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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 idea ...
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Free to Think speaks with Katrin Kinzelbach and Lars Lott, researchers behind the Academic Freedom Index (AFI) which assesses levels of academic freedom in 179 countries and territories from 1900 to the present. Recent headlines suggest academic freedom is in retreat everywhere, but is it true? Katrin Kinzelbach and Lars Lott discuss the latest dat…
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Free to Think speaks with Achiro P. Olwoch, an award-winning writer, playwright, and filmmaker from Northern Uganda, and current scholar-at-risk and Weiss International Fellow at Barnard College in New York City. Achiro describes her recent play ‘The Survival,’ the impact of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Uganda, and how living in New York has made her a “bol…
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In February 2022, Artem Nazarko was in Odesa, Ukraine with his family, coming to terms with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It was huge traffic jams everywhere, empty shops, panic and confusion” he says. “No food, no petrol. It was tough times, and dark days.” Two years later, Artem is a PhD candidate and MSCA4Ukraine fellow at the University of …
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Emma Hartley and Jonathan Gelfond, undergraduates at UC Santa Barbara in California, weren’t sure if elected officials in Washington DC would agree to speak with them. They were advocating on behalf of Patrick Zaki – a University of Bologna graduate student formerly detained for two years, in apparent retaliation for his human rights research in Eg…
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Free to Think speaks with Shai Reshef, President of the University of the People, the first non-profit, tuition-free, American, accredited, online university whose mission is to help students worldwide overcome financial, geographic, political, and personal obstacles to higher education. Since August 2021, University of the People has received incr…
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Free to Think speaks with political scientist Sol Iglesias about "violence for social control" and threats to scholars in the Philippines, including online trolling, "red-tagging," threats, and violent attacks. Iglesias, who is a professor at the University of the Philippines and contributes to SAR’s monitoring of attacks on higher education in the…
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In Herat, Afghanistan, Zahra Hakimi was a faculty member, midwife, family planning trainer, and women’s reproductive healthcare provider. She often worked in secret and at personal risk to provide treatment to survivors of sexual assault. Within a week of taking control of her city, the Taliban raided Hakimi’s home. They condemned her work as “anti…
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Venezuelan higher education is in crisis. After decades of political attacks on universities, many professors struggle to survive a national economic collapse that threatens the whole society with runaway inflation, skyrocketing poverty, and mass outward migration of millions. Professors rely on multiple side jobs and foreign remittances but still …
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On January 21st, police forcibly entered the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, Peru, arresting over 200 people including students pulled from their dormitories. Free to Think speaks with Salvador Herencia-Carrasco about his work with colleagues inside and outside Peru to free students from unlawful detention and to defend academic f…
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What is ‘academic activism?’ What responsibility, if any, do scholars have for engaging outside of academia, with the public and with marginalized communities in particular? Free to Think speaks with Joel Mark Barredo, the Executive Director of SHAPE-SEA, the “Strengthening Human rights and Peace Research and Education in ASEAN/Southeast Asia” prog…
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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 …
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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 …
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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 fro…
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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 201…
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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…
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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 cons…
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Free to Think talks with Dr. Aziz Mohibbi, an environmental engineer and former chancellor of Afghanistan’s Bamyan University, about his recent relocation to Ireland following the return of the Taliban, and Dr. Roja Fazaeli, an Associate Professor of Islamic Civilization, Near & Middle Eastern Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, who helped to arran…
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Free to Think talks with Christiane Schmeken, Director of the Strategy Department of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and Julia Linder, at the Center for International Academic Collaborations (KIWi) at DAAD. They discuss DAAD’s new ‘KIWi Compass,’ a guide for institutions and leaders navigating complex security, political, economic, and…
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Free to Think talks with Mai El-Sadany, Managing Director and Legal and Judicial Director at the Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP). El-Sadany discusses the cases of Patrick George Zaki and Ahmed Samir Santawy, two graduate students targeted by Egyptian authorities. She describes the arbitrariness of such detentions and how the global a…
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Free to Think talks with Elizaveta Potapova, a researcher at the Public Policy and Management Institute in Lithuania. She holds a PhD from the Central European University, where she did her dissertation on academic freedom in Russia. Potapova discusses DOXA, an independent student journal which focuses on the problems of the modern academic environ…
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Free to Think talks with Zeynep Gambetti, Associate Professor of Political Theory, and Can Candan, a documentary filmmaker and academic, both at Turkey's Bogazici University. They discuss the collapse of institutional autonomy in Turkey, the one-year anniversary of faculty and student resistance, and how the struggle "isn't only about Bogazici, and…
