Former UN expert joins School for International Studies
“I’d like to challenge the divide between academics and practice,” says Jason Stearns, the latest addition to the teaching team in the School for International Studies (IS). He cites his value for engagement as a large part of what drew him to the university. “I think [academics and practice] should be much more permeable, which I like about SFU. ‘Engaging the world’ is a nice slogan to have.”
No stranger to applying academics in real world contexts, Stearns comes to Simon Fraser University with a wealth of on-the-ground research experience. Stearns has dedicated 18 years to understanding the political dynamics of violence, with a focus on war in the eastern Congo. He has held multiple positions with the United Nations (UN), working for the UN Peacekeeping Mission and the Security Council. There, he was appointed coordinator of the UN Group of Experts by the Secretary General.
Originally, Stearns intended to become a lawyer, but sought practical experience before beginning law school. He deferred admittance to volunteer with Héritiers de la Justice, a local human rights organization in the eastern Congo, and was inspired to understand the political roots of armed conflict. Shifting paths, Stearns completed his PhD in political science at Yale University and went on to found the Congo Research Group at New York University, where he serves as director. His award-winning book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa results from his time and research in the region.
Stearns directs his upcoming research towards growing social justice movements across Africa as it undergoes dramatic political and economic transformation. He analyzes this this fall with his IS 319 course, Africa: Social Movements Politics. Eventually, Stearns states, he hopes to facilitate more connections between SFU and African organizations and scholars. Whether this be organizing experiences abroad for SFU students, or bringing African intellectuals to SFU, Stearns sees engagement and practice as key to richer understanding and enacting meaningful change.
“I’d like to bring people from the academy and push them in front of contemporary challenging issues,” he maintains, “because if we’re not doing that, why are we doing this?”