Mission and History



The Foreign Affairs Symposium was founded in 1998. We are a student-run, non-profit speaker series that aims to educate the Johns Hopkins and greater Baltimore community on innovative ideas of international significance by:

  • Establishing a forum for discourse on current issues from diverse fields
  • Providing students and community members with access to distinguished, knowledgeable speakers
  • Contextualizing topic areas to make them relatable and approachable for all audiences


In fall 1997, a group of undergraduate students recognized the need for a forum to discuss and debate global affairs and international issues. Merging the existing Woodrow Wilson International Studies Symposium and International Studies Forum Symposium, students formally created the “Symposium on Foreign Affairs.” Their first series launched in Spring 1998 with ten events, nearly all of which featured foreign ambassadors and Maryland officials. The Symposium quickly expanded over the next few years, hosting notables that include Sonia Gandhi, Shimon Peres, and Noam Chomsky.
In 2002, the name of the series changed permanently from “Symposium on Foreign Affairs” to the “Foreign Affairs Symposium” (FAS for short). The Symposium shifted away from individual speakers, instead hosting panels that covered current, controversial topics ranging from drug wars in Colombia to the war in Iraq. Overtime, the series returned to inviting individual notable leaders to speak and then engage students in discussion. During this time, symposium directors launched the flagship Presidential Lecture in partnership with the President’s Office. This annual event recognizes one speaker for their unique leadership and expertise in their field, and is fully funded by the President’s Office. Since then, the symposium has undergone rapid growth each year, continuing to expand in size and reach.


Symposium Highlights

  • The Symposium’s inaugural series featured six ambassadors to the U.S. and three state representatives (1998)
  • In only its second year of existence, the Symposium hosted former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who arrived to an audience that filled Shriver Hall and several overflow locations (1999)
  • Also in 1999, the Series featured Sonia Gandhi, head of the Indian Congress Party, who was on a major diplomatic trip to the U.S. that spring
  • In 2000, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky shared his views on globalization, military intervention, and trade to a packed house
  • 2005 Symposium directors chose not to feature individual speakers, instead hosting an unprecedented series of six panel discussions on U.S. Foreign Policy, covering regions ranging from Cuba to Kashmir
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman kicked off the 2006 Series, by discussing the impact of globalization to a standing room-only-crowd
  • In 2011, NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman gave a packed audience a tour of the International Space Station through live video feed. She also answered student questions and showed live views of Earth from space.
  • In the midst of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, leaders from prominent Occupy camps across the country (including DC, Philadelphia, UC Davis, and Oakland) converged in Homewood to discuss the goals and future of the movement (2012).
  • The 2013 Symposium hosted Rick Santorum in Mudd Hall, who offered his views on topics ranging from the Middle East to abortion and engaged the students in surprisingly open debate