Stanford receives Century Medal for supporting international scholars in crisis
The Institute of International Education recognized the university for its work to provide a safe haven for academics facing threats, persecution, or hardship in their home countries.
Stanford University has received the Century Medal from the Institute of International Education (IIE) in recognition of its work to support endangered scholars from countries around the globe. Each year, the medal honors institutions and individuals who have made unique and powerful contributions to international education.
Stanford has collaborated with IIE for decades to bring international scholars to campus during times of crisis and conflict. The first scholar to arrive on campus was the pioneering physicist Felix Bloch, who fled Germany amidst Hitler’s rise to power and later went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work on nuclear magnetic induction. More recently, academics from countries including Afghanistan, China, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela have come to Stanford, where they can continue their research and teaching in a welcoming scholarly community. Many of these scholars have found their academic home in the Stanford Global Studies Division (SGS).
“Our longstanding partnership with the Institute of International Education has helped preserve intellectual talent that might otherwise be lost.”
—Stanford President Richard Saller
“I’m proud of Stanford’s commitment to supporting international scholars facing threats, persecution, or hardship,” said Stanford President Richard Saller. “Our longstanding partnership with the Institute of International Education has helped preserve intellectual talent that might otherwise be lost. We are honored by this recognition, and I’m grateful to Stanford Global Studies for leading this work.”
The medal was presented to Grant Parker, interim Sakurako and William Fisher Family Director of SGS, and Katherine Kuhns, executive director of SGS, on Nov. 16 at a luncheon with James King, director of the Institute of International Education Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF). IIE-SRF is a program that awards emergency fellowships to endangered scholars at partnering higher education institutions worldwide.
“For nearly a century, Stanford University has been a national leader in welcoming displaced academics, starting with Jewish scholars fleeing the Nazis and, more recently, 13 IIE-SRF fellows from 10 countries,” said King. “Stanford has hosted the fourth most IIE-SRF fellows of any campus globally. The university has lived out its commitments to academic freedom and human rights by providing a haven and an engaged campus community in support of these scholars fleeing crisis or targeted persecution. We are extremely grateful for this precious partnership, which has flourished in recent years with the tremendous support and leadership of Stanford Global Studies.”
“As we witness a surge of violent conflict in places across the globe, our work to safeguard the lives and careers of international scholars could not be more important.”
Interim Sakurako and William Fisher Family Director of SGS
“We are honored to receive this special award, which recognizes the university’s steadfast commitment to global engagement and academic freedom,” said Parker. “As we witness a surge of violent conflict in places across the globe, our work to safeguard the lives and careers of international scholars could not be more important.”
Today, an unprecedented number of international scholars are facing threats to their lives and livelihoods. In response to this increasing need for support, Stanford launched its own Scholar Rescue Fund in 2022, with seed funding from the president, provost, and numerous schools, departments, and programs. Modeled after IIE’s program, the inaugural fund enables the university to respond swiftly to aid threatened academics when global crises emerge.
“Stanford’s Scholar Rescue Fund offers refuge to scholars fleeing persecution and severe hardship in their home countries so they can continue their research, scholarly, or artistic endeavors in a safe environment,” said Jisha Menon, former director of SGS, who will return to her post when she is back from sabbatical in September 2024. “We are grateful to these talented and courageous individuals who enrich us not only with their research and scholarship but by their inspiring courage and resilience.”
Six at-risk scholars are currently at Stanford, where they are conducting groundbreaking research, advancing social justice, and sharing their knowledge and expertise with students. One of them is Alvaro Contreras, a scholar of Latin American literature and culture, who left Venezuela to escape authoritarian rule and economic instability.
Contreras described the deepening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, where millions lack access to basic services and live in fear of political persecution. “We have a state that criminalizes any voice critical of its public policies,” Contreras explained. “The danger of being imprisoned for expressing an opinion about the government is becoming more visible every day. This absence of democratic conditions for the exercise of free, critical thinking constitutes a real risk when it is time to imagine a return to my country.”
At Stanford, Contreras has been able to continue his scholarship, teach a course, ILAC 122: Drugs, Literatures, and Visual Cultures in Latin America, and work on his book, Genealogies of the Latin American Detective Story (1870-1910). “There is no doubt that without the support of the Scholar Rescue Fund and Stanford University, it would be impossible for me to continue my academic activities,” said Contreras. “I have been able to integrate myself into the theoretical debates of our academic field, as well as enjoy emotional and spiritual peace of mind, both for myself and my family.”
Established in 1919, IIE is a global non-for-profit founded on the belief that education makes the world a more just, fair, and peaceful place. IIE delivers transformative opportunities in more than 180 countries to educate future leaders, place threatened artists and scholars in safety, aid students during emergencies, and send underserved college students abroad. Protecting threatened academics and students is central to IIE’s mission, and its programs have aided thousands of scholars, students, and artists threatened by conflict and turmoil in their home countries.