lucie Spoke speaking at the HNC. Source: author

Anna: Hello Marie-Lucie. To start, I wanted to ask you about how you became interested in the social welfare or non-profit sector? Was there an event or experience in your life that convinced you that this was what you wanted as your career?

Marie-Lucie: I started doing charity on my own. We were in Brasilia [where Spoke’s husband was a diplomat for the Canadian government] and everyone had a seamstress, because there were no stores to buy ready-made clothes. I helped my seamstress, I helped her to build a house, just settling the children, she had 8 children. And I then thought to myself, I could do that with a passion. I was doing that by myself in Brazil.

In Canada, I got into an NGO in Canada and learned all the laws – so you’re talking taxation law, the legal setup, how to run meetings. I ran an NGO.

The opportunity came up to move to China in 2003. So we said, okay, we’re moving to China. I started working as a volunteer just to learn. And naturally the country is very different from the Western world. The laws are not in place – the legal system, the banking system, the charity registration system. So I just did what I had to do with my friends as volunteers. Within 3 years, what we were doing was so big that my husband said, “You have to register.” We had no website, no database, no salaries, no employees.

A: The reason Community Roots China is set up as a consulting company is due to the Chinese government regulations on foreigner-run NGOs in China [they are not allowed]. Could you elaborate on how you decided to set it up as a CSR consultancy, and advantages and disadvantages that have stemmed from that?

M: I don’t mind the consulting company because then you ensure yourself that you have a service to deliver that the community wants to purchase. You get public funding as an NGO. But maybe this is a different country, maybe the country does not realise that they need your service, maybe they outright don’t want your service, but because you keep being funded, you’ve got the money to keep going without the check and balance that the private sector brings to you. If you have a service to sell and no one wants to buy it, there’s a message there. What are we doing wrong or what prevents us from being sustainable?

We are selling our services on a consulting basis. The companies need us, they are buying our service, because they don’t know how to reach the children who need their resources. The corporations want to do CSR, [but] they don’t have time to go digging into the countryside: where are the children, what’s the process, understanding all that. So we are their service agency.

A: What about the disadvantages?

M: The law is changing so that none of the international NGOs, as of January 1st, if the law comes into effect then as it is supposed to, none of the international NGO will be able to operate in China unless they are registered with the police and they will not be able to receive funding from overseas. You cannot depend on money coming in from anywhere else, to do the purpose for which you set up this NGO.

You know, we want to bring resources to the children, but we have a double purpose, we also want to trigger the buy-in by the Chinese companies to the CSR mode, pattern. We want to integrate the Chinese company to think and operate with a CSR programme. Which they don’t right now, in the greater majority [of cases].. If you look at the direction the government is going, they’re basically sending the message that “You in China, you’ve got to put Chinese money in your Chinese bank account to do Chinese CSR in China.” They’re saying, don’t count on your foundation in the United States. I think the country is making a concerted effort to get their own nationals to step up to the plate.

A: How are you going about marketing CSR to Chinese corporations?

M: The stealth or personal relationship approach. You talk to the people who are already convinced, knowing that they have relationships of which you don’t know anything about. The people we know, they might be the wife of somebody, they might be the colleague at Fudan University, and we do have Fudan University as one of our sponsors, they sponsor the Bookworm Project. You just have to let it go. So all we can ensure, is that we do it well, we are a good role model for others, at the end of the day we want them to see the benefit for the community and we want the children to have resources. It will take a while. Sometimes, an idea takes a long time to gain traction, and all of a sudden there’s incremental pace. So we’re not yet at the incremental pace, we’re just at the trying to gain traction. Especially in the Chinese sector.

There’s hope. Actually, as a company, we’re treading a fine line, because we have to stay in the market in order to influence it. We’re treading this fine line of having to work, deliver, and yet also pitch the bigger picture to those who are not yet on board. We show, there is a display. Because after five years, we did deliver 42,000 or so gift bags. Nobody can say it’s just a gift bag to a primary school child, it has no consequence. When you deliver 42,000 gift bags somebody somewhere is being encouraged with the bigger picture of what life can be and what communities can be, of what helping each other can be. It does make an impact. After those five years maybe some corporations will say, you guys have done this for five years, we could do that. The bigger perspective is that it’s going to take time.

