Each year the Oak Institute hosts a series of events highlighting human rights in relation to the particular theme of the fellowship.  The 2018 theme is war and human rights.  The fall events will focus most specifically on the conflict in the country of origin of our 2018 Oak Fellow, Syria.

2018-19 Oak Events

Fall 2018

Syrian People: A Battle for Life

2018 Oak Fellow, Bassam Khabieh
September 12th | 6:30 p.m. | Ostrove, Diamond Building

2018 Oak Human Rights Fellow, Syrian photojournalist Bassam Khabieh’s photographs will be featured in the Diamond Atrium with a reception beginning at 6:30 p.m.  The opening will be followed by a public talk at 7 p.m..  Khabieh has powerfully documented war crimes and other ongoing human rights violations in the Syrian conflict.  His stunning photographs, “one of the largest bodies of work on the Syrian conflict, bring this unspeakable war out of the shadows,” according to a board member for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. In 2015, Khabieh was awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal for “photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.”

An introduction will be provided by assistant professor of sociology at the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College, Dr. Yasser Munif.  Munif is currently working on a book project about participatory democracy and grassroots politics during the uprising in Syria.

Cosponsored by the Center for the Arts and Humanities.


Shooting Ghosts: A Combat Photographer and His Journey Back From War

Finbarr O’Reilly
September 19th | 7 p.m. | Ostrove, Diamond Building

Finbarr O’Reilly is the co-author of Shooting Ghosts, a unique joint memoir with retired U.S. Marine Sgt. Thomas James Brennan.  Their story about the unpredictability of war and its aftermath is told in alternating first-person narrative, and explores the things they’ve seen and done, the ways they have been affected, and how they have navigated the psychological aftershocks of war and wrestled with reforming their own identities and moral centers.

Finbarr was a 2016 writer in residence at the McDowell Colony and at the Casey Institute for Global Good.  He was also a 2015 Yale World Fellow.  Before turning to writing, Finbarr was a Reuters senior photographer based in Tel Aviv, covering Israel and Palestinian Territories, and the 2014 Gaza war.  He was a 2013 Nieman Fellow at Harvard and a 2014 Ochberg Fellow at Columbia University’s DART center for Journalism and Trauma.

He covered Africa as a Reuters correspondent and staff photographer for 10 years.  He won the World Press Photo of the Year in 2006, and has since won numerous industry awards for his multimedia work and photography.

Cosponsored by the Center for the Arts and Humanities.


The Loss of Syria

Alia Malek
September 26th | 7 p.m. | Ostrove, Diamond Building

News of Syria and its unraveling has made headlines in recent years, yet it seems little breaks through the din and reaches audiences in a way that builds much empathy for the ancient country’s peoples.  Syrian voices — as writers, journalists, photographers, and filmmakers — are scattered among those telling Syrians’ stories.  How can the inclusion of their voices change what we understand and what we are able to feel?

Journalist and former civil rights lawyer, Alia Malek will provide a personal narrative of the Syrian conflict and a reading from her book, “The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria.”

In addition to many articles, Malek is author of “A Country Called Amreeka: US History Re-Told Through Arab American Lives,” “The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria,” and editor of “Patriot Acts: Narrative of Post 9/11 Injustices.”

Born in Baltimore to Syrian immigrant parents, Malek worked in the legal field in the US, Lebanon, and the West Bank.  Malek holds degrees from Johns Hopkins, Georgetwon, and Columbia Universities.

In April 2011, she moved to Damascus, Syria and wrote anonymously for several outlets in the country as it began to disintegrate.  Her reporting from Syria earned her the Marie Colvin Award in November 2013.

Malek served as Senior Writer at Al Jazeerza America until 2015.  In November 2016, she was honored with the 12th annual Hiett Prize in the Humanities.  The New York Foundation for the Arts named her a fellow in nonfiction literature in the summer of 2017.  She is currently collaborating with 2018 Oak Fellow, Bassam Khabieh on a book of photography, vignettes, and essays entitled, “Witnesses to War: The Children of Syria.”

Cosponsored by the Center for the Arts and Humanities and the Anthropology Department.


The Muslim on the Airplane

Amal Kassir
October 3rd | 7 p.m. | Ostrove, Diamond Building

Watching the news, it seems like ethnic divides are ever-deepening.  But how can we solve these complicated problems when each side lives in fear of the other?  The answer is simple, argues Syrian-American poet Amal Kassir – it starts with, “What’s your name?”

Amal Kassir is a Muslim woman, born and raised in Denver, CO to a German-Iowan mother and a Syrian father.  She is an international spoken word poet, having performed in 10 countries and over 45 cities.  She has conducted workshops, given lectures, and recited her poetry in venues ranging from youth prisons, to orphanages to refugee camps to universities, to churches, to community spaces for the public.  She is a major proponent in education and building individual agency in particularly under-served and vulnerable populations, especially through writing.  She hopes to take part in the global effort for literacy in war-struck areas and refugee camps, Insha’Allah.


The Voice of a 21st Century American: From the Individual to the World at Large

Amal Kassir
October 3rd | 3 p.m. |

A social justice workshop built around the concepts of evolution, engagement, and empowerment in the American experience. It utilizes the individual experience to define social injustice and utilizes this definition to recognize various issues and how to mitigate them through tangible means.  This is achieved by engaging our personal identities, spirituality, morality, and passions to be active in the social justice sphere using our own storytelling.  Through this, we will bridge the gaps between our worlds and the world at large, making change through storytelling a tangible thing.


2018 Oak Fellow Bassam Khabieh Welcome Reception and Exhibition

Bassam Khabieh
October 10th | 5:30 p.m. |

Join Oak in welcoming 2018 fellow, Bassam Khabieh to the Colby community on Wednesday, October 10th with a cocktail reception and tour of the photographic exhibition with the photographer.

Khabieh has powerfully documented war crimes and other ongoing human rights violations in the Syrian conflict.  His stunning photographs, “one of the largest bodies of work on the Syrian conflict, bring this unspeakable war out of the shadows,” according to a board member for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. In 2015, Khabieh was awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal for “photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.”


Journalists Combat ISIS

Abdalaziz Alhamza
October 17th | 7 p.m. |

In the era of ISIS,  a group young people started Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a non-partisan, independent organization that exposes and fights the atrocities committed by the Bashar Al-Assad regime and ISIS in Syria in a peaceful way.

Award-winning Syrian journalist, human rights defender, activist, IT trainer, and founder of RBSS started non-volatile protests and demonstrations against the Syrian regime in 2011 and was arrested by the regime three times in 2012.  The Islamic State Group (ISIS) interrogated him more than one time about his activism.  After ISIS took control of his hometown, Raqqa, in January 2014, he escaped to Turkey and started RBSS with his friends to show the reality of life in Raqqa and ISIS.  In 2015, Alhamza received the International Press Freedom award by the Committee to Protect Journalists and was named a Global Thinker by Foreign Policy.

In 2016, he was awarded the Ischia International Journalism Award, the Civil Courage Prize, and other awards on behalf of RBSS.  Alhamza was featured in “City of Ghosts” a documentary that followed the journey of Alhamza and his colleagues.  Alhamza graduated with a degree in biochemistry from Raqqa University.