By Denise Kohlhepp
As an international organization, the United Nations “aims to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights and achieving world peace.”
Some of the College’s International Studies students as well as international exchange students — including myself, from Germany — recently had the opportunity to be visitors at a United Nations conference in New York City.
The United Nations Academic Impact Team invited members and students from colleges, universities and other institutions to join a symposium on Sept. 14 to observe the annual International Day of Peace, held on Sept. 21, and Leah Antil, the international assistant of the Center for Global Engagement, informed us about the event and asked who was interested in going.
I made my way to the city with two other German exchange students, where we were overwhelmed by the excitement NYC has to offer. We arrived at 6:15 pm at the visitor’s entrance to the U.N. headquarters, located at First Avenue and 46th Street. At the entrance we encountered something of historical significance: the U.N. flag that flew above the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Canal Hotel. This location functioned as the center for U.N. activities in Iraq, but on August 19, 2003, the Canal was destroyed by a bomb which killed 22 people, among them the special representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission. Others were severely injured in this attack and the exhibited flag was ripped in several places.
After viewing the memorial, we were brought to a conference room where the celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the U.N. International Day of Peace was held. The U.N. General Assembly declared on Nov. 30, 1981 in resolution 36/67 that the day “shall be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.”
The theme of the symposium in 2011 was “Give Peace Another Chance,” and its key element was a round table on “Higher Education and Human Dignity.” This served to realize the goals of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), launched in November 2010 to use the power of education in order to fulfill the mandates and purposes of the U.N.
The program started at 7 p.m. with musical performances by Nashville singer Beth Nielsen Chapman and New York group KaleiDhaPhony.
Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, mentioned in opening remarks that one aim of the UNAI is the promotion of “a new culture of intellectual social responsibility” with the help of the world’s higher education institutions.
The event was linked by video to Kyung Hee University’s Grand Peace Hall in Seoul, Korea, in real-time on the U.N. Webcast page. The round table consisted of seven speakers, with the chief of the UNAI, Ramu Damodaran, as the moderator. Two ambassadors, a special adviser, a graduate student, a professor and Chapman herself participated as panelists.
The group addressed various subtopics on “Higher Education and Human Dignity.” In the beginning, however, a question was raised about whether the notion of peace has changed. Furthermore, the relevance of higher education in terms of preventing genocide was discussed. The singer and songwriter Chapman emphasized the importance of arts in higher education and said she saw creativity as a basis for accessing this kind of mindset. “In underdeveloped countries, higher education doesn’t give you status but courage … With education comes responsibility … it shapes our mindset” and therefore, has the potential to establish freedom, another panelist said.
Other issues presented to us included the transformation of higher education in terms of globalization and the importance of respecting diversity in multiethnic and multilingual environments. The panel described these as important factors in achieving peace in society.