SOAS University of London

Queen’s Gold medal winner, education activist, leading curator and three distinguished scholars honoured at SOAS Graduation Ceremonies

30 June 2016
Honorary fellows 2016
Clockwise from top left: John Okell, Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Robert Irwin, Barbara Harrell-Bond

SOAS University of London will be honouring a Queen’s Gold Medal winning poet, Afghan education activist, leading curator and cultural historian and three notable academics at the 2016 Graduation Ceremonies.

The Honorary Doctorate awardees are Imtiaz Dharker, awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014; Shabana Basij-Rasikh, an educationalist giving young Afghan women access to education; John Okell, a leading teacher of Burmese; Scholar of Arabic and Islamic History, Robert Irwin; and Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond, a seminal figure in the field of refugee studies. Dr Gus Casely-Hayford, curator and top cultural historian, will also be awarded a Honorary Fellowship.

Award-winning poet, artist and documentary film-maker Imtiaz Dharker is renowned for her work centring on freedom, cultural intolerance and gender politics. She was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014 and is a recipient of the Cholmondley Award. Her poems are on the British GCSE and A Level English syllabus, and she reads with other poets at Poetry Live! events across the country to more than 25,000 students a year.

Leading advocate for girl’s education Shabana Basij-Rasikh is co-founder and President of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), a non-profit organisation dedicated to giving young Afghan women access to quality education in Afghanistan and abroad. She is a global ambassador for Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls’ education, and was recently named one of National Geographic’s 2014 Emerging Explorers as well as one of CNN International’s Leading Women of 2014.

Inspirational teacher of Burmese John Okell joined SOAS as a trainee lecturer in 1959 and continues to teach at SOAS. He has worked as advisor on romanization for the Library of Congress and as language supervisor for the Burmese language programme of the BBC. He designed one of the earliest computer fonts for Burmese script and has been Chairman of the Britain-Burma Society since 1988. He was awarded the Tuttle Grand Prize for one of his language courses, and was made an OBE in The Queen's Birthday Honours, June 2014, for "services to UK/Burma relations".

Renowned novelist and scholar of Arabic and Islamic History, Robert Irwin has edited The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature, volume four of The New Cambridge History of Islam, the Penguin Arabian Nights and Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange. He is Middle East editor at the Times Literary Supplement and is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature, The Society of Antiquaries and The Royal Asiatic Society.

Seminal in the field of refugee studies, Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond has worked to establish the study of refugees as a significant area of academic enquiry, with an important contribution to public policy. She founded the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford and was the Director of the Centre from 1982-96. She was awarded the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology in 1996 and the Lucy Mair Medal for Applied Anthropology in 2014. She now promotes legal assistance for refugees around the world. She was made an OBE in 2006 for services to refugee and forced migration studies.

honorary fellows 2
Left to right: Imtiaz Dharker, Gus Casely-Hayford

Curator and leading cultural historian, Dr Gus Casely-Hayford writes, lectures and broadcasts widely on African culture. He recently chaired the development and delivery of the British Library’s biggest ever exhibition focusing on African intellectual tradition, ‘Africa: Word, Symbol Song’ and advised Tate Britain on the major exhibition ‘Artist and Empire’. He is currently developing a National Portrait Gallery exhibition that will tell the story of abolition of slavery through 18th and 19th Century portraits. He is also a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, an advisor to the Royal Shakespeare Company, a Caine Prize Council Member and an Ambassador for Sense International. He is the former Executive Director of Arts Strategy for Arts Council England and presented the BBC 'Lost Kingdoms of Africa' series in 2010.

Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS said: “This year’s Honorary Fellows and Graduates are significant contributors to the scholarship, culture and understanding of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This is SOAS’ Centenary year and our awardees are exceptional individuals and inspiring role models for our graduates, epitomising the SOAS spirit of challenging enquiry. We are delighted to welcome them to the SOAS community.”