Brian Klosterboer ’12 presents paper at major international conference
Centre students continue to make big impressions on the outside world with their research. Recently, Brian Klosterboer ’12 participated in an important international conference on African issues.
Klosterboer presented his John C. Young paper at the 54th annual African Studies Association Conference in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19. This year’s theme for the conference was “50 years of African Liberation.”
“The ASA conference is the largest international conference on African studies, and I was one of only a few student presenters,” Klosterboer says.
As one of only six seniors at Centre chosen to pursue independent research for class credit with the John C. Young program, Klosterboer decided to focus his paper on the ever-present turmoil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“My John C. Young paper is about how a localized framework of analysis can be applied to peace-building and transitional justice in the DRC, where fighting and human rights abuses have continued in the wake of the Congo Wars,” Klosterboer says.
Klosterboer became interested in the DRC while studying the Congo Wars in an introduction to international relations class with associate professor of international studies Lori Hartmann-Mahmud.
“Some 5.4 million people have died in the DRC since the Second Congo War began in 1997, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II,” Klosterboer says. “I was first drawn to this research topic because I wondered how such incredible suffering could exist without most Americans even hearing about it. I quickly realized that the enormous complexity and localized nature of the conflict make it incredibly hard to digest — even after studying it for two years.”
Upon proposing his research topic as a John C. Young paper in the spring, Hartmann-Mahmud suggested that Klosterboer present it at the ASA conference.
“We thought this would be a good way to share the two years of research I’ve done on the eastern Congo,” Klosterboer says. “Attending the conference also allowed me to meet experts on transitional justice and the DRC and to get important feedback and criticism on my paper.”
Not only did Klosterboer present his paper at a panel, entitled “Transitional Justice in Africa: Challenges, Contributions and Paradoxes in Human Rights Accountability and Peacebuilding,” he was also the only undergraduate to chair a panel, about “Transboundary Challenges to regional Peace and Security.” The opportunity turned out to be more exciting than Klosterboer had anticipated.
“It was pretty unusual anyway, since most panel chairs have to have a Ph.D.,” he says. “Usually, chairs don’t do much except keep time, but I had to step in and stop two professors who were loudly disagreeing with one another over a small ethnic group in Nigeria.”
Klosterboer was excited to meet researchers at the conference whose work he had cited in his John C. Young paper.
“After pouring over these scholars’ work for several months, it was really unique to be able to meet them and ask questions about their theories concerning violence and transitional justice in the eastern Congo,” he says.
Rather than being nervous to present his work to these scholars from across the world, Klosterboer was confident in his abilities and credits Centre for equipping him for the task.
“Centre has given me the skills to stand in front of a room of scholars and argue my case,” Klosterboer says. “Although I lacked the Ph.D. background of the other speakers on the panel, it was clear that I spent just as much time researching my topic and organizing my thoughts.”
Klosterboer has found his John C. Young project to be an intense experience — but believes the hard work is worth the trouble.
“I realize now that you have to be kind of crazy to sign up for a John C. Young,” he says, “but it is refreshing to engage in research that I am passionate about and interested in.
Although the John C. Young project will officially end with a presentation on Centre’s campus in the spring, Klosterboer plans to continue studying the DRC — and is intent on doing that research in person.
“The next step is somehow getting to the eastern Congo and doing fieldwork with local communities,” Klosterboer says. “Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to make this happen in the near future — I don’t speak French or Swahili, I don’t have funding and the eastern provinces are still quite dangerous. But I am waiting to hear back on a possible Fulbright to study the media’s intersection with peace and conflict studies in northern Uganda, which is right next door to the eastern provinces. Perhaps if I get this opportunity, I could start collecting some data.”
Klosterboer has high hopes that the theories proposed in his John C. Young project could actually make a difference in the DRC someday.
“Hopefully, if the revised approach to transitional justice that I call for is taken to heart by one of the peace practitioners in the Congo, then perhaps my ideas could have a positive effect at reducing conflict and helping communities achieve peace and reconciliation,” he says.