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Human rights

Fairleigh Dickinson University will host a human rights symposium Oct. 17 and 18, a first for the university as it seeks to establish itself as a global institution and educate students about their responsibilities as citizens of the United States and the international community, said organizers.

The symposium will take place on both the Florham campus in Madison and the Metropolitan campus in Teaneck, to draw in the entire university, said Joseph Chuman, an adjunct professor of philosophy at FDU and the symposium’s organizer through the university’s Office of Global Learning. Part of the university’s global mission, he added, is to get students more involved in international issues.

"What we hope to do is stimulate greater interest, concern, and involvement on behalf of those who participate in the conference," he said. He also hopes it will "stimulate new programs at the university and raise the profile of the university in academia more broadly."

More than 50 speakers will gather at the campuses to discuss topics like human rights and the war on terrorism; child soldiers; the realities of torture; religious values and human rights; peacemaking strategies for Israel and the Palestinians; and the genocide in Darfur.

To date, about 300 people have registered for the conference. Although that number is made up of mostly students, the symposium is open to members of the community as well. Chuman hopes to see 400 attend, including locals and students from other universities. The topic drawing the most attention in terms of pre-registration, according to Chuman, is a talk on the United States, human rights, and the war on terrorism, led by Reed Brody, an FDU alumnus and advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

The symposium will feature keynote speakers Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who will speak on human rights, and Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, undersecretary general for political affairs at the United Nations, who will speak on conflict resolution.

Other speakers and workshop leaders include activists from Sudan; Kenneth Cain, a former U.N. peacekeeper in Somalia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Liberia; former child slave Simon Deng, a spokesperson on Darfur genocide and a former adviser to President George W. Bush; and Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey.

"We wanted to have a broad range of issues and presenters that would attract a high level of human rights practitioners," Chuman said.

Leonard Grob, a professor of philosophy, will be one of two speakers at the Israel-Palestinian strategies workshop. As coauthor of an upcoming book, "Teen Voices from the Holy Land: Who am I to You?," in which he interviewed 34 Israeli and Palestinian teenagers about their everyday lives, he will try to put a human face on the enemy in his talk, he said.

"I want them to see both the complexity of the conflict but also offer some hope about strategies that will move forward toward peacemaking in the region," he said. "I want to leave them with some hope while not covering over the excruciatingly difficult situation that exists there."

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a big issue on many campuses, Grob said, but it hasn’t been as prevalent on FDU’s campuses.

"I’m glad for this opportunity, since our mission is a global one," he said. "It’s a wonderful opportunity to awaken people both to the nature of the complex situations and some possible strategies that might work toward peacemaking."

Mike Kelly of The Record will moderate the workshop. After Grob presents his talk, Riad Nasser, an associate professor of sociology at the Florham campus, will present "the Palestinian argument," in his words.

"The international community cannot ignore the collective suffering of an ethnic and national group for such a long time, and it should be resolved," Nasser said from his home on Tuesday. "They should somehow make efforts to bring about the end of the conflict by creating somehow a just peace between the two communities, not to satisfy the needs and aspirations of one group, but some kind of compromise that would recognize basic aspirations of each community."

There is a tendency on campuses across the country to follow "knee-jerk partisan politics," Grob said. "What I’m advocating is informed views about the conflict and understanding the complexities involved. And a willingness to listen to the other side, rejecting any demonization of the other."

There are no plans to repeat the symposium next year, Chuman said. Rather, he’d like to see students use it as a gateway to study on their own.

The symposium as a whole will help students understand their responsibilities as citizens of the world, Nasser said. "The emphasis on human rights is essential in our studies because part of our major mission is global education and opening up to other cultures the acknowledgement of all humanity to safe and secure lives."

For more information on the symposium, visit globaleducation.edu.

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