Nov. 13, 2006

Trip to the U.N. gives Cornell students global awareness and insights into the problems of war and maintaining peace

Peace-building in Africa and the Middle East, extreme poverty and the need for more conflict resolution may be the business of the diplomats at the United Nations, but on Nov. 3, they also were the concerns of 110 members of the Cornell community, primarily undergraduate and graduate students, representing over 30 nations, who spent the day at the United Nations. The trip, which was pioneered and led by N'Dri Assie-Lumumba, Cornell professor of Africana studies, is in its third year. It is an effort, she said, to increase global awareness, involve Cornell students, both international and American, in world affairs and to give them a taste of the kinds of discussions that take place within the chambers and corridors of the United Nations on a daily basis that lead to actions around the world.

In addition to a guided tour, the trip also included a panel discussion by U.N. experts on peacekeeping, peace-building, conflict prevention and resolution, topics that were chosen by the students and Assie-Lumumba, who moderated the discussion.

Assie-Lumumba serves as a member of the U.N.'s Committee on Development Policy and the Higher Education Scientific Committee for the Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and has also served on many U.N. programs.

Peter Jackson, who organizes "The Yearbook of the United Nations," gave a historical account of the U.N.'s peace-keeping and peace-building efforts. Patrick Hayford, director of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, discussed the challenges of modern day Africa. Although he mentioned such cases as Afghanistan, he said that many of the U.N.'s recent peace-building missions have focused heavily on conflicts and agreements in Africa and in the Middle East.

"The U.N. used to deal with war between countries; now the U.N. deals with war inside of countries. This is not what the U.N. was originally all about," said Hayford.

But as conflicts evolve, the roles and agencies within the United Nations also need to change. The panelists, including Steve O'Malley of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, stressed a strong need for new leaders and program officials within the area of prevention and conflict resolution and crisis response.

Leaders of developed nations, said Yassine Fall, senior economic adviser of U.N.'s Development Fund for Women and senior policy adviser to the U.N.'s Millennium Project, have some global responsibilities to assist countries with inadequate resources. The Millennium Project, she said, has a 2015 deadline to alleviate extreme global poverty, while promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.

The panel discussion ended with Abiodun Williams, principal officer of the Executive Office of Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, calling for the need for further involvement in peace-building missions and not to compromise core values and of human rights in the name of the fight against terrorism, for instance. "I hope you will make this world more decent for those who come after you," he said.

The U.N. visit has motivated Cornell crops researcher Maxwell Asante to find ways that his own research can assist in building world peace.

"The trip was an excellent experience that has given me a global perspective," said Asante, a native of Ghana who is currently conducting research on genotyping aromatic rice strains at Cornell. "As an African scientist working at a crop institute, I want to improve the food security situation in Africa and in the developing world."

Sponsored by the Bartels family and more than a dozen campus organizations, including the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), Ujamaa Residential College, The Gothics (a residential community on Cornell's West Campus) and the Humphrey Fellows Program, the trip is becoming increasingly popular for students, who sign up on a first-come, first-served basis.

"The trip sold out with a 25-person waiting list, within the first day of sales," said Mary Schlarb, assistant director of programming services and an immigration adviser at the ISSO, who helped coordinate the trip, which cost students just $20 each.

Graduate student Sandra Holley is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.