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Students build community and peace through co-​​op

Vic­toria Porell stands in sol­i­darity with a group of young Syrian activists who strive to solve con­flict without shed­ding blood in their war-​​ravaged country.

The fourth-​​year inter­na­tional affairs major worked with the peaceful resis­tors while on co-​​op last spring as a research asso­ciate at the Centre for Applied Non­vi­o­lent Actions and Strate­gies, a non­govern­mental orga­ni­za­tion in Bel­grade, Serbia.

“It’s pow­erful to see people my own age com­mitted to making their country a better place no matter the price,” said Porell, who noted that the activists had been beaten and arrested for their non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. “To hear what they face com­pared to what I face is humbling.”

Porell was one of five accom­plished North­eastern stu­dents who reflected on the value of expe­ri­en­tial learning on campus and around the world on Wednesday evening at the second event in a year­long edu­ca­tional series on civic sustainability.

The series—Con­flict. Civility. Respect. Peace. North­eastern Reflects—is orga­nized by Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties and the Office of Stu­dent Affairs and is hosted by Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence Michael Dukakis in con­junc­tion with the Pres­i­den­tial Council on Inclu­sion and Diver­sity. Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun announced the for­ma­tion of the pres­i­den­tial council last month.

The first event in the series was titled “Under­standing Hate” and explored hate crimes, inter­group rela­tions, and campus cli­mate. The next one is the annual North­eastern Holo­caust Com­mem­o­ra­tion on April 8. Wednesday’s event, “I Am North­eastern,” chal­lenged a quintet of stu­dent pan­elists to dis­cuss whether their global expe­ri­ences should serve as impetus to make the university’s Pledge more ambi­tious.

The Pledge pro­motes a safe and peaceful living envi­ron­ment for stu­dents and neigh­bors and reads in full: “As a North­eastern stu­dent, I know that what I do and how I act directly affects other mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, espe­cially our neigh­bors. I pledge to rep­re­sent the values of North­eastern in my actions, whether in inter­ac­tions with fellow stu­dents, neigh­bors in our local com­mu­nity, or wher­ever my studies and co-​​op take me, whether here in Boston, around the country or all over the world. I am Northeastern!”

The stu­dent pan­elists com­prised psy­chology major Rona Tarazi and inter­na­tional affairs majors Har­rison Craig, Miguel de Corral, Ellie Deshaies, and Porell. Gia Bar­boza, an assis­tant pro­fessor of African Amer­ican Studies, and Serena Parekh, an assis­tant pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy, mod­er­ated the discussion.

Uta Poiger, co-​​chair of the PCID and interim dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, wel­comed stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff to the event, which was held in the Amílcar Cabral Center.

Poiger encour­aged North­eastern com­mu­nity mem­bers to become pio­neers in civic sus­tain­ability, which she defined as “prac­ticing civility while engaging with diverse opin­ions, acknowl­edging past prob­lems, broad­ening per­sonal net­works, finding common ground in social action, and making the world a better place.”

Deshaies did her part to make the world a better place through a co-​​op expe­ri­ence with a com­mu­nity high school in Caye Caulker, Belize. There, the young human­i­tarian helped more than a dozen stu­dents trans­form their com­mu­nity through ser­vice projects grounded in team­work, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and problem-​​solving skills. She oversaw one group of stu­dents who cleaned up trash from a local beach and then posted a video of the expe­ri­ence on YouTube to the tune of the Bea­tles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”

“Engaging with the com­mu­nity can bring about social jus­tice,” explained Deshaies. She con­nected with the school in Belize through Northeastern’s stu­dent group Peace through Play, which empowers Boston youth to become peace­makers in their community.

Tarazi is a peace­maker. As a vol­un­teer for the non­profit LIFT Boston, she helps low-​​income indi­vid­uals secure edu­ca­tion, housing, and health­care. In one case, she phoned a hos­pital on behalf of a client, a Latin Amer­ican woman who claimed that a nurse had refused to schedule an appoint­ment because of her poor English-​​speaking skills.

“I spoke to the nurse’s super­visor and was promised that this would never happen again,” recalled Tarazi. “My client was so thankful.”

Dis­crim­i­na­tion based on age, gender, race, and edu­ca­tion level has “pre­vented my clients from climbing the ladder of achieve­ment,” she added. “Society can be so cul­tur­ally insen­si­tive to minori­ties who are not able to get what they need.”

North­eastern, on the other hand, fos­ters a strong sense of inclu­sion and chal­lenges stu­dents to live out­side of their com­fort zones, according to Craig. He studied in Greece through the Pro­gram and then cul­ti­vated his interest in inter­na­tional edu­ca­tion through a co-​​op with Northeastern’s Inter­na­tional Stu­dent and Scholar Insti­tute.

Begin­ning his col­lege career in a for­eign country, he said, “chal­lenged me in ways I could not have fore­seen. It shaped who I am as a stu­dent today.”

He praised his peers for helping him cope with cul­ture shock and home­sick­ness, saying, “I felt a sense of com­mu­nity and was able to find myself through these experiences.”

Of his co-​​op with ISSI, he said, “I am dealing with stu­dents from all over the world. The expe­ri­ence has intro­duced me to really incred­ible people that I oth­er­wise would have never met.”

To that end, more than 6,300 inter­na­tional stu­dents from more than 140 coun­tries world­wide are cur­rently enrolled at North­eastern, many of whom have unique reli­gious and polit­ical beliefs.

De Corral, who has par­tic­i­pated in Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­grams in Israel, Geneva, Egypt, and the Balkans, stressed the impor­tance of lis­tening to other points of view. “To under­stand con­flict, you must under­stand every nar­ra­tive that is being dis­cussed,” he explained. “It’s impor­tant to see other sides.”

Fol­lowing the panel dis­cus­sion, stu­dents answered ques­tions posed by audi­ence mem­bers. Barry Blue­stone, the Rus­sell B. and Andree B. Stearns Trustee Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Economy and founding dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, asked Porell to expand on the con­cept of sol­i­darity, which he char­ac­ter­ized as a pow­erful idea.

“When I think of sol­i­darity, I think of engage­ment, not charity,” Porell said. “Sol­i­darity is not doing things for people. It is helping people solve prob­lems without imposing your own value system.”

– by Jason Kornwitz

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