From Kentucky to Kandahar and Points Beyond: War and Peace through the Eyes of a Conflict Diplomat
Thursday, April 13, 7:30 PM
***Grand Reading Room, Crabbe Library***
International Studies Keynote Address
Dr. Deborah Alexander, a former diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, served as senior political advisor and election attaché for countries emerging from conflict and political crises. With over 30 years’ experience in democracy-building programs, her work focused on elections, women’s advancement, military relations, and rule of law. She retired to Kentucky in 2017 and now focuses on higher education philanthropy, civil rights projects, refugee resettlement, and veterans’ support. Prior to her federal foreign service, she was a local and state government official in New York state. She serves on the EKU Foundation Board and the advisory council for the Kentucky Center for Veterans Studies at EKU. Deborah is also collaborating with the EKU Education Abroad Program to offer future courses.
Alexander earned her A.B. in Social Work from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs. Her doctoral dissertation, “The Influence of Gender Beliefs in Constructing Candidate Images,” was a study of four election campaigns examining the use of stereotypes in voter evaluations, newspaper campaign coverage, and candidates’ communication strategies. Her co-authored article “Gender as a Factor in the Attribution of Leadership Traits” (1993) is still one of the most referenced articles from the Political Science Quarterly. Soon after graduation, she was recruited by the State Department and deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina, joining an international team of civilian experts and military peacekeepers tasked with implementing the Dayton Peace Accords.
In addition to Bosnia, she served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Somalia, and Ukraine. During her career, Alexander sought other diplomatic, defense and development agency assignments, working also at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), and the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
After the September 11 attacks on the U.S., Alexander volunteered for Afghanistan and was one of the first civilians on the ground. Initially she was embedded with U.S. Army Special Forces and Civil Affairs teams throughout the countryside; next she oversaw U.S. technical and financial assistance to Afghanistan’s first presidential elections in 2004, and provincial elections in 2005. By 2010 she was the U.S. Senior Representative to U.S. and NATO commanders in the south and southwest during the largest military operation against insurgent forces. In 2012 Alexander joined an embassy civilian-military task force, planning the drawdown and withdrawal of troops and civilian personnel. Her final Afghanistan responsibility was the 2014 presidential election recount, likely the country’s last democratic election.
The U.S. Army honored Alexander in 2018 with a lifetime membership in the Special Operations Civil Affairs Regiment. She is the recipient of the Syracuse University's Spirit of Public Service Award, two U.S. Department of State Expeditionary Service Awards, two Superior Honor Awards, two Meritorious Awards, NATO's Public Service Award, and the U.S. Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service.
During her sophomore year at EKU, Deborah was a Fulbright Fellow, interning with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in India – igniting her love for global affairs. She currently serves on the Lexington (KY) Mayor's International Affairs Advisory Commission and represents the United States on overseas election missions. She has observed elections in Ukraine, Moldova, North Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Russia. She works as an election day polling sheriff, and volunteers for the Christian-Muslim Dialogue, the Community Response Coalition-KY, and Lexington Habitat for Humanity. Since Afghanistan’s collapse in August 2021, Alexander focuses part of her time on rescuing people from that country and on supporting new Afghan immigrants in Kentucky.
In her spare time, she is developing her photography and hopes to write and teach.
Sponsored by the Veterans Studies Program the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, Graduate Education and Research and the Honors Program.
Published on April 14, 2023