Sally Abou Melhem, Office of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
The “Scholar and Community Activism: Reckonings and Reflections" mini-conference was held this July, co-hosted by the Nature Conservation Center (NCC) and the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut, in collaboration with the Environment Academy and Khaddit Beirut. The event opened discussions and raised new questions about the role of scholars in supporting activists on the ground, and highlighted the power and honesty of initiatives spearheaded by local community members who know and care about the places they belong to.
As scholars all over the world reckon with the separation between knowledge production and real-world struggles, the event invited participants to unearth the baggage that comes with being both a scholar and activist, and to think deeper about what it means to intimately collaborate with communities living through the issues that are studied and written about in institutions. Over the course of two days—the first at the university and the second out in the field where grassroots activism is taking place—the participants took part in both theoretical discussion as well as engaged, place-based learning.
During day one at the American University of Beirut's Issam Fares Institute, a group of scholar-activists heard from eight activists associated with the Environment Academy, Khaddit Beirut, as well as youth secular political movements, who are shaking up the status quo through their grassroots mobilization and actions. The scholars then reflected on what they had learned and the obstacles faced by activists on the ground, with an eye to collectively think through how the world of academia can better support them in their initiatives.
On day two, participants left early for Akkar el Atiqa to visit the Environment Academy community team, who are working to protect the endangered Cilician Fir (shouh) tree through a community-based ecosystem management plan. Joined by Dr. Nasser Yassin, the Lebanese minister of environment, who is providing his support on the ecosystem protection plan, the visitors were welcomed by the community team, the village's school principals who are working on environmental education programs, elders from the village, and forest guards.
After hearing from local community members and the minister on the challenges faced by Akkar el Atiqa to protect the forest, the participants went on a hike to learn about the ten months of research and work that have gone into understanding the threats to the shouh tree and the wondrously biodiverse ecosystem above Akkar el Atiqa. Throughout the day, they also learned about the rich local ecological knowledge of Akkar el Atiqa's inhabitants, which acts as a foundation for the community's inspiring place-based attachment and activism.