Opinion Student Life

IHEID and Its Discontents

Constraining student spaces and limited research perspectives are issues that have yet to be tackled in the Institute. This anonymous submission aims to drive the debate on these matters forward — all in the hopes of finding ways to make it better.

by Anonymous

This article is not so different from the ones that have already been published here. But at the end of my education at IHEID, some thoughts are simply too frustrating to keep to myself but also too controversial to put my name on. Initially, this article had my name in its by-line, as I am not a fan of anonymity. But given the current polarisation, one simply wants to stay out of any possible debates. My aim in this piece is that perhaps, someone will read it as discontents faced by students and find ways to make the Institute a better place. So here you have it: four things that IHEID must reconsider to truly have an inclusive educational space. 

1. Democracy is a virtue, not a demonstration.

IHEID is a closed space. Its modern architecture and the symbolism of it being within the ‘House of Peace’ does not do justice to the emotions within the institution. What IHEID has lacked, for many many years, has been a feeling of one-ness and collective identity, apart from being the school that always sends well-groomed minds to the UN and the international policy sphere (a rather debatable identity, but definitely a marketing spiel). Democratic ideals are ingrained in each and every document from the management’s interactions with the students to GISA documents themselves. But where is this realised? In the scattered student movements? Or in the 9am-to-6pm cafe space, which is open to the public? 

This being said, there is one space exclusively meant for IHEID students, and it must be competed for: the library bubbles. The transparent “sound-proof” capsules scattered across the library for students to sit professionally and have discussions in. A testament to how IHEID wants its students to perform democracy — a claustrophobic space to deliberate and discuss, all contained within a cylinder that looks productive and pretty from the outside but god help you if you spill the tea anywhere. 

2. Few classes teach us to question the developed-developing dichotomy.

Years and years of international relations language developed by European and American scholars have divided the entire world into the most simplistic categories: underdeveloped, developing and developed nations. The WTO and other organisations have tried to counter this by suggesting we rank countries by economic growth, or by wealth and poverty, divided into 4 levels. What we refuse to do is understand that development, and the world, are much larger than these categories created by adamant designers of the “First World” (yet another label). In an institute which prides itself on its critical thinking, I would like to ask, are we really encouraged to move beyond these labels, or do we still consider the “West” as the ideal? A tricky one to answer. 

3. Research is generally meant to be conducted on ‘developing nations’ by people from ‘developed nations’.

Diversity is what makes IHEID possibly the most unique educational institution — which, of course, is ignored in its student housing’s pricing — but really goes beyond the brochures. The irony and underlying assumption of most classes, however, is studying everything in context of an international system dominated by the masculine West within which everything occurs, and a rather unquestioning attitude to it. Something that is never said out loud is the fact that scholars from the “occidental” countries more often than not study the “oriental” (more labels!). Seeing people from say, the USA or Germany, writing about poverty and gender inequality in say, Somalia, is interesting, yes. But it has always created some wonderment: why do “Western” researchers gain more legitimacy in such cases? Why are scholars from “developing” nations pigeon-holed into only talking about issues in “the Third World”? Are there projects in research centres studying things happening in the perfect “First World”? Maybe not. If yes, very limited. 

4. All diplomacy and management talk create in IHEID an emotional block.

Sorry, that is a weird sentence. It makes no sense, and is honestly a little annoying. Kind of like the business-school-like chatter within the IHEID building? Look, I understand the need to have sessions explaining networking, and all the career fairs; it’s how the world functions and we cannot change that overnight. But here we take a full circle back to the initial point: why is there a lack of practicing democracy? What makes expressing emotion so difficult? Why is there no space for students to just chill (and no, Picciotto does not count)? Because corporate environments do not wish for this. Crony-capitalism cannot allow the general public to collectivise; that’s blasphemous! The diplomatic language and management jargon fill in the available space, and while many student initiatives attempt very hard to create discussions, it is rather hard to break this environment.

In conclusion, I do not dislike IHEID, and maybe some would say I care about it enough to pen this down. In fact, IHEID has given me many things that I will cherish forever, some extremely wonderful teachers, some very fruitful discussions in classrooms, and friends with whom I have countless memories. It is a place where people from different parts of the world truly try to understand one another — Exhibit A: the dinner of the three cultural initiatives in Fall 2019. But what is an educational institution without the spaces of deliberation and discussions for students to create innovative ideas? It is a building, not a community, as we are often referred to.

Featured photo from The Graduate Institute, Geneva

6 comments on “IHEID and Its Discontents

  1. Taylor

    Just because your voice goes across the internet now does not mean that you’re any wiser than when it went to the end of the bar.


  2. TEAL N

    “Something that is never said out loud is the fact that scholars from the “occidental” countries more often than not study the “oriental” (more labels!).”

    we critique this, we know this, and yet, we continue to do this. the academy is v inconsistent – to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d have loved to try and implement changes regarding the institutional violence of the building and personal, which I discussed with professors and admin when I was a student back in 2013 – year the IHEID moved to Maison de la Paix. However, the doors of the institute are closed to me, as later a chief of research group once said in a face-to-face meeting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. brooks

    none of these takes were that controversial… why did the grad press allow this op ed to be published anonymously

    Liked by 1 person

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