Under the direction of Nanette Le Coat, professor of modern languages and literature and director of international studies, the International Studies Colloquium has chosen to focus on terrorism for the fall semester guest lecture series.

According to Le Coat, the specific focus of the rest of the lecture series will also involve an understanding of communication techniques used by both terrorist and counter-terrorist organizations.

“The focus this semester is terrorism, and the reason we chose that topic is that when we discussed it with students last semester of the topics they’d like to consider, terrorism was on that list,” Le Coat said.

The series for the fall kicked off with a presentation from Aaron Hoffman, associate professor of political science at Purdue University, on Tuesday, Oct. 3. His lecture, titled “Does the business of selling news influence terrorism coverage?”, summarized his contributions to the issue of media influence on terrorism.

“My interest in terrorism started on September 11, 2001. I wasn’t a terrorism researcher before that — I worked on trust in international politics,” Hoffman said. “I grew up in New York City, and I woke up one morning, and I thought I heard on the radio that a plane flew through the World Trade Center. I really woke up when I heard a plane had gone through the second building, and that event, like so many of the people in terrorism studies now, really propelled us on research.”

Within a year after this event, Hoffman had published his first paper on the subject of terrorism and has continued similar research since then.

“Right now, I’ve done some research on whether groups are more likely to attack countries that have a lot of press working in them, but the main research I’ve been doing is about the coverage of terrorism in the news media, as well as the consequences of that coverage,” Hoffman said. “What I want students to take away [from this lecture] is that the rap on the media as being bottom-line-driven and behaving the way they do because of the economic crisis in the industry is wrong, and it’s now showing up in the research I’ve done, and if it’s there, it’s not a major influence.”

Le Coat noted that, along with discussing the topic of terrorism with students, the department decided on the topic because it affects everyone, even if it doesn’t feel like a national issue.

“We are besieged by information on a daily basis about terrorism, but as Dr. Hoffman’s lecture showed us, that affects us emotionally without us really understanding it, so it’s an ongoing effort to stop, pause and think about some of the dimensions of terrorism,” Le Coat said.

The second lecture of the series was presented by Joseba Zulaika, professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Zulaika’s work is the result of his ethnographic research, which relied heavily on participant observation. Zulaika also stressed the importance of becoming aware of one’s place in relation to terrorism.

Joseba Zulaika, professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, was the second speaker of the series. His lecture stressed the importance of becoming aware of one’s place in relation to terrorism. photo by Chloe Sonnier

“My own Basque society was a traumatic reality when I was growing up there. … On the one hand, these killers were like priests for some, and like murders for others. This combination of both components in the same people made them similar to other personages in anthropology, like sacred priests, etc. — so I needed to understand my own culture,” Zulaika said. “We should be skeptical of the whole terrorist culture, and the whole counter-terrorism culture. We should question what we are told about terrorists, and we should look into how terrorism is constructed by certain kinds of discourse, terrorism news and our own involvement in it.”

The series is a vital part of the international studies major. With a new topic every semester, the department aims to have students engage with multiple international issues, not just their concentration.

“As the director of the international studies major, I oversee the organization of the colloquium,” Le Coat said. “It is a one-credit class that was designed to bring students in the major together to discuss a topic of global concern. Majors in international studies have options of various concentrations, but because it’s somewhat diffused, we wanted a common experience to educate students in global affairs.”

Students who declare international studies are required to take the colloquium every semester after declaration and must take it for a minimum of three times. While there is only one subject every semester, the topics they cover often have a wide range.

“We’ve talked about matters of global health, climate change, world cities and the emergence of megacities, which is a way of visiting different parts of the world, and ebola,” Le Coat said. “Because the major is not only international, but it’s interdisciplinary, we approach these topics from different points of view, and try to bring in speakers with various points of view.”

In an email, Le Coat listed speakers who have participated in the colloquium in the past, including Mustapha Tlili, a well-known Tunisian journalist and novelist; Masoud Noori, an Iranian jurist; Mehrad Boroujerdi, director of Middle Eastern studies at Syracuse University; and Dele Jegede, a Nigerian political cartoonist.

“We look for a set of speakers that are not just groundbreaking, but that they’re a good fit for Trinity and the type of students we have,” said Katsuo Nishikawa, director of the Center for International Engagement. “We’re not only bringing in the top experts, but between that pool, Dr. Le Coat also has an eye out for those who are good communicators and motivators who can really engage students.”

While Nishikawa usually takes a behind-the-scenes role in the colloquium, he, along with other professors, may also play a role in finding speakers for the lecture series. Aaron Hoffman, for instance, was brought on as a recommendation of Nishikawa.

“We go to conferences a lot, like once or twice a year, to present on research, and when we’re there we see other people’s talks and meet people,” Nishikawa said. “It’s through those experiences that we can spot the talent that we can eventually tap on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, would you like to come and talk here?’”

For those interested, lectures will be held in Northrup Hall 040 on Tuesdays, from 3:50–5:30 p.m. Next semester, the department will most likely address the issue of borders, as the focus for this school year remains on security studies.