And the Lessons Go On


One of the many perks of working at CGS is the extra sense of purpose (translation: obligation) that it gives me outside of class.  We are privileged at Penn State, to have access to so many lectures and events led by prominent speakers from every walk of life, but it is nonetheless easy to become deaf to such frequent opportunities when faced with the moderately-sized mountain of homework and club obligations, and perhaps the odd spasm of summer weather in State College.

 College-students-summer-fun2.jpg 45 degrees?! Time to get out your summer clothes, Penn State!

When I first came to the university, I was dork-ish-ly excited about the lists of events I received via three different listservs, three times a week.  It took me about one month to realize that a college student is a rather busy creature, and extras like these events tend to fade into white noise.  Every once in a while, though, an event would catch my eye.  Since settling into a major–a milestone that I know I have celebrated in just about every post that I have written–I have begun to feel more driven to consider attending such events (“I need to catch up on work and sleep, but…I should go to this…”).  Since beginning work at CGS, that compulsion has intensified further (“I need to catch p on work and sleep, but…this looks interesting…I should go to this…I could blog about this… I should really go to this…”).

And so, the Center for Global Studies has successfully compelled me to attend a couple of lecture events this semester, and I can’t say that I have any regrets.

In mid-March, Mary Robinson, former president and first female president of Ireland, came to discuss ethical leadership in the modern world, and packed half of Eisenhower Auditorium in the process.  During her long and impressive career, Robinson has also served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and is now one of the Elders.  She has reached far beyond the previously existing boundaries of these ‘jobs’, though; the extensive overview of her career and work left me with the singular impression that she is a superhero (a review that I passed on to any- and everyone that asked me about the lecture).

I could easily ramble about this event for the length of a short book; but in that case, you might as well just check out the much better written and more accurate edition, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice, by Mary Robinson herself.  What I will ramble for a while is a set of issues that Robinson has dealt with in her human rights work and that boomeranged back to me in another lecture only a week later.  This second event was a session on UN careers, led by Michael Emery, of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The issues to which I am referring are faced by young women throughout the world–child marriage and female genital mutilation.  The mission of UNFPA is to deliver “a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person’s potential is fulfilled” (  This broadly defined mission includes the issues mentioned above, but includes confronting and dealing with the specific issues mentioned above.

I found it interesting that this topic surfaced in my life, twice over the course of one week–especially since I seem to keep circling back to women’s issues in my student career.  It is no secret that I find the practices of child marriage and cutting to be atrocious violations of the rights of girls who are too young (or otherwise limited) to fight for themselves, reinforced through ages of reproducing the same atrocity.  But how do you fight something that so many people are willing to sweep under the rug as a part of the ambiguous monster of ‘culture’?

According to Mary Robinson, you begin fighting with words.  One of the major steps that she mentioned was changing the way you present an issue; words have power.  In this case, she spoke of no longer calling these things “culture” or “cultural practices”, but “harmful traditional practices.”  This new terminology renders these practices more concrete and impermanent.  If we can change the way we think of a thing, we can change the thing.

I’ll stop before I get more preachy, but here comes the bottom line, folks:  Go outside of class and learn.  Things will pop up.  You will find your interests somewhere in the mix.  Pay attention and you might learn more than the straight lesson plan.

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