Student groups focus on international issues

by Lauren Budd | 2/12/16 12:51am

Despite focusing on issues outside the Dartmouth bubble, student groups on campus dedicated to international activism still see high turnout and passionate student interest.

Dan Korff-Korn ’19, winter chair of J Street U, described the group as a “pro-peace, pro-dialogue campus discussion group” which supports both Israel and Palestine. The organization hosts events to discuss issues, and Korff-Korn emphasized that the events rely primarily on discussion rather than a lecture format. J Street U has several branches at colleges and universities across the country under the overarching group J Street, which actively works to lobby for Congressional support for legislation that would promote peace in the region and a two-state solution, he said.

J Street U has an executive board of six members, and Korff-Korn said events see attendance anywhere from 20 to 50 people. He said that most people who participate in J Street U’s events already have some sort of interest in the issues being discussed and recruits through political groups.

Korff-Korn said that J Street U is very self-selecting.

“The issues we think of when we think about activism, like sexuality and race, those are things that, even if you’re not a sexual minority or a racial minority, you might be driven toward because you’re just surrounded by other people who care about them,” he said.

Smaller crowds can lead to more intimate and productive conversation, however, which is the overall goal of the organization, he said.

The Dandelion Project, which is a volunteer group dedicated to ending educational inequality in China, is another student organization that focuses on international activism.

Kieran Sim ’17 has been a member of The Dandelion Project since his first term at Dartmouth. He volunteered in Beijing for the project and developed strategies to enhance the project’s sustainability.

Sim said that in general the group attracts students who are both “dedicated” and “passionate.” However, he emphasized that because it is a volunteer organization, it attracts people who view it as a hobby or side activity that receives less priority than academics, work or pre-professional organizations.

Sim said that the number of people involved fluctuates even throughout the term, with anywhere between 5 and 15 people attending general meetings. He said he thought recruiting members was no more difficult than for any other organization, and attributed lower numbers to being a very specific, niche organization.

The group has never received any criticism for focusing on needs outside the United States, he said.

“I don’t think by having this kind of student organization we’re detracting from any other efforts that are going on here on campus at Dartmouth,” he said. “We’re simply adding a new organization that’s working towards a different cause, so I only see it as a positive thing.”

Sim is an international student himself, hailing from New Zealand. He said that though Dartmouth is more “progressive and liberal” than any place he had experienced in the past, he thought even students coming from within the U.S. would experience a similar ideological shift. He said Dartmouth’s environment fosters conversations about political and social issues and has made him think more critically about them.

Sim said that he had become more active in political issues since coming to Dartmouth, but wasn’t sure whether the difference in the political environment was due to being in the U.S. or being in a college environment.

Assistant professor of government Jeffrey Friedman, who focuses his studies on civil war abroad, said that he has seen a relatively large number of students use resources from the College to travel overseas during the summer or post-graduation in order to go to countries such as the Congo, Burma, Cambodia or Colombia to link up with nonprofits in order to do on-the-ground work or gain a better understanding of the issues abroad.

These trips are not usually “voluntourism,” Friedman said, but come from a place of genuine motivation and curiosity about finding careers in international affairs and providing aid. He also added that these are often not easy trips to take, which reflects a lot on the motivation of the students attending.

Friedman says he has also seen students go on to publish term papers from his class dedicated to civil wars in Dartmouth’s foreign affairs journal or in other outlets, which he said was less organized activism but still dedicated to the cause and demonstrative of a self-starter model of activism.

“I will say the students who come to my classes seem really engaged in foreign affairs, and particularly engaged in humanitarian issues,” he said. “A lot of them really do have real knowledge about these things. My sense is that people can always be more engaged, but my sense is also that Dartmouth students are far more engaged than the norm.”