Campus Closeup: Alemayehu Weldemariam is ACC’s First International Visiting Scholar

Story by Era Sundar, Editor in Chief
Photo by Clarissa Peereboom, Photo Editor

Alemayehu Weldemariam understands conflict.

ACC’s first International Visiting Scholar has a law degree, a masters in peace and conflict studies and years of experience and trial by ordeal.

In 2011, Weldemariam was a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago on his way to a successful career as an academic.

But it all fell apart quickly.

The trouble started when Weldemariam made remarks considered critical of his government in an interview with “The Reporter,” the largest newspaper in Ethiopia.

“In the interview, I talked about how the political space was closing; the initial openings that we saw in the 2005 election were coming to an end,” he said. “Ethiopia held its first ever competitive, free and fair national elections. But soon after the election, people protested the results and the government responded with deadly force and killed 193 innocent civilians in the streets.”

Weldemariam was known as a human rights advocate in Ethiopia, and the remarks only reaffirmed this perception.

When the government started cracking down on public figures, intellectuals and opposition leaders, he found himself a target.

“The government dismissed me from my job and banned me from teaching at any university in Ethiopia,” Weldemariam said.

He was devastated.

“Teaching is not something you do for a living. For me teaching is my passion. Teaching is where my heart is.”

Not only was he deprived of his livelihood, but it became too dangerous for Weldemariam, who was in Chicago at the time, to return home.

Soon he applied for and was granted political asylum in the United States. Through the International Institute of Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF), he received a joint hosting by the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and ACC.

The International Visiting Scholar Program is the newest addition to ACC’s International Programs department. Weldemariam is ACC’s first visiting scholar.

The college partnered with the SRF to bring the program to campus. It provides fellowships that support temporary academic positions in colleges, universities and research centers for scholars in danger of persecution in their home countries.

Khosropour’s honors psychology class deals with concepts of human conflict and peace. Weldemariam has attended some of her classes and spoke of his work during one of those sessions.

Francisco Diaz, a studentin the class said, “Having Weldemariam in our class was very pleasant because he covered some interesting subjects, and I learned a lot from his point of view.”

Weldemariam said the Visiting Scholar Program has allowed him to return to teaching and is helping him with the transition to his new life.

The program, however, ends in June, and Weldemariam will have to seek other opportunities. His future plans may include pursuing a Ph.D., which would help him achieve his goal of becoming a college professor.

“It’s really rewarding working with young people because they come with a great thirst for learning,” he said.

Although returning to Ethiopia is not an option for the near future, Weldemariam is hopeful that his country will soon adopt a more progressive approach to human rights for its citizens.

“I want Ethiopia to fully embrace democracy,” he said.

To hear a portion of  Accent’s interview with Visiting Scholar Weldemariam click here.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements by Weldemariam

Feb. 27
Inaugural International Visiting Scholar Speaker Series, Riverside Campus Main Auditorium, 8:00 p.m. in Building 8000, Room 8100, cosponsored by the Department of Behavioral Sciences. The topic will be “The Transnational Solidarity of Scholars-at-Risk and Human Rights Campaigns in Ethiopia.”

March 1
ACC Student Life Diversity Symposium, 10:30 a.m. at the Highland Business Center, Room 201. Morning workshop titled “E Pluribus Unum: Celebrating Diversity.”

April 19
Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies Conference, “Freedom from Fear and Want: Conceptualizing Peace and Security,” 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Rio Grande Campus, Main Theatre.

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