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Posted September 12, 2014 by
Tags: Student Activities Global and Experiential Learning

Authority.Action.Ethics: Ethiopia

In September 2012, a group of Wheaton professors, administrators, and students began thinking about ways to conjoin a number of seemingly disparate topics: history, leadership, ethics, and Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, to name a few. 

What resulted was “Authority, Action, Ethics: Ethiopia,” (A.A.E), an annual program for 20 students, featuring:

(1) a semester-long, interdisciplinary course consisting of a whirlwind tour of Ethiopian history, with sizeable chunks of ethics and theology thrown in, and (2) an intensive seventeen-day visit to four Ethiopian cities, where we engaged everyone and everything from African Union delegates to orphaned street children; from underground monolithic Orthodox churches to chic Ethiopian jazz clubs. They let me join the team last year, and this is what I learned: 1. Wheaton is a moldable institution. Our team underwent a complex 12-month process of convincing the College to insure student travel to Ethiopia, a country regarded by certain U.S. State Department officials as a “risky” place to be. After thoroughly researching the situation and lobbying for permission, Wheaton’s GEL department removed Ethiopia from the “no-travel” list. This process showed me that determination over an extended period of time can lead to minor (but important) institutional changes.

2. Wheaton professors are extremely devoted people. Many of my papers written for the A.A.E course were met with handwritten comments that exceeded the length of my paper itself. I would respond to these comments via email, and my professor would reply at length before the next class period even began. In other words, my once-a-week class quickly morphed into a nonstop educational dialogue between teacher and student, and I had to push myself just to keep up. These conversations were usually perplexing and always involved a moral dimension, just as a liberal arts class should.

3. People are multilayered and cannot be fully understood apart from their society’s history. Take Tsedale Lemma, for example. Tsedale is the editor-in-chief of Addis Standardmagazine, a respected political publication based in Ethiopia’s capital. In a Q&A with our group, she explained two discouraging events of politicized violence and the wrongful imprisonment of journalists, the former following the 2005 national elections and the latter just days before we arrived in Ethiopia. Having previously studied examples of the aversion to political dissent found among Ethiopian leaders from Zara Yaqob to Haile Selassie, our class had a solid historical framework in which to situate Tsedale’s stories. “Nothing gives you security here,” she confessed, “but there are things that give you hope.” 

Analogically, one might say the same of A.A.E itself.

David Robinson ’15 is a senior studying philosophy and French. Pictured at top: Wheaton’s A.A.E class traveling abroad, summer 2014; Middle: A.A.E’s CE 330 Intercultural Seminar class meets, spring 2014; Above (l to r): A.A.E’s leadership team on a scouting trip, summer 2013: Professor Andrew DeCort, course instructor and Ph.D. candidate at University of Chicago; Dr. Steve Ivester, program director and dean for student engagement; David Robinson ’15; Dan Haase, chief curriculum coordinator who designed the course syllabus and led the 3-day debrief at the end of our trip; Hailu, Ethiopian taxi driver; and Roger Sandberg, logistics coordinator, former Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) professor, expert in international disaster response.