Ummey Tabassum, a Wright State University graduate student from the South Asian nation of Bangladesh, took part in a prestigious conference at Harvard University convened for future leaders to discuss issues in the Asia-Pacific region.
The 2017 Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations was held Feb. 17-20.
The project is an internationally recognized student-run organization at Harvard that hosts forums to discuss the most important economic, political and social issues in the Asia-Pacific region.
About 300 students attended the conference. The delegates hailed from India, the Philippines, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Australia and other countries. Past speakers at conferences include Kim Dae-Jung, former president of South Korea and 2000 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Peter Hollingworth, governor general of Australia; Ban Ki-moon, former secretary general of the United Nations; and John Thomas, former U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Tabassum was told that this year’s application process to attend the conference was particularly competitive, but that her application impressed organizers.
“HPAIR believes that finding common ground in Asian-Pacific issues is a dynamic and innovative process, which integrates ideas and actions from across Asia and indeed, the whole world,” Larry Zhang, executive director, said in a letter to Tabassum. “It is only through the active participation of highly qualified delegates like you that this understanding and process can be realized.”
Tabassum participated in the Humanitarian Affairs track, an area in which she was especially interested. There were three sessions:
- “Finding Representation in Asia,” with speakers Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch; and Pawan Deshpande, director of the Hindu America Foundation
- “Migration and Displacement,” featuring Danilo Mandic, a comparative historical sociologist in Harvard’s Department of Sociology; and Emma Teng, the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao professor of Asian civilizations at MIT
- “Protecting Justice During Asia’s Transition,” with speakers Tim Ryan, director of the Asia Regional Solidarity Center; Puvan Selvanathan, CEO of the Bluenumber Foundation; and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, associate professor of law and development at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and director of MIT’s Program on Human Rights and Justice
One of the Humanitarian Affairs panels featured professors and fellows from Harvard and MIT who discussed migration, displacement and refugee crises. Part of the discussion was about the definition of refugees and how they are differentiated — whether they are just migrating or if they are fleeing a conflict.
Tabassum said the session was highly interactive, offered various perspectives and that she learned a lot.
“It was a great opportunity to explore international relations in terms of Asia, but it was also good for my professional development,” she said.
Tabassum studied politics, philosophy and economics at Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, a school with more than 600 students from 15 countries across Asia and the Middle East.
While working on her bachelor’s degree, she became interested in developmental studies and international relations. She would eventually like to work as an administrator for an international nonprofit development organization.
“If we don’t work in development, who else will?” she said.
Tabassum enrolled at Wright State in 2014 after winning a scholarship and a graduate assistantship. She is working on her master’s degree in international comparative politics and public administration.
“The professors — they’re really amazing,” she said.
Tabassum plans to share her Harvard experience with fellow Wright State students. She is currently applying for internships and hopes to work on projects in her native Bangladesh after graduation.