GCC inspires a challenge to ‘action-ism’

March 15, 2012
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Julia Redmond

Silhouette Staff


“We are all citizens of the world,” said former American president Woodrow Wilson. “The tragedy of our times is that we do not know this.”

But on March 10, over 70 members of the McMaster community embraced their global citizenship and gathered in Hamilton Hall to attend the 7th annual McMaster Global Citizenship Conference.

Shawn Cheung, the founder and executive director of Raising The Village, kicked off the day’s events. In his morning keynote address, he shared his story and advised the audience on how to pursue activism, in keeping with the conference theme “Activism is not dead.”

“But I’d much rather talk about ‘action-ism’,” he said, referring to how change will not come about without a significant effort. His advice rested upon Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule: the idea that to master anything, it takes 10,000 hours of work.

Following the opening speech were a number of short workshops with perhaps a more practical outlook, geared toward fueling change at McMaster. The Mac chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) offered a session about fair trade and the process of attaining fair trade certification on campus, while workshops were held to address electronic waste and promote sustainability in Hamilton.

The panel discussions later in the morning offered a chance for local experts to share their insights on global issues. Three sessions, on water governance, the Arab Spring and indigenous rights in Canada, were moderated by Mac students.

The Arab Spring panel appeared to be the favourite of the morning. It featured McMaster professors Dr. Atif Kubursi and Dr. John Colarusso, as well as former Arts and Science student Amal Abuzgaya. It began with a lecture from Dr. Kubursi, who introduced such key issues as unemployment among youth in the Arab world.

“Human rights in the Middle East begin with breakfast,” he said, quoting Senegalese poet Leopold Senghor, noting that the Arabic word for bread—aish—also means “life.”

Colarusso, a professor of mythology and linguistics who has also worked in politics, brought a historical perspective to the discussion. “The transition from mythology to politics was smooth,” he chuckled. “Both have their monsters.”

He compared aspects of the Arab Spring to the Soviets’ policies in governing the USSR. Meanwhile, Abuzgaya, who grew up in Libya under the Gaddafi regime, had much to say about how the people took action, including how social media facilitated the process.

The afternoon saw a number of guest speakers and panel discussions, on topics including the Occupy Wall Street movement and the meaning of the sustainability.

McMaster engineering graduate Boris Martin delivered the final speech of the day. Appropriately enough, he was one of the organizers of the first GCC in 2005, which spanned three days and saw over 600 delegates. He shared some wise words about pragmatic and principled approaches to activism, drawn from his experiences with EWB.

The entirely student-run conference was led by co-chairs Alessandra Robertson, Shanthiya Baheerathan and Siobhan Stewart. The co-chairs were pleased with the success of the conference, noted Shanthiya Baheerathan.

Despite its success, the conference may undergo revision next year, according to one of the directors of programming. It will likely be shortened, and may be rescheduled to February. The goal will remain to inspire students to take on their responsibilities as citizens of the world.

The conference was sponsored by the School of Nursing, the Bachelor of Health Sciences Program, the McMaster Science and Humanities Societies and the Student Services Program Support Fund.

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