A: Many SAIS students will be looking for satisfying, fulfilling jobs in the near future. Do you have any advice on students looking for work in this area?

M: If you’re passionate about something, there’s a little something that tells you. When I did my second year of my MBA, I thought to myself, do I want to work with Volkswagen, Whirlpool, no that’s not where my passion is. But when I thought would I like to administer women’s shelters or after school programme – oh yes I would, I could put my whole passion into that. So if a person says I could get excited about saving the environment, anything that has to do with the environment, that person has to stick with their passion. Start little, be very humble, build their profile and their CV, based on small accomplishments that add up to a lot. First, you serve as a volunteer. Then, a position becomes open and you enter into that position. Then, you’ve been there for two, three years and you can become a director. Gain that expertise. Be willing to make the effort over and above what your salary range is, or what your managerial level is at, in order to be seen as wanting to go up, and having the skills to go up in management.

A lot of things are self-driven. You go to a conference, or you read a book, or you do a course online to add to your understanding. The big picture is always where I start: what’s the big picture. To understand the full scale of where the impact of CSR is. If you put your eyes on the big picture, you read about the big picture, you read about interesting people, you read the criticism, and then you read the counter-criticism, so then you don’t go in there thinking you’re going to save the world on your own. You stick with your field, eventually you find your position.

Focus, be ready to enter at a lowly level or in a lowly manner, but if that’s your passion, it will quickly flourish. There is space. And in that space, there is need.

A: If you’re already employed, is it worthwhile to raise CSR as a potential activity to your employer?

M: There’s a guy who works for Morgan Stanley. He’s 100% sold on the idea of CSR. He’s the head of the IT department. He says, the best way to improve your profile with the head of the company is to do CSR, and then go knock on his door and ask him for money. We created CSR Social Group, we did five evenings in a restaurant with beer and things like that, and we invited all the top managers that we knew, including some pretty big managers, VP, GMs, etc. To talk to the young people, we divided them by table, topics. It was very well attended.

We’ve been talking about CSR, and social enterprise, and there is a third element. That is leadership. To be bold enough to go and knock on anybody’s door. That is a tell tale sign of a leader. You’re proactive, you don’t wait for anybody else to do it before you do it. Then you say to the others you could do the same thing as I did. I knocked on the president’s door, and he didn’t fire me because of it, and I talked to him, and he gave me $200, $500, and now he knows me by name. Someone who will go and ask. To step up and take initiative is a characteristic of a leader.

Irene Khan Visits SAIS Europe to Discuss Law, Human Rights and the Migrant Crisis

Irene Khan (left) visiting SAIS Europe (Photo Courtesy: Sharad Sharma)


A few years ago, Irene Khan was invited by Amnesty Spain to visit a cemetery in Tenerife. She was asked to visit the graves that were stacked on top of each other, a common burial practice in the region. However, what was particularly haunting about that sight was the fact that they were nameless.

Khan, the former head of Amnesty International, spoke with SAIS Bologna students last week as a part of the International Migration series for the Bologna Institute for Policy Research. She started the conversation with that anecdote, illustrating to the gathered students the gravity and anonymity facing migrants in the midst of crisis.

Irene Khan speaking at SAIS Europe (Photo Courtesy: Sharad Sharma)

Irene Khan has had a long and impressive career. She began her time with the United Nations at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), where she spent nearly two decades. She was then appointed to serve as the Secretary General of Amnesty International, where she was known for her extensive work in human rights. She currently works as the Director General for the International Development Law Organization.

Khan’s biggest worry about the state of migration today is the failure of legal institutions to protect human rights over the course of migration, particularly in the case of the current Syrian migrant crisis.

At SAIS, Khan introduced this concern by clarifying the concept of rule of law to the students. She defines it as a legal system backed by effective, transparent and accountable institutions. Rule of law, Khan added, rests on the foundation of human rights ideals.

The problem, however, lies in the fact that many countries who accept the legal system may not necessarily embrace the human rights ideals at the core of the law. A big part of this discussion examined how states react to the situation and pressure other states to factor human rights into their legal conversations.

After the event, first-year MA student Eleanor Dickens said, “I really appreciated how Ms. Khan discussed the ways we can influence states to improve their human rights policies without imposing on their sovereignty.”

“A moment that particularly stuck out to me was when she discussed migrants who die on the high seas of the Mediterranean,” she continued. “She said that whether those migrants come from Burkina Faso or Syria – are refugees or migrant workers – they could all still die in the same unsafe conditions in which they migrate. So she advocated establishing safe and legal means of migrating and highlighted the importance of legal procedure”.

In addition to the procedural issues, a common thread of concern was of the transgressions against the migrant communities during their integration into receiving societies, particularly in the context of the far-right movements in Europe. Khan believes that a culture of fear is driving politics today and this trend can endanger migrant integration. She believes that migrant rights should be complemented by fearless leadership to counter these transgressions and set a welcoming tone for migrants, especially those who contribute to receiving economies.

Second-year MAIA student Sofia Cornali commented on this topic of integration: “I thoroughly enjoyed the attention Ms. Khan gave to the issue of the vulnerability of migrants, refugees or not, in their new surroundings. Looking back on my work at the Portuguese Council of Refugees, I can now remember how asylum seekers felt especially protected when they had a legal team constantly reminding them of their rights and obligations.”

While the students reflected on their past work in migration and asked Khan related questions, the emerging theme was a lack of legal framework in the international community. Unfortunately, according to Khan, the migration crisis often fails to grab the attention it deserves when it comes to rule of law.

Ultimately, Khan’s concern is a fundamental one – how can we restore legal state protection for these migrants? Khan ended her conversation by stating that this is only possible if the international community looks at the migration issue as a crucial one, which begins with asking the right questions.

Italian PM Urges Students to Elevate Political Discourse

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati


Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi implored SAIS students to advance political dialogue in the face of rising global populism during his speech Wednesday morning at SAIS’s Washington, D.C. campus. The speech came as part of his official state visit, including what was likely President Obama’s final state dinner.

During his hour-long visit, Renzi called on students to “help us to surpass the politics of 140 characters,” and warned of the dangers of nationalism and isolationism driving populist movements in America and Europe, and leading to what he described as “verbal violence.”

Renzi’s visit to SAIS came weeks ahead of Italy’s Dec. 4th constitutional referendum, when Italians will vote on whether to shrink the size of the senate with the aim of reducing political gridlock in Rome. Renzi has tied his premiership to the vote, saying he will step down as Prime Minister should the country vote against the plebiscite.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

While Renzi has vowed publicly to leave office should the referendum fail, President Obama said yesterday that he would like Renzi to “hang around for a while no matter what.”

As part of Renzi’s push for a “yes” vote, the 41-year-old Prime Minister enlisted the services of former Obama adviser Jim Messina, paying him around €400,000 to advance the “yes” campaign. Messina, who also advised David Cameron on Brexit, will look to the referendum for his first victory in European plebiscite advising.

Recent polls have the “no” camp leading, with Renzi’s greatest challenges coming from populist political parties like The Northern League and the 5Star Movement, which won Rome’s mayoral race in June.

The referendum has also pulled former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from political hibernation to rally his party, Forza Italia, against the referendum. Berlusconi, who was barred from office after being convicted of tax fraud, claims that the referendum is merely a distraction from “the economic failures of [Renzi’s] government.”

Renzi who is advised on economic matters by SAIS professor Filippo Taddei emphasized that fledgling economies drive populism even more than the deadly terrorism that has ravaged the European continent in recent months.

In the face of political opposition and uncertainty, Renzi spoke hopefully of the future, quoting John F. Kennedy toward the end of his speech: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

Renzi will end his state visit at Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

Ratna Kapur Discusses Indian Constitutional Law and the Role of Hinduism in Its Practice



On Monday, October 10, Ratna Kapur joined SAIS students for a conversation on her area of expertise: the role of culture and tradition in law. The event was a part of the speaker series with the Bologna Institute of Policy Research (BIPR) and specifically addressed Indian Constitutional Law from a faith perspective. Titled “Secularism, Religion and Hindu Majoritarianism in Indian Constitutional Law,” the conversation explored the role of Hindutva in shaping the judgments passed by modern Indian Constitutional Law.

