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James E Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs: 2016 Overview

The daily news formed the basis of our conference theme: Migration, Borders, and Identity: Building Bridges or Walls. Every day we read horrific stories of refugees fleeing violence at home, only to find themselves facing walls hastily erected to prevent them from reaching safety. We see the families of hard-working Latino migrants separated and criminalized. We hear about Britain’s exit from the European Union and how the boundaries and borders that only two decades ago seemed destined for permanent erasure are now being redrawn with anger and bitterness. We watch with disbelief as young men and women—whose parents raised them with the values of love, tolerance, and peace—turn against them, to form a new identity based on extremism and an ideology of hatred. And yet these divisive and frightening images tell only one part of the story. For just as pervasive, though far less strident, are the many who go out of their way to help refugees and migrants, who still seek to remain citizens of the world and for whom human values prevail over all others.

In this year’s conference we hope to hear both sides of the story—not only the concerns of those who insist on building walls but also of those who still seek to build bridges. Among the topics our speakers will discuss this year are Europe’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis, the role of globalization in the creation of migration and its criminalization, migration as both a threat to national culture and a boon to economic development, and health management in immigrant and refugee populations. These experts come to us from countries that include Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Slovenia, Cameroon, Fiji, the Dominican Republic and Antigua/Barbuda, as well as the United States and the European Union itself.

Through the information provided at this conference, we hope to introduce UNK faculty, students, and the broader Kearney community and beyond to the critical issues relating to migration, boundaries, and identity. It is our hope that members of the audience will be sufficiently inspired by what they hear at the conference to maintain a lifelong interest in international affairs.

James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs

Many issues that shape the nature and quality of our lives have an international dimension. Today’s economic interdependence, the development of appropriate environmental strategies, the resolution of regional conflicts, social inclusion, and the enhancement of human rights all require a global perspective. Important aspects of the educational experience include discussion and interaction with people from diverse cultures. Recognizing the need to bring a strong international component to an undergraduate education, the University of Nebraska at Kearney sponsors this conference on global issues. The Midwest Conference on World Affairs began as an important campus and community activity in the 1960’s. In 1988, the function was renamed “The James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs” in honor of a professor whose vision and dedication significantly affected the continuation of the conference.

Global economic interdependence is now a reality that no nation can ignore. The development of appropriate environmental strategies, the resolution of regional conflicts and the enhancement of human rights all require a global perspective. The fundamental objectives of the World Affairs program include: (1) to introduce important global issues to the students and local community; (2) to expose conference participants to a variety of viewpoints from other countries; and (3) to promote global awareness.

The James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs serves as an opportunity for students to hear the opinions of leaders in the global community and to discuss current and pressing world issues. This conference is unique in the state of Nebraska. Through panel discussions, lectures, classroom presentations and group activities, participants are exposed to a variety of important issues and afforded the opportunity to interact with distinguished guests from all over the world.

Given the geographic location of Nebraska in the center of the continental United States, this conference is, for many people, their best chance to interact with representatives of other cultures. All events are open to the public and there is no admission charge. The University works with local civic organizations to create opportunities for community-wide participation.

The UNK Archives & Special Collections has rich holdings related to the World Affairs Conference, due to the generosity of many of the organizers. From the 1964-1975 run, we have materials related to conference planning, such as biographies of speakers, invitations sent and responses received, budget documentation, publicity garnered, and evaluations done following each conference. We have similar holdings from roughly 1999-2004. In addition, across all years of the conference, the Archives has public facing materials like programs and proceedings. We also hold assorted other items, including cookbooks produced in coordination with the conference, photos taken at the conferences, and newspaper special issues featuring the World Affairs Conference. All items can be explored in the UNK Archives, located on the second floor of the Calvin T. Ryan Library. Contact Laurinda Weisse ( or Sally Sinor ( for access. A pdf listing of 1963-1975 World Affairs Conference materials held by Archives and Special Collections can be found here. A digital archive of 2006-2014 is available here.