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Free to Think talks with Camila Nobrega, a Brazilian journalist, fellow at the Alice Salomon Hochschule, and PhD candidate in the political science department at the Free University of Berlin, and Dr. Débora Medeiros, a researcher at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies and researcher with the Collaborative Research Center Affective So…
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Free to Think talks with Ali Arab, Associate Professor of Statistics at Georgetown University and board member of Hostage Aid Worldwide, which fights globally for the release of hostages while aiming to study and prevent hostage-taking against other innocent people. Arab discusses "hostage diplomacy," "ransom creep," and the importance of sharing i…
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Free to Think talks with Dr. William Tierney, university professor emeritus and founding director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. He discusses his new book, Higher education for Democracy: The Role of the University in Civil Society, released by SUNY press in July 2021, in which he argues that be…
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University scholars and students, public intellectuals, civil society leaders and human rights defenders across Afghanistan, especially women and ethnic and religious minorities, are in fear for their lives. None of them wore a uniform or got a government paycheck, but for the better part of twenty years these talented individuals have worked for a…
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Free to Think talks with Dr. Shuchi Karim, an academic, researcher, feminist and activist from Bangladesh. Her work on gender and sexuality brought her praise, and condemnation, forcing her into exile. On continuing her work despite threats, Shuchi notes "Fear does live with you, you know, not only for your sake, but your loved ones, because we are…
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Free to Think talks with Dr. Jo Smith Finley, a Reader in Chinese studies at Newcastle University, UK. In March 2021, Dr. Smith Finley was sanctioned by the government of the People's Republic of China, along with a group of UK politicians and peers, a legal chambers, and the entire staff of The Uyghur Tribunal. The sanctions include a ban on trave…
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Free to Think talks with Dr. Prosper Maguchu, researcher, human rights lawyer and activist from Zimbabwe. He worked to defend victims of state violence before domestic and international courts, bringing vindication to his clients, but drawing threats and violence against himself. "I wanted to be on the right side of history," he said, "I was motiva…
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Free to Think talks with Kyaw Moe Tun, executive director of the Parami University, the first private, non-profit, liberal arts and sciences university in Myanmar. Parami nurtures future leaders by providing students from various cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds with skills in global citizenship and critical thinking. Dr. Kyaw Moe Tun comp…
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Free to Think talks with Aziz Royesh, a leading advocate for primary and secondary education in Afghanistan and the founder of the Marefat High School in Kabul, which currently serves more than 3100 Afghan students, about half of whom are girls. Royesh is a former fellow at the US National Endowment for Democracy and Yale University, and a 2014 fin…
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Free to Think talks with Sarah Stroup, Faculty director of the Engaged Listening Project at Middlebury College. Created after protests and disruption of a visit to the campus by controversial scholar Charles Murray, the project aims "to create spaces for close listening and productive disagreements." Stroup is an associate professor of political sc…
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Free to Think talks with Marvi Sirmed, a political commentator, journalist, and human rights activist from Pakistan, about the 2021 Aurat March (Women’s March), violence against women, intersectionality, blasphemy accusations and the responsibility of social media companies. Sirmed advocates for minority rights, women’s rights and secular democracy…
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Free to Think talks with Alfred Babo about Share the Platform, a new initiative to formed by a group of practitioners and scholars from refugee and non-refugee backgrounds to “center the expertise of refugees to improve policy, programs, and practice” in a wide variety of fields. Babo is an interdisciplinary scholar in anthropology of development, …
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Free to Think talks with Xiyue Wang, a PhD candidate in history at Princeton University, whose research focuses on Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, China and the late Ottoman Empire. In May 2016, Wang visited Iran to do library and archival research in Tehran. Despite prior approval of his research plan by Iranian authorities, in August he was de…
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Free to Think talks with Asli Vatansever, a labor sociologist and author of “At the Margins of Academia: Exile, Precariousness, and Subjectivity,” which examines misconceptions and structural inequities in academic labor markets around the world, through the lens of scholars displaced from their home countries. Vatansever was among the thousands of…
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Free to Think talks with Peter Biar Ajak, scholar, civil society leader, and democracy advocate from South Sudan. As a child, Peter was one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, who were displaced by the civil war and endured treacherous journeys to refugee camps. Ultimately, Peter was resettled in the United States, earning degrees in international develop…
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Free to Think talks with Marcia Ross and Jeff Kaufman, the team behind NASRIN, a beautiful and inspiring new film about Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iranian human rights attorney. The film shows Sotoudeh's courage and compassion, as she represents those who have been forsaken by a brutal regime: political prisoners, religious minorities, women, and children. A…
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