The London School of Economics has just announced its intention to launch a new Masters course, called Women, Peace, and Security, to begin in September 2017. The course will be taught by a variety of experts in topics relating to women in conflict, including guest lecturers Angeline Jolie Pitt DCMG, and former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Lord Hague of Richmond. As might be expected, Mrs Jolie Pitt’s appointment has stirred up a lot of attention and controversy, with many commentators questioning whether she is the right person for this prestigious academic role. Despite the actor’s long-term involvement with the UN, and with various initiatives to promote women’s rights in times of war, it is no surprise that students, lecturers, and journalists have received the news from the LSE with a touch of cynicism. So, what are the problems surrounding Angelina Jolie Pitt’s involvement with the new Masters course?
Unlike many of her critics, I have no wish to deny that Jolie Pitt has much experience which qualifies her for this job. <span style=”color: #008000;”>
She has been an advocate for women in conflict zones for fifteen years, and her work has gone far beyond what might be expected of a Hollywood star. What I would like to call into question, however, is whether her perspective is one which needs additional representation within British academia. After all, as admirable as it may be, her work has been very much linked to powerful international institutions, most notably the United Nations, and her role is that of a compassionate outsider, rather than that of someone who has lived through conflict. While this isn’t her fault, and I wouldn’t wish for her to suffer the horrors of war, this means that Jolie Pitt can only add detail to a discourse which is already dominated by the global political elite, rather than opening it up to completely new perspectives. Students have so much access to what the UN does – it’s well-documented, well-publicised, and generally respected by academics and NGOs. What I’ve found during my own studies is that it’s far more difficult to find sources relating to the work of grass roots activists. Rarer still is information about the day to day lives of women in conflict; their communities and coping strategies. I would love to take a Master’s degree in Women, Peace, and Security, but I would argue that the best thing a university could do to make the course exceptional would be to hire lecturers from areas affected by war, grass-roots activists, and people not normally represented in the dom
inant political conversation.
Despite this, I don’t feel any need to criticise Angelina Jolie for accepting the role at the LSE, or for being the person she happens to be. A lot of the criticism levelled at her since the appointment was announced has been pretty harsh and unfair, and makes me want to defend her. Most of this criticism centres around the fact that she is first and foremost a celebrity, and not an academic. She never completed her undergraduate degree, and has never worked at a university before. But couldn’t this be a good thing? I have a lot of respect for my lecturers, but higher education and academia are not the only ways to learn about the world, and lots of people without BAs or BScs are highly intelligent and have interesting things to say. These days we often hear that students are too sheltered, by trigger warnings and safe spaces and so on, but in my opinion the bigger problem is that we’re sheltered from the fact that university isn’t the be-all and end-all. We should listen to people regardless of their qualifications, and Angelina Jolie does actually know a few things about women and conflict.
Of course, you could argue that she’s taking the position from hard-working academics, but unfortunately when someone gets a job, someone else inevitably doesn’t, it’s just the way things are. I’ve also noticed that among all the guest lecturers on the LSE course, only Jolie Pitt has come under fire – not a word has been said about William Hague, for example. This makes me wonder whether there could be just a hint of bitterness behind the attacks on her? Would these attacks be so numerous if she weren’t a beautiful, wealthy, successful woman? I hate to tell you this, but pretty women have things to say as well as the plain ones. I might not have appointed her myself, but I see no reason why Angelina Jolie Pitt won’t do an excellent job as a guest lecturer at LSE.