Donathan Brown, assistant professor of communication studies at Ithaca College, will be the plenary speaker at a conference on South African national development held Oct. 1–3 at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa.
Brown’s studies focus on U.S. immigration policy, race and the structure of higher education in the U.S. He will speak at the closing session of the 2014 International Conference on Arts, Culture, Heritage and the National Development Plan: Vision for 2030 to an audience that will include many high-ranking South African politicians.
Contributing Writer Joe Byeon sat down with Brown to discuss the purpose of the conference, his message and the parallels between South Africa and the U.S. that he currently sees.
Joe Byeon: What is this conference about?
Donathan Brown: For the year 2030, the South African government has a national development plan to revitalize South Africa and eradicate a lot of the problems they have. They want to increase access to health care, reduce the unemployment rate, increase the number of individuals who attend post-secondary education and increase the rural economy amongst other things. They want to open up the dialogue because this is going to affect quite a large number of people.
JB: What will you be talking about?
DB: One of the things that I look forward to contributing is the problem that we have in Central New York called “brain drain.” A large number of graduates from, say, Ithaca College, Syracuse [University] and SUNY Oswego leave New York state, and they all head out in different directions. We just lost a lot of cultural capital and a lot of brain power. The South African government wants more individuals to enroll in higher education, and they want to keep them there as opposed to having the same thing we have here. I’m thinking that my knowledge with the American higher education can provide some type of substantive feedback or help engage a dialogue on this.
JB: Other than “brain drain,” what other problems do you see with the current South Africa?
DB: Right now, just reading the national development plan alone tells me that they have their own problems just like we do here. From what I understand, there’s still problems with racism and homophobia. Part of the national plan was to develop a sustainable campaign against homophobia, sexism and things of that nature, and they have that uniquely positioned as one of their social campaigns to change the mindsets of some individuals in South Africa.
JB: You were one of few Americans invited to speak at the event. Why do you think they asked an American scholar instead of a South African scholar?
DB: I think they want a globalized perspective on how South Africa can become more globalized in the sense of trying to eradicate some of these problems. The interest will be more upon what we do here within the U.S., and so with the book that I’ve written and some of the others things that I’ve published, it’s going to definitely help guide that conversation by showing some of the legal problems we’ve fallen into, some of the issues pertaining to race that we’re still battling with. Many of the policies that they’re seeking to implement, we have, and I’m curious to see how they think our implementation has gone.
JB: What do you wish to achieve at this conference?
DB: My goal is to make suggestions looking at places like New York state: looking at what we’re doing wrong, what we’re doing right and perhaps share some of that information that may or may not be available to them otherwise. I do look forward to making suggestions and comments on some of their policy proposals, and hopefully that will bring everybody to a better place.