Kapur has been a visiting professor at a number of international law schools including NYU School of Law, Georgetown University Law Centre and the United Nations Peace University. She has also been a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School and Senior Advisor to the United Nations Mission in Nepal. Her most recent  book discusses the concept of freedom from illiberal perspectives. This topic was reflected in Monday’s event, during which she walked the audience through secularism, religion and the role they play in the Indian Constitution.

According to Kapur, Indian religious pluralism, often marketed as ‘Incredible India’, reflects some deep societal inconsistencies. Kapur posits that recent decades have been marked by a disintegration of real Indian pluralism, despite the many religious communities within its borders. Hindutva, a form of Hindu nationalism, is a major part of right wing politics in India and is evident from the principles of dominant political parties.

Photo Credit: The SAIS Observer

While politics have always had religious aspects in India, what concerns Kapur and others is Hindutva’s strong influence on the legal judgments made by Indian courts during many cases involving religious minorities. Kapur asserts that a larger part of the problem deals with the misreading of secularism as a concept of Indian Constitutional Law and the politicization of the Hindu Ideology to dominate non-Hindu and minority rights.

Hindutva nationalists argue for secularism to be the equal treatment of all religious communities. However, Kapur believes that they tactfully use this stance to assert that various minority rights such as access to education are in violation of the constitutional mandate to treat all citizens equally. This irony makes the phenomenon of Hindutva politics a scary prospect in the constitutional law of Indian democracy.

While the talk made some interesting points about secularism specifically in India, Kapur also impacted the international perspectives of various students. first-year MA student Phil Kamper reflected on the topic of religion, secularism and the separation of church and state in Europe. “It was an exceptional talk,” said Kamper, “and underlined the need for a broad public debate on equality and freedom of religion while maintaining human rights and fighting bigotry. We can see that the rise of the far-righting populism challenges this convention. Victor Orban and Marine Le Pen readily invoke Christianity as a defining European feature, ignoring the secular tradition of pluralism and humanism within European society.”

Additionally, other students found the topic particularly relevant to other social considerations such as the treatment of women in Indian society.

The President of the Global Women in Leadership club, Chelsea Sommer, said, “I thought it was incredibly interesting when she described how the Bharatiya Janata Parta (BJP) in India also claims to be saving Hindu women from Islam, particularly because during the time I spent living in India, I saw first-hand how regressive the BJP’s stance is towards women.”

“It was especially alarming,” Sommer continued, “that the judicial system, depending on their definition of secularism, can actually dictate how religious meanings are practiced and interpreted, and may actually be severely damaging to plurality and equality”.

The talk ends on a note suggesting the desperate need for change in order to combat the transgressions against minorities by Hindu majoritarianism. While Kapur dismisses any potential security threat from Hindutva, she suggests that it has normalized and neutralized what was once a pluralistic society.  

SAIS Students Make the Consulting Case


The winning team celebrates after the end of the Deloitte Case Competition in November (Photo Courtesy: Karina Panyan)
The winning team celebrates after the end of the Deloitte Case Competition in November (Photo Courtesy: Karina Panyan)

WASHINGTON-On a cloudy, rainy November 3rd, forty-four SAIS students worked in teams to build a better school lunch. Their goal, assigned by consultants overseeing the task, was to advise the benefit corporation Revolution Foods on opportunities to expand social impact and profitability. At the end of thirty-six hours, the teams would turn in a completed slide deck. Five days afterwards, they would each prepare to pitch their ideas to improve Revolution Foods to a panel of judges from top consulting firms.

The Deloitte Case Competition arrived at SAIS on November 3rd, and was a collaborative effort between the consulting conglomerate the student-run SAIS Consulting Club, and SAIS Career Services. MA Candidate Kaitlin Lavinder, who serves as SAIS Consulting Club President, credited her club’s efforts, enthusiasm by alumni working at Deloitte, and the guidance of Career services during the process. “A former SAIS Consulting Club Board member worked with Deloitte to discuss case study logistics and to procure the Deloitte judge,” explained Lavinder. Afterwards, the firm and the career club began the planning stages of a larger-scale competition sponsored by Deloitte.

As students frantically worked to perfect the details, formatting, logical flow and visual organization of their information, they worked within a short time frame designed to mimick short turnaround times mimicking actual time constraints of entry-level consultants. On Friday, November 13th, the groups’ work culminated in short presentations of their case studies given to panels of judges, timed at just 15 minutes each.

Four teams then moved onto the second round, where they presented their case again, this time to a larger panel of Deloitte consultants. During the Final Round, judges gave challenging feedback, and were observant of every last detail of student presentations.  Runners up Christopher Crow, Katherine Wang, Jesse Barnett, and Yoni Katz suggested opportunities for Revolution Foods to expand operations from the K-12 school services to community college cafeteria services. The winning group, composed of Yoonie Sim, Fernando Ventura, Sid Ravishankar, Taylor Sloane, built up a case based on economies of scale, in which the firm would start with low-risk investments in the short term and broaden expansion efforts going forward. Their polished and streamlined case presentation, which was complemented by a slide deck of minimalist design, took home the grand prize, a set of gift cards to a sustainable restaurant.  First year students on the winning and runner-up teams were also awarded the opportunity of an interview for a Deloitte Summer Associate internship position.

Despite only two teams going home with gift card sets, all teams were able to receive the prize of presentation advice by the Deloitte Consultant judge panel, who shared their thoughts on what made a presentation particularly memorable. Common traits of the best presentations by students included clean, purposeful Powerpoint slides, a logical flow to a presentation, and the advice to shift the attention away from a questioner if they were  excessively focused on criticizing presenters.

“Getting involved with SAIS Consulting Club is a great way to network,” said Lavinder, who was pleased with competition results. She acknowledged the challenges that students of the MA program might face when competing with MBA program graduates for jobs in the field of consulting. However, SAIS students’ innovation and hard work were able to make its students shine, and create meaningful relationships with alumni and recruiting staff at Deloitte.

MENA Happy Hour: Friday, November 13th, 2015


WASHINGTON On Friday, November 13th, the SAIS MENA club will be hosting its happy hour, with partial proceeds going to the Amal Fund, an initiative that supports refugee youth leaders in Jordan, both in Za’atari refugee camp and in urban areas. Attendees can expect Middle Eastern food from Iran, Syria and Egypt, as well as Middle Eastern music, auction items, and artwork by Syrian artists living in the Za’atari camp.

As the Syrian refugee crisis becomes more and more protracted, Amal, which means hope in Arabic, provides tuition support for refugee leaders, most of whom have had their educations interrupted, to attend Jordanian universities, meeting the needs of Syrian students who pass high school examinations in Jordan but pay out-of-country fees at Jordanian universities. In addition to helping Syrian youth access tertiary educations, the fund also empowers them to participate in civic engagement through a program of cultural exchange with their scholarship sponsor(s), promoting mutual exchange between both communities.

Ismail, 29, one of the beneficiaries the Fund will target. Photo courtesy of the Syrian Youth Committee.
Ismail, 29, one of the beneficiaries the Fund will target. Photo courtesy of the Syrian Youth Committee.

One of the reasons MENA club chose the Amal Fund as a beneficiary of its happy hour is its targeted funding: $19,000 covers a full, four-year scholarship for a bachelor’s degree at a Jordanian university, including tuition and registration, books, transportation, and a living stipend. The fund targets Syrian youth leaders with superior academic records and demonstrated commitment to community engagement, like the leaders in the Syrian Youth Committee, a grassroots group that formed in Zaatari Camp, which hosts approximately 60,000 of the Syrian refugees in Jordan. Led and composed by youth, this committee has spearheaded the push within the camp to increase youth access to higher education. The Fund targets members of this committee, and other youth leaders like them, who serve as models and leaders of Syrian youth community engagement. The Fund seeks partners to provide funding for these refugee youth leaders to continue their education.

At the happy hour, MENA club will be selling artwork made by Syrian artists in Za’atari Camp, created in programming led by International Relief and Development. Proceeds from that artwork sale will go directly from the Club to the artists themselves, helping them to meet their basic needs.

Jordan is home to 700,000 of the 4 million Syrian refugees — there is a chasmic need for relief funding. Through fundraising efforts by MENA such the November 13th art sale and happy hour, one of the hundreds of organizations doing valuable work in the Syrian crisis can receive valuable support from the SAIS community. The purchase of a new keepsake can be meaningful in multiple ways.

Everything ‘Falls’ into Place for Mid-Autumn Festival Party


MidAutumn1NANJING — Every year on the 15th day of the Han lunar calendar, China celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday that commemorates the changing of the seasons and the interrelationship between the coming harvest and the moon. While typical celebration involves the unabashed consumption of mooncakes (ramekin-sized pastries filled with anything from meat to sweet red bean paste to fruit) and carrying lanterns, the HNC marked the festival with a bilingual variety show. The spectacle took place on the center’s second-floor veranda, a venue fit for faculty, staff, and students all to appreciate the full moon and festivities.

Unique to this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival party, the entirety of the show was held outside and encouraged participation and interaction from everyone in the crowd. Party MC Susan Wang reflected on her role running the show alongside classmate Quinn Campbell, avowing “…I wanted to make it not mundane for people”. Campbell proceeded to delineate his hosting inspiration, stating “I hoped to open the show with energy. Like with Hugh Jackman energy.”

And mundane it was not—performances included musical medleys, operatic singing, Salsa dancing, skits regarding the history of the Mid-Autumn Festival, and many more. Center student Cecilia Joy spoke of fellow classmate Slater Rhea’s Chinese opera performance, “[it] blew me out of the water… being Puerto Rican, to see someone engaged in intense study of language, politics, you name it, and earnestly learning [Chinese] art forms shows so much respect for the culture.”

Rhea elaborated on his performance, explaining his first song choice, “Xi Bu Fang Ge 西部放歌“is about developing the Chinese inland cities and provinces, which for decades have lagged behind the heavy development in the Eastern and Southern coastal regions. The song draws on Shanbei folk music.” Although Rhea has a background in violin, his Chinese opera ability is self-taught. Rhea’s second song, Er Xing Qian Li 儿行千里, functioned as a means to “honor all the parents and other family members we were away from during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday usually shared with family.”

While members of the HNC community may be thousands of miles away from their family, the Mid-Autumn Festival party proved that the Nanjing center fosters a familial tenor; Student Council member and party DJ Deng Yitao described his elation for how the party was run, noting, “everyone, including Chinese students, international students, professors, and faculty members all participated.” Participation was garnered through spontaneous activities interspersed throughout the show, such as an impromptu Gangnam Style dance competition, a Reaggeton dance lesson, and a team-based ‘bobbing for apples’ competition. Following the completion of all of the acts, Deng continued to express that the show’s after party was his favorite part, an open dancing floor in which “helped everyone to get familiar with each other.”

MidAutumn2The Mid-Autumn Festival party was a big step forward for the future of HNC events, but Wang noted that it was not without its faults: “…the show went great, but it obviously has room for improvement, next time we need to know what is being performed.” Two acts were cut and the MCs received the set list close to the starting time, but Wang felt at ease alongside her partner, expressing, “I liked Quinn’s sense of always thinking ahead”. Wang, speaking Mandarin, and Campbell, speaking English, often called upon the audience to assist them in language or cultural barrier issues, an effort both to aid in HNC’s language aims and to encourage an engaged viewership. Campbell echoed Wang’s sentiments, noting, “I could feel it.”

The HNC’s next party is Halloween, a party that tends to be one of the most popular events at the center. With the current student body’s new found organizational prowess and ambitious party-hosting hopes, everyone’s expectations are high. But at its roots, everyone’s baseline goal is just to have fun among friends and faculty; to recap this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival party, Joy summarized her experience as, “good times, good vibes… and good beer.”

Stephan Hadley Talks Foreign Policy at SAIS

Former U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley speaks with Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli on March 9, 2015 in Kenney Auditorium on U.S. foreign policy. (Photo courtesy of SAIS Hopkins)
Former U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley speaks with Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli on March 9, 2015 in Kenney Auditorium on U.S. foreign policy. (Photo courtesy of SAIS Hopkins)


WASHINGTON–Last month on March 9, former U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley arrived at SAIS for a wide-ranging discussion on the Middle East, moderated by SAIS Foreign Policy Institute Senior Fellow, Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli. Much of the conversation focused on the long-term, second- and third-order effects emanating from current crises in the Middle East, particularly the Islamic State’s violent attempt to establish a Caliphate and the potential of a diplomatic deal regarding Iran’s nuclear capability.

Both Hadley and Ambassador Tahir-Kheli agreed that most policy discussions regarding the Islamic State focus on narrow tactical questions, such as whether to increase or scale back bombing of the Islamic State or whether to embed troops in Iraq. But the real challenge for both the U.S. government and for the policy community, Hadley said, is to construct a long-term political and economic development plan for a post-Islamic State Iraq and Syria. In this sense, Hadley endorsed a return to nation-building in the Middle East to maintain stability once it has been won. Hadley insisted that this would not be a futile exercise, asserting that by 2008, the U.S. had achieved what it wanted to achieve in Iraq; namely, an inclusive political structure, decreasing sectarian violence, and hopeful economic indicators. In addition, he gave Afghanistan a 50/50 chance of maintaining political stability and economic growth under that country’s new president, Ashraf Ghani.

At the same time, Hadley worried about impediments to stable, liberal governments in the Middle East, quoting former Jordanian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Marwan al-Muasher as saying that neither of the twin political traditions in the Middle East, Arab nationalism and political Islam, have any tradition of tolerance and inclusion. Hadley noted that not only does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to serve as an excuse for Arab countries not to liberalize, but autocratic leaders (such as President Mubarak of Egypt) also commonly eliminate moderate democrats so as to present a rigidly-defined choice between the existing regimes and variants of political Islam such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, sectarianism continues to be exploited by all sides, including the Islamic State and Iran.

Hadley also channeled the views of Sunni-majority allied states in the region, saying that while they are active in both participating in the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State and challenging its ideology, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States question U.S. commitment. They believe, Hadley said, that the U.S. was too slow to respond to Syria and that the current strategy is a failure; they worry intensely about a potential nuclear deal with Iran (there is a pernicious theory, Hadley said, that any deal would signal a reversion to Iran as the principal ally in the Middle East); and they are worried that given the U.S. failure to enforce red lines in Syria, Iran will be granted impunity as long as it does not develop nuclear weapons.

In Hadley’s view, any nuclear agreement with Iran will be in “the eye of the beholder.” Under the current plan of action, some enrichment capability will remain. Key questions to be answered include: How much nuclear infrastructure will Iran be allowed to keep? And how long will the agreement last? Hadley iterated that if an agreement is made, the U.S. must be able to sell it to allies in the region by including provisions for the contingency that Iran reneges on the deal, such as snapback sanctions, a pre-authorization of military force, and a general push back against Iran’s influence in the region. Ultimately, Hadley noted, Arab states (particularly the Saudis) worry that if sanctions are lifted on Iran as part of the deal, billions of dollars in oil revenue will be put in the hands of people like Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force (the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps unit), who is currently on the ground in Iraq, helping to push the Islamic State out of Tikrit.

At heart, Hadley’s belief in nation-building and strong opposition to autocracy in the Middle East is rooted in both his personal experiences and moral convictions. Hadley recounted that the many failed attempts to deal with Bashar al-Assad during the Bush administration led him to be jaded about cooperating with autocrats, and stated it would be a moral affront to negotiate with a leader who had killed 300,000 of his own people, asking, “What lesson is that to the tyrants of the world? If you’re brutal enough, the international community will allow you to keep power….Do we want to live in a world of Assads and Saddam Husseins?”