Students form student organization dedicated to Russian affairs

A group of students launched an organization aiming to increase students’ knowledge of Russian politics and culture.

The Organization of Russian Affairs, which the Center for Student Engagement approved last semester but is kicking off this fall, hopes to host speakers like journalists or State Department employees who work with Russian government employees or politicians, student leaders said. Sophomore Dylan Peter, the group’s chairman, said six executive board members formed the organization to help change students’ perception of Russian affairs, which he said can often be based on misconceptions of the country’s current relationship with the Russian government.

“A lot of Americans have a preconceived idea of what Russia is and what Russians are,” Peter said. “A lot of times it’s very negative, it’s very dark, but there’s a lot of beautiful things in Russia and with Russian people.”

He said the group held its first discussion, which more than a dozen students attended and compared political regimes under the Soviet Union with political rule during the 1990s. Students commented on how Russian President Vladimir Putin “offers a middle ground between those two extremes,” Peter said.

“Overall it was a great discussion and we took suggestions at the end for how to improve them in the future which includes basing the discussion on a document or video – some kind of source – to help keep the discussion grounded and give it a focal point,” he said in an email.

Peter said most of the board members are majoring in international affairs or enrolled in Russian language classes, but the group welcomes anyone interested in learning about the country. He said about one-third and one-fourth of the group’s members are international students from Eastern Europe – or have family connections to Eastern Europe – and can share their own perspectives about the country during group discussions about Russian affairs.

“We want to make it clear that anyone is welcome to join us, they don’t have to speak Russian, take Russian, know anything about Russia,” he said.

Sophomore Christian Shields, the group’s director of political affairs, said he will work to find speakers who are knowledgeable about Russian politics, like journalists, to come meet with the group.

He said he is currently organizing the first speaker event, which will feature Natalia Antonova, an editor from the international open-source intelligence website Bellingcat, which he hopes will take place next month.

“She has worked for The Washington Post, the Guardian, Moscow Times,” Shields said. “She’s been a playwright in Russia, a really, really interesting person, so I’m really looking forward to that.”

He said he hopes the event, which will be open to all students, will generate more interest for the group because Antonova is famous for her expertise in Russian politics.

Shields said members of the group will plug the student organization at different Russian classes, like introductory Russian language classes, to boost involvement.

“We want to get it open to anybody so we can get people who haven’t heard of our club yet or have heard, but haven’t joined, maybe have some interest, just to show them what we’re about,” he said.

Sophomore Sarah Racile, the vice chair of the group, said board members recruited about 70 students at the fall organization fair last month and held their first general body meeting last month to ask what members are interested in doing this year as a group.

“We saw a lot of interest expressed in having speakers like Natalia Antonova, which is something that the E-board is excited to pursue,” she said in an email. “We also heard that the members would love to have members-only events such as trips to Russian restaurants and such, which we are trying to look into.”

Racile said the organization will mostly discuss Russian affairs, but board members will also share with general body members their experiences taking Russian language classes to highlight how Russian language and culture intersect.

“By learning the language, we can see this interaction firsthand and will be able to share how the language shapes the culture and vice versa,” she said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.