FDU Magazine Online, Winter/Spring 2007

A former child slave told of being abducted in Sudan and detailed the horrors occurring in Darfur, a South African diplomat recalled the crimes of apartheid and that country’s efforts toward reconciliation, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent described the gaps that prevent peace in the region, while an American lawyer explained how human rights were being sacrificed in the war on terror.

These powerful presentations and dialogues represent just a slice of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s recent Symposium on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, which drew more than 1,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom were students. The conference featured more than 50 leading human rights practitioners and scholars from FDU and other universities, including FDU alumni, who spoke on topics such as peacemaking strategies for Israel and Palestine, genocide in Darfur, human rights and the war on terrorism, child soldiers, the realities of torture, religious values and human rights, gender and human rights and many others.

FDU Pesident J. Michael Adams said that since the introduction in 2000 of a new mission to prepare world citizens through global education, “no one forum has so perfectly characterized our desire to share with our students insights and inspiration that can change the world.”

He added, “I was so impressed with the content and presenters that I believe the symposium will inspire other academic activities and further advance our global mission and the institution’s reputation across the higher-education landscape.”

“The goal of the symposium,” said Elise Salem, associate provost for global learning, “was not only to inform, but also to provoke and inspire students to take action and make a difference.” Salem’s Office of Global Learning sponsored the two-day event on October 17 and 18. The first day of the program was held at the College at Florham, and on the second day the scene shifted to the Metropolitan Campus. (A complete program lineup is available at www.globaleducation.edu.)

“The protection of human rights and the resolution of violent conflict are urgent concerns in today’s world,” said Joseph Chuman, the symposium organizer and FDU adjunct philosophy professor. “This is the first time Fairleigh Dickinson has hosted an event of this magnitude on this topic.”

Chuman and Salem spent countless hours over many months planning the symposium, with the help of other University offices. They were ably assisted by an army of student volunteers who not only helped with logistics, but also played active roles in leading the workshops and sessions. Salina Singleton, a junior on the Metropolitan Campus and the student coordinator for the Office of Global Learning, said, “I saw such pride and eagerness in the students. They got it immediately.” She added, “I’m really proud of the turnout and the caliber of the students who came to the symposium. I was so impressed by how thoughtful and insightful their questions were, and how they stood up and took part in the sessions.”

Joseph Chuman

Chuman opened the conference with an overview of the development of human rights. “Whereas a century ago, one seldom heard the term ‘human rights,’ today the idea is everywhere. … What the human rights revolution has done is to make the radical pronouncement that every man, woman and child on the face of the earth is born with dignity and rights simply on the basis of his or her humanity.”

A scholar and an activist, Chuman has been the leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County for 30 years and has worked on behalf of human rights, and in opposition to the death penalty, as well as other causes. In addition to FDU, he teaches at Columbia University and Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Chuman said, “The preservation of human rights is the responsibility of everyone, everywhere. We are tied together in a web of humanity that stretches across national borders, and the violations and indignities suffered by our fellow human beings are our responsibility also.”

In that regard, Chuman said he hoped the conference would inspire those who attend “to commit yourself to working on behalf of a cause that is larger than yourself. And if you are so inspired, it will connect you to what is best, most noble and maybe to what is most meaningful in the human experience.”

Next …

“ … Every man, woman and child on the face of the
earth is born with dignity and rights simply on the basis of his or her humanity.”
— Joseph Chuman, symposium organizer


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For a print copy of FDU Magazine, featuring this and other stories, contact Rebecca Maxon, editor, 201-692-7024 or maxon@fdu.edu.