Monthly Archives: March 2015

Wheatley Conference: An experience in politics “outside the bubble”


BYU students at WIAC

BYU students participate in WIAC at Aspen Grove. Bryonna Bowen is on the first row, third from the left. Photo used with permission.


Bryonna Bowen, an international relations student at Brigham Young University, was one of the many students who took part in the Wheatley International Affairs Conference (WIAC) on the “Middle East: Power, Politics, & Prospects for Peace” in February 2015.

Q: Tell us in a nutshell what WIAC is.

Bryonna: BYU hosts an annual conference where students from several different colleges come here to BYU and have a week to discuss different topics related to an overall theme. This year’s conference theme was on the Middle East. A professor or academic mentor experienced on the topic leads the conversation, gives some background information, and then all the students bounce ideas off of each other to improve the situation based on what we’ve learned and already know. The end result is a policy proposal presented at the end of the week and we get some feedback from the round table chairs and advisers. The “round table” I was on this year was “Political Economy in the Middle East,” and we were able to pick one area we wanted to focus on and recommend a policy that could improve this issue. Some groups have really large scopes for their policy where they try to solve as much as the problem as possible and other groups just say that any progression is good and take small policy steps.

Q: Is there any preparation needed for this event?

Bryonna:  As a BYU student, we have prep class for it, a 2 credit class, where we do readings for each of the round tables. The students from other universities just do the readings for their specific round table, but there’s usually at least 5 to 10 readings, whether it’s from a chapter a book or an academic article or something else related. Doing the readings you get a basic knowledge of what we’re discussing so that you don’t come in blind sided. We’re all at least somewhat knowledgeable on the situation before we go in so we can just have a good educated discussion. It is a fair amount of preparation but it’s good because you prepare; you’re able to have that intellectual conversation, and you’re able to progress.

Q: How and why did you start WIAC?

Bryonna: I started last year, and did WIAC 2014 and 2015. I just signed up for the prep course because it was something I was interested in. It’s a fabulous networking opportunity; a way to get involved on a  national level with different organizations. [The] Wheatley Institute does a really good job of bringing in very prestigious academics and other experts to work with us and I’m still getting emails from [them] from [their] organization. I have created good networks and strengthened ties with BYU professors that have gone to the conferences both years.

Q: How does participating in WIAC help you as an international relations student?

Bryonna: It opens my eyes to different opinions out there and gets me involved in the discussion outside of just the campus discussion, and that’s really refreshing for me at least. It … gave me a taste of political economy so it’s a great opportunity to help me become a mini expert for a week. And [it helps] to take the knowledge from the political science and economic classes that I have had and to apply it to something where it’s not necessarily real world, but it could be applied in the real world. So it’s a nice bridge between academia and real life, application, and policy recommendation. Some of [the recommendations] really could be implemented and really could make a difference. I think it’s really good to have that environment as a student before you get out there in the real world.

Q: How has taking political science classes helped you prepare for this event?

Bryonna: All of them build off of each other in political science. I haven’t studied a lot of American politics but I’ve taken many international politics courses. For example, I’ve taken a revolutions and civil conflict class and I’m in the Arab/Israeli conflict course now both of which actually had a round table specifically on their topics this year. The conference has very narrowed topics in some instances but very broad topics too. So no matter what your interests are, you can always find something at the conference that is related to what you’ve studied and hopefully are interested in.

Q: Final question. Why would you recommend WIAC to other students?

Bryonna: WIAC is a fabulous opportunity to really build off of what we learn from classes and we get the chance to work with others thereby broadening the possibility and perspective we hold on an issue. The conference is held up at Aspen Grove and we focus [during] 10-12 hour days with a small group of people on our specific topic. Conversations can sometimes get heated, sometimes be a ton of fun, but overall it’s just a great experience. It’s a great way to not just stick with the campus stuff, but to branch out and do something else. Political science and IR [international relations] are heavily represented, but we also had some psychology majors, and a couple of engineering [students] this year. Everyone interested is welcome and should really consider participating in WIAC.

After graduation this April, Bryonna would like to become an analyst focusing on issues in the Middle East.

Note: BYU students must enroll in the WIAC Prep Course (PLSC 379R Section 4) as an elective class to register for the conference. The course was taught by Professor Fred Axelgard, senior fellow in international affairs at the Wheatley Institution.

See more information about WIAC on their website here.

BYU students representing The WomenStats Project make an impact at UN last week

BYU students represent WomenStats

BYU students represent WomenStats at this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women

BYU students represent WomenStats

WomenStats booth at the UN

BYU students representing WomenStats

At the lobby of the General Assembly Building, we obtained badges that allow us to float between the official proceedings, nation-level events, and NGO-level events.

BYU student with womens's rights activist

This woman leads a 35,000-woman federation of professional women across Europe and Africa. She helped obtain the equal pay law in Germany. She allowed us to interview her for our database!​

Brigham Young University (BYU) students and alumni representing The WomenStats Project participated in the March 2015 UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, meeting with members of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), diplomats across the world, and UN staff to create a more extensive network for their research.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is an event held for discussion on violence against women and prevention, prosecution, punishment, etc.  Many internationally recognized women’s rights leaders meet to join resources for greater impact in their communities.

“Some [of the delegates] have even dropped their jaw when they heard that we represent the most comprehensive compilation of information on the status of women on the planet,” said Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis, senior project associate for WomenStats, international development adjunct professor and international consultant and attorney. “The NGOs love that fact that it’s free because many cannot afford the luxury of good data.”

The students and alumni successfully expanded the Expert Bank of The WomanStats Project by 1200 percent.  The Expert Bank is a network of professionals who can help WomenStats with more detailed international research. Some of the new additions to this bank include the President of the International Women’s Health Coalition, several Ministers of Women for countries across the world, the Head of Violence Against Women’s Commission in Mexico, and several other high ranking representatives, including royalty.

In addition to the Expert Bank, the number of people who have signed up to join the WomanStats Listserve increased over the course of the 2 week-long event.  The President of Croatia, Former President Bill Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton walked out of an event holding copies of their brochure.

“We hope [this] will help name recognition and more use of the [WomenStats] site,” said Dr. Donna Lee Bowen, professor of political science at BYU and member of WomenStats’ Board of Directors. “We’ve put much work into our data collection and would like it to be used widely.”

When explaining why the WomenStats project is an important international resource, Wright Romeri-Lewis declared that, “Last, although a government might speak at an official meeting, it may not allow for questions or might prevent civil society from joining the panel.  Audiences see these types of presentations as biased.  The ‘official declaration’ is not the word on the street. We have to look behind the statements and stats the government produces  and remember that they can be biased when collecting or reporting data.”

BYU’s David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and the Department of Political Science were the key foundational support to help students and alumni participate in the Commission.

The WomenStats website can be found here.

All photos copyright of Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis. Used with permission.

Former Senator Bennett Speaks on Power and Politics

Photo credit: Andrew Whitmer

Photo credit: Andrew Whitmer

Former Senator Robert F. Bennett addressed political science students and alumni at BYU’s annual G. Durham Lecture, honoring the late Homer Durham, an American academic administrator and general authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the in the 1970’s. This year’s Durham lecture focused on reviewing Homer Durham’s personal search on political power, the nature of man and its relation to power, as well as applying those ideas to the 21st century.

Bennett discussed what Durham thought were the two most important questions in politics: 1) what is the nature of man? and 2) what is the nature of the state?

By analyzing different political figures throughout history such as Hitler and Marx, Bennett discussed how one’s definition of the nature of man affects that individual’s definition of state.

Bennett applied Durham’s studies of state power versus federal power by discussing the amendments in the Constitution made after the Civil War. He also made reference to Joseph Smith, who experienced the strength of Missouri state power over federal power and how that balance has changed.
In conclusion, Bennett discussed the LDS church’s definition of man and therefore the state, adding to the conversation about Mormonism today.

Bennett, currently serves as chairman of The Bennett Group. He serves as a senior policy adviser at Arent Fox, Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a member of the Board of Trustees of the German Marshall Fund, Honorary US President of the Transatlantic Policy Network and Resident Scholar at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, where he lectures part time. His newspaper column on politics appears weekly in the Deseret News.

Watch the entire lecture here:

Lecture Spotlight: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: “What’s all the fighting about?”

BYU students hear from Professors Zeitzoff and Canetti about Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

BYU students hear from Professors Zeitzoff and Canetti about Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Today, Professor Thomas Zeitzoff from the School of Public Affairs at American University and Professor Daphna Canetti of the University of Haifa spoke to BYU students and faculty about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict with the theme of “What’s all the fighting about?”

Zeitzoff discussed what kinds of rationalizations fuel the violence. Some “rational” reasons for violence could include benefits outweighing costs, leaders wanting to stay in political power, and demonstrating a group’s ideology.  He also explained that violence can be simply driven by hatred, to spoil negotiations between parties or peoples, to show grievances for past hurt or violence, or using sacred cultural values as a reason for aggression.

The violence is not just a political issue, but also a psychological issue which stems from an intractable conflict between the Arabs and Israel, Zeitzoff explained. If a gain is made on one side, the other loses and vice versa. Zeitzoff proposed that their psychological views cannot be bought by negotiation and affects how they perceive the conflict itself.

However, because people care about issues other than resources or power, such as sacred values, Zeitzoff concluded that there is an opportunity to use those ideologies for peace.

Canetti, in describing the scene in the middle east, explained the violence as an “omnipresence,” resulting in negative psychological coping mechanisms. She noted that recently in Gaza, 65% of the people were diagnosed with depression or PTSD while in Sderot, 75% of children suffer from anxiety because of the violence.

“They’re getting used to [the violence],” Canetti said. “They’ll even open their bags in grocery stores and malls without even looking at the eyes of the person checking their bag.”

Checkpoints, like checking bags at universities and grocery stores, prompt people to support violence due to feelings of humiliation, leading to defensiveness and rage.

“Only by changing those coping mechanisms can we hope to create a psychological, societal infrastructure capable of sustaining formal political agreements in [those] regions of the world,” Canetti said.

Watch the entire lecture here: