The Institute for Global Leadership (IGL) this Thursday through Saturday