On Saturday, April 12, the College hosted a conference of student world affairs sponsored by the Hudson Valley World Affairs Council. The all-day conference allowed members of the general public and students from nearby Poughkeepsie schools to discuss topics including “Global Governance, Democratization, Human Rights, Sustainable Development, Education, and International Security” (hvworldaffiairscouncil.org).
The Council is a forum to stimulate interest in international world affairs and to raise public understanding of important issues affecting the country and the world. It worked alongside the Vassar College International Studies Program, Political Science Department, Office of the President, Office of Residential Life, Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development, Career Development Office and the Handel Family Foundation to organize and successfully execute the event this year.
The conference started with a keynote speaker, Ambassador Robert Gosende, who has had extensive experience in the Foreign Service of the United States in the U.S. Information Agency and the Department of State. Gosende’s main point focused on how to develop a better relationship with the rest of the world, starting with our youth.
According to the Yale Undergraduate Journal of Politics, “Gosende served 36 years in the US Information Agency, and went on tours of duty as a Cultural Affairs Officer in Libya, Somalia and Poland and as Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs in South Africa and the Russian Federation.” He also served as the Special Envoy for Somalia for Bill Clinton from 1992 to 1993. After leaving the Foreign Service, Gosende worked at SUNY as the Associate Vice Chancellor for International Programs and at SUNY Albany as the John W. Ryan Fellow in Public Diplomacy.
In his opening statement, Ambassador Gosende decided to start with the conclusions of how to create these better relationships with foreign countries, the main one being that it is the responsibility of today’s youth to lead the movement. According to Gosende, “One of the failings we have had is not calling out on [the youth] on doing what [they] need to accomplish in this world.”
He went on to suggest that the US should have a national service obligation for two years for everyone. During times of war (Gosende added that we need to hold the government responsible for engaging in war only when necessary), everyone should be called upon to serve in the military, and during times of peace, people would serve at a more regionalized level.
Gosende also claimed that what we are doing right now in the military is immoral, because we have created a situation where is it optional to not be involved in international affairs. He suggested that the responsibility to be internationally politically involved should be on all of us. A West Point cadet in the audience questioned the budgetary issues for training and equipment that would arise from that service obligation, and Gosende stated that all kinds of decisions would be made to justify it and that any type of strong administration needs a military.
Gosende continued with his speech talking about intelligence service, national privacy and the need to adjust some of the Amendments to the US Constitution to fit the needs of the nation as it exists today. Although he promoted the idea of involvement of the people in our own government, Gosende raised critical questions about the military or otherwise involvement of the US in international affairs. Regarding the intelligence service, wondered whether it should be the rule that if we can get it, we should get it. In the age of great technological advancements, our capability to attain foreign information is increasing just as fast.
Laura Webber ’15 commented on Ambassador Gosende’s address, saying, “I agreed with Ambassador Gosende’s comment about the need to be critical about decision making in the US. Power is not necessarily evenly distributed, and this impacts policy decisions. This is especially pertinent in regards to the bureaucratization of the foreign service, wherein foreign policy agents are appointed internally. The result is to privilege some views over others, depending upon who is appointing the positions.”
She continued, speaking to her reactions of Gosende’s remarks, and presenting her own ideas about solutions to the issues the conference brought up. “I thought Ambassador Gosende’s proposal of a 2-year mandatory military service involvement for all young people in the US was extreme. However, I do not reject the idea outright. I think it is reasonable to ask that young people devote 2 years to the service of their country, but not necessarily in the military. To provide a space/time for young people to contribute to their communities could prove to be very powerful to mobilize agents of change,” she said.
After the keynote speaker, attendees went to one of two seminars on International Security and Global Governance, followed by a luncheon, and finished the conference with one of three seminars on Human Rights, Democratization and Sustainable Development. Each of the seminars had a moderator, student panelists and discussants. The panel consisted of discussion of the students’ papers on one of the topics, for which they had to submit an abstract in advance) and critique of their works by experts in the field. The discussants included professors from Marist College, SUNY Dutchess, Bard College, Vassar College and Major Rosol from US Military Academy.
Webber again commented on the seminars, speaking to her specific interests and by what she was most excited. “I attended the sessions on National Security and Human Rights. I personally am interested in conflict studies and abuse of human rights. I am also interested in national security, but in a broad sense. I am interested in the demands posed by the nation-state system and how this construction may be flawed,” she said.