Fourteen Lehigh students recently played an unconventional role in reporting from one of the United Nations’ longest-running conventions, the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
A team of graduate students from the College of Education and undergraduates from the College of Arts and Sciences blogged live from the conference, which was held near the UN’s New York City headquarters. The opportunity to attend the conference as special guests came through Lehigh’s partnership with the UN and its Academic Impact Project. Lehigh is one of just 16 universities worldwide recognized as an NGO (nongovernmental organization) delegate.
The blog was the first of its kind published by a university, according to conference officials. Writing in languages as diverse as Korean, Arabic, Russian, French and English, the Lehigh students logged more than 50 posts in two weeks on a range of political, social and, at times, controversial topics.
Emily Anderson, for example, asked for a “plan of solidarity” for organizations seeking to promote gender equality. Fauzia Nouristani and Laura Ponchick, meanwhile, deliberated the issue of interfaith dialogue in places of conflict. And Hayarpi Papikyan, a Muskie Fellow from Armenia, wrote about the emergence of technology for women’s empowerment.
Not a monolithic bureaucracy
“Going in, I had an idea of the UN as a monolithic bureaucracy, but in reality, there was a huge variety of backgrounds and perspectives among both the presenters and the audience,” said Mariam Yaqub, a blogger and education student. “It was exhilarating to see that there is room for differences of opinion at an institution like the UN.”
The experience wasn’t limited to the UN headquarters. Lehigh also served as a venue for a CSW conference session titled, "Promoting Women's Rights through Higher Education: The Interdisciplinary Vision of the United Nations Academic Impact," which was simulcast in real-time around the world. The virtual panel was hosted by the College of Education’s comparative and international education program and the LU/UN Partnership, in cooperation with United Nations Academic Impact.
The events surrounding the CSW conference are still being discussed in Iveta Silova’s “Experiencing the United Nations: NGOs in Education Policy and Practice” course. Silova, the Frank Hook Assistant Professor of comparative and international education (CIE), launched the class this semester to introduce students to the dynamics of NGO/UN partnerships in international education.
Anu Sachdev, a CIE student, enjoyed the experience. “I learned more about the power of networking, dialogue, collaboration and communication during the two weeks of the CSW than in any previous professional and academic experience,” she said.
The LU/UN Partnership sponsors more than 40 events, panels and workshops at Lehigh each year, including an annual visit by a UN ambassador. Lehigh faculty members also conduct briefings at the UN. In February, Todd Watkins, professor of economics, spoke in New York on microfinance while Gang Tan, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, discussed international cyber crime.