The University of Pennsylvania and Temple University were among the 120 universities represented at the largest assembly of Americans ever gathered in support of the United Nations.
Alongside 1,800 UN advocates of all generations, student representatives from Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (S2P), Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, and Temple’s Fox School of Business recently attended the United Nations Association’s Global Engagement Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
“This was the first conference that truly embodied and understood the strength in diversity,” said Ashleigh Alexander, an S2P graduate student.
Uniting world leaders with America’s leading grassroots change-makers at the Summit, students had the rare opportunity to sit in the UN General Assembly Hall and participate in critical global policy discussions on a range of topics including climate change, peace and security, and human rights.
“I gained so much insight and encouragement from all of the different speakers,” said Alexander who was particularly impressed with Soffiyah Elijah.
Quoting the executive director of the Alliances of Families for Justice, Alexander was inspired by the panelist who participated in the session on taking action for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“Unless we provide justice in this world, there won’t be any peace. And there’s no way around that,” Alexander quoted Elijah, stating her words “will stick with me as I embark on my post-graduate journey.”
Led by United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia (UNA-GP) board member and S2P lecturer, Anastasia Shown, the delegation of students’ visit to the UN took place amid strained relations between the international organization and the United States.
As the world confronts the worst refugee and humanitarian crisis since WWII complimented by terrorism threats and climate change, the Summit convened during a critical moment for the world.
“The most important thread of the Summit was humanity’s common values and our power as human beings to share our stories,” said Cindy Luo, an economics major and UNA-GP intern.
“It is crucial to share multiple narratives and work with those directly impacted to start shaping policy,” said Luo.
“We choose how we solidify our democracy every day by the decisions that we make and the actions that we take or don’t take. Having a personal interest requires us to be political, and that’s a powerful thing that we should not shy away from.”
Contrary to the policy perspective and agenda expressed by the current White House administration, Shown said “the effectiveness of the UN depends on the participation of 193 member states and the backing of citizens around the world.”
“The United Nations Association of the United States of America works to support the mission of the UN by connecting Americans to the work of the UN and advocating for strong U.S. leadership,” said Shown, an actively engaged social worker and community activist.
“I hope that the Summit lit a fire under my students and propels them to act now rather than later,” Shown said.
“A deep-seated hope was restored simply by the presence of every person in the room,” said Hannah Menzies, President of Penn’s Social Work Advocates for Immigrant and International Rights.
Among the esteemed panelists and guests were Jeffrey Sachs, world-renowned economics professor and senior UN advisor; Clayton Louis Ferrara, Executive Director of Ideas for Us; former New York State Senator, Ruth Hassell-Thompson; and Perrin Ireland, great-granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt and Natural Resources Defense Council science reporter.
“Ireland prompted us to remember the unfinished ethical agenda of human rights, to put ourselves to work, and to critically analyze leadership,” said Luo.
Fifty-five years ago Roosevelt prophetically declared “The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.”
A champion of human rights and a key figure in the creation of the global framework- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Roosevelt worked tirelessly for civil rights, women’s rights, and social welfare reform.
“We were all once again reminded that we, too, can make a difference,” said Menzies.
Luo said Hassell-Thompson’s words summarized the Summit experience and resonated strongly.
“If you are disengaged, you are disenfranchised!”