Pforzheimer House journalist-in-residence John N. Bohannon held a video chat with Kabul-based journalist and American University of Afghanistan professor Mitch E. Sipus on Wednesday afternoon to discuss Sipus’s experiences as an American living in Afghanistan.
Bohannon, who was based in Afghanistan last year and wrote an article for Science Magazine concerning civilian death counts in the region, decided to open the video chat to the public because he thought Sipus’s role in Kabul deserved wider recognition.
Though Sipus is currently a computer science professor, he is helping to create a communications degree at AUAF. Next fall, the university will also open a law school.
Sipus said he thinks such opportunities are a must for AUAF.
“We’re creating the next generation of Afghan leaders,” Sipus said. “If they can learn a bit more about how to work with each other and how to implement a solution, then when the aid groups leave there won’t be an avalanche of problems.”
Though Sipus’s work at AUAF was a focal point of the chat, he also discussed daily life and the sometimes unconventional safety measures necessary for the volatile environment.
“I rely on Twitter for security more than any other asset,” Sipus said, noting that Afghan journalists will tweet about bombings within minutes, while Western news sources will often take hours.
Sipus added that observing his students has also been a valuable source of information.
“If there’s a day I get to campus and there are no students there, then I’m going to go home,” Sipus said. “They probably know something I don’t.”
In fact, Sipus said he believes that a more “student-centric” approach to Afghan security in general would be effective.
The event, which was open to the entire Harvard community, drew a sparse audience.
Pforzheimer resident tutor Neal A. Dach, an Iraqi war veteran, found the details of day-to-day life intriguing.
“It looks like conditions are a little better than they were in Baghdad in 2003,” Dach said.
Bohannon likewise found the video chat to be a beneficial experience, citing Sipus’s use of Twitter as a particularly fascinating detail.
“I was going to talk to this guy anyway,” Bohannon said. “Now the things he talked about will radiate out.”