Connecting Ethiopia and Central Minnesota

CSB and SJU host Global Ethiopia Conference

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March 23, 2012

Top (l-r): Dr. Steven Thomas, Dr. Adam McCollum, Angela Mathis, Dr. Mike Rogers, Joe Rogers Bottom (l-r): Dr. Aric Putnam, Dr. Roy Kay, Mohamed Webo, Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, Hiwote Bekele, Dr. Getatchew Haile, Dr. Matt Heintzelman Not pictured: David Malone

On March 17, Saint John's University hosted a Global Ethiopia Conference. The conference emphasized the cultural diversity of Ethiopia in terms of ethnic, linguistic, religious, economic and local diversity - including various forms of Christianity and Islam and over 70 languages and ethnicities such as the Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Gurage, Afar, Somali and many others. The conference also explored the many ways in which Ethiopia's history connected with world history, and raised questions about the world we live in today. There were presentations on subjects ranging from archaeological finds of early human civilization, the preservation of ancient and medieval Orthodox Christian manuscripts, the many languages of the region, the use of Ethiopia as a symbol for African-American struggle against racism in the United States, the work of an Oromo immigrant community center in St. Cloud, and the current debates about Ethiopia's current education policy. Ethiopian students at CSB and SJU shared their culture, and a new documentary film "Jeans and Marto," produced in Italy in 2011, was screened. Thanks to the efforts of librarian David Malone and curator Matt Heintzelman, Saint John's Alcuin Library featured many texts, some of which are quite ancient, and all of which reflect the diversity of Ethiopia, its immigrants to the United States, and its relations with other cultures around the world. A short overview of some of these texts, which are on exhibit in the Alcuin Library through April 1, can be found on the HMML website.

The conference showcased the world-renowned resources of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John's as well as the expertise of HMML faculty Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, Dr. Getatchew Haile and Dr. Adam McCollum, and the scholarly work of CSB/SJU faculty Dr. Steven Thomas and Dr. Aric Putnam. In addition, Dr. Michael Rogers visited from Southern Connecticut State University and Dr. Roy Kay visited from Minneapolis DeLaSalle High School. The conference also welcomed the return of CSB alumna Angela Mathis who presented a version of a paper that she had presented at a national conference on multi-ethnic literature in Florida last year while she was still a student.

More than 70 people attended the conference, and the audience was very diverse, including students from CSB and SJU, Saint John's Preparatory, St. Cloud State University, Hamline University and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. It also included many different people from St. Cloud, including members of the Multicultural Community Center of Central Minnesota, the Midwest Oromo Communities, CentraCare, St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization, and other local organizations. Lively interaction among the many conference participants and audience members followed each panel and continued over a dinner of traditional Ethiopian and Italian food. The global cuisine was appropriate to the theme of the conference, considering how much of Italy's culture exists inside Ethiopia today.

The conference was organized by Assistant Professor of English Dr. Steven W. Thomas with considerable support from Joe Rogers, director of the Center for Global Education. Financial support came from the Center for Global Education, CSB's Office of Student Development, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, the CSB/SJU Communication Department, the CSB/SJU English Department and the family of John and Lois Rogers.