Star Island and the International Affairs (IA) conference have often been described as a perfect summer vacation and one that keeps people coming back year after year, generation after generation. This year the IA Conference will begin on Sunday, July 23 and end on Sunday, July 30.
Summer Vacation on Star Island
… it is the opportunity to interact and share a diversity of ideas and experiences with a group of friendly, open-minded, and inquiring people. For others, it is the chance to be removed from the world, retiring for a week from daily routines to a small beautiful island to reconnect with family and friends, relax on the porch with a good book, and watch the sunrise or sunset.
Start your day…
… with a polar bear dip in the chilly Atlantic Ocean to get the blood flowing, join the morning stretch session on the Front Porch, or grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle into a porch rocker to watch the day begin to emerge. Later in the morning, make your way up the hill to the stone chapel for a thoughtful morning sermon delivered by our minister of the week.
Stimulating theme talks…
… with follow up discussions take place late morning. These are led by recognized experts and provoke conversations among conferees which spill over to the front porch, Happy Hour and the dinner table.
In the afternoon…
… there are several workshops from which to choose, such as chorus, yoga, art, and writing. Other afternoon activities include softball games, swimming, visits to the Marine Lab, kite-flying, rowboating the harbor, trips to the snack bar, and more relaxed time spent rocking in chairs on the porch. Evening activities include a bonfire, intergenerational dance, Island staff talent show, lay-led chapel services, and more.
… the Youth Program is a time to experience the freedom of island life and to gain a deep appreciation of the natural environment in the midst of caring, attentive adults. Activities related to the conference theme together with community building activities, games, crafts, and time to explore the island round out the week. The program offers children the experience of wonder and friendships of long duration, the kind that cause them to start counting down the days until the next year’s IA conference even as they depart on the boat at the end of the week.
The natural beauty…
… and spirit of the island, together with the intellectually stimulating theme talks, the spiritually uplifting sermons, the myriad of daily activities, the strong sense of community among the conferees, and the vibrant Youth Program make the International Affairs conference a truly unique and memorable vacation.
2023 IA Conference
“The State of Democracy Abroad and at Home”
Sunday, July 23 – Sunday, July 30
Democracy and democratic institutions are being challenged around the world. Authoritarianism, nationalism, and populism are on the rise in many countries, including our own, as people question whether democratic politics can deliver what they want. We’ll look at the current state of democracy, examine its prospects going forward and learn what we can do to secure a future for democratic freedom.
Nicole Bibbins Sedaca is the Executive Vice President of Freedom House, a non-governmental organization that works to expand and defend freedom globally, where she oversees the organization’s strategy and programs.
Prior to joining Freedom House, Ms. Bibbins Sedaca served as the Deputy Director of Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program, the Co-Chair for the Global Politics and Security Concentration, and a Professor in the Practice of International Affairs in MSFS. She is also the Kelly and David Pfeil Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.
Ms. Bibbins Sedaca has held numerous positions in the public and non-governmental sectors in the United States and Ecuador. She served for ten years in the United States Department of State, working on democracy promotion, human rights, human trafficking, religious freedom, refugees, and counterterrorism. Following her governmental service, she opened and directed the International Republican Institute’s local governance program in Ecuador. She also taught at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador) on democratization and conflict resolution. She served as the Director of the Washington Office for the advisory group Independent Diplomat.
Ms. Bibbins Sedaca holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from The College of William and Mary and a Master’s of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. She also studied at Humboldt Universitӓt in Berlin, Germany, while on a Rotary International Scholarship. She has served on the Board of non-governmental organizations working on human trafficking, violence against the poor, and religious freedom, as well as on the Board of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, the William and Mary Fund, and the William and Mary Washington Office.
Gabrielle Bardall, Ph.D is an educator, advisor and activist who has worked to advance democracy and human rights in over 60 countries over the past two decades. She has advised and trained diplomats, legislators and civil servants from Parliament Hill to Capitol Hill.
Recognizing that “democracy” as we know it and support it around the world often replicates structures of oppression, Dr. Bardall started her own consulting firm in 2019, Herizon Democracy (herizondemocracy.org) to bring feminist vision to international democracy assistance. She has advised the US National Security Council, State Department and NATO on feminist approaches to democracy support and offered testimony to Canada’s Parliament. Dr. Bardall has worked with leading organizations in realizing this vison, including the Carter Center, the Council of Europe, International IDEA, the InterParliamentary Union, UN Women, the UN Department of Peace Operations, the UN Development Program and the United States Institute for Peace. In 2021-2022, she served as Vice President of External Relations at Canada’s Parliamentary Centre.
A prolific author and public speaker, she holds degrees from McGill University (BA), Sciences-Po Paris (MA) and l’Université de Montreal (PhD). She received the American Political Science Association’s Congressional Fellowship and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Doctoral Scholarship for her work in comparative democratization. Dr. Bardall lives on the South Shore of Nova Scotia with her husband and toddler twins. She has been an enthusiastic Shoaler since 2009.
John Carey is the John Wentworth Professor in the Social Sciences and the Associate Dean of Faculty for the Social Sciences at Dartmouth. He is a co-founder of BrightLineWatch.org, which monitors democratic performance, erosion, and resilience in the United States. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013. He teaches classes on comparative politics, on Latin America, on democratic erosion, and on foreign aid.
Carey is author or co-author of six books and over 100 academic articles on elections, representation, and threats to democracy. He has consulted on electoral system reform in Nepal, Afghanistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Yemen, South Sudan, Israel, Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Philippines, and Taiwan.
Vasu Mohan currently serves as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) senior global advisor for conflict, displacement and minority rights.
For the past two decades, Mohan has worked on democracy, governance and human rights promotion with a focus on post-conflict elections and democratic inclusion. He has been with IFES since 2001 in the headquarters and the field and supervised programs and field offices in over 22 countries, partnering with a range of international, regional and national stakeholders.
Mohan serves as IFES’ technical lead on election, conflict and security, providing thought leadership on innovative programs and tools to prevent and mitigate violence throughout the electoral cycle. He has designed, managed and implemented electoral assistance programs in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka in post-conflict contexts and supported IFES election violence mitigation programming in Georgia, Kenya, Libya and Nigeria.
Throughout his career, Mohan’s work has focused on political, social and legal empowerment of the disenfranchised and marginalized – women, ethnic and religious minorities and persons with disabilities.Mohan is fluent in Tamil and Hindi and conversant in Sinhala and Urdu. He is a dancer and choreographer in the Indian classical dance tradition and is active in the Baha’i Faith community.
Dhanaraj Thakur is Research Director at the Center for Democracy & Technology, where he leads research that advances human rights and civil liberties online. Over the last 15 years, he has designed and led research projects that have significantly informed tech policy and helped improve the way public policy problems are framed. These have ranged from large multi-national research projects to those working with groups of individuals.
A former Fulbright scholar, Inter-American Development Bank scholar, and ISOC Ambassador, Dhanaraj previously led research at the World Wide Web Foundation, focusing on broadband access and affordability, gender equality online, and data rights. Prior to that he held political science faculty positions at Tennessee State University and the University of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica). He holds a PhD in Public Policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology (USA), and is a graduate of the London School of Economics, the University of the West Indies, and the University of Technology in Jamaica.
Minister of the Week
Verdis LeVar Robinson (he/him or they) is a fellowshipped Unitarian Universalist minister. He currently serves as the Ministerial Coordinator of Worship Arts Production and Adult Lifespan Spiritual Exploration for the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, Vermont, where he served as a Ministerial Intern during the pandemic. He has recently completed a Master of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School.
Verdis was a confirmed local minister in the African American Holiness-Pentecostal tradition prior to joining the First Universalist Church of Rochester, New York, in 2008. During his previous career, Verdis was the National Director for The Democracy Commitment, the Director for Community College Engagement at Campus Compact, and is a consultant for the Kettering Foundation specializing in deliberative democracy in community colleges and interfaith institutions. Prior to leading community college civic engagement nationally, he was a tenured Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at Monroe Community College in Rochester.
Verdis also serves central Vermont as the Artistic Director of the Montpelier Community Gospel Choir sharing the hope, joy, and inspiration of African American gospel music.
Children and teens at IA are enthusiastically welcomed into the Youth Program by friendly faces and engaging children’s staff that help to fill each day with fun and new experiences. The program is filled with cool, age-appropriate activities and interesting topics related to the conference theme.
In 2023, there will be six children’s groups, each with experienced staff:
● Toddlers ~ ages 18mos – 3 years: Brendan Carney, Katie Rasor & Lucia Green-Weiskel
● Barners ~ Pre K – rising 1st graders: Megan Lynes and Dave Nagel
● Brookies ~ rising 2nd – 4th graders: Andy Linscott and John Porcino
● Newtons ~ rising 5th – 6th graders: Marc Bender and Liz Erickson
● Marshlandians ~ rising 7th – 9th graders: Isaac Eddy and Heidi Kublova
● Seniors ~ rising 10th – 12th graders: Erika and Dumaine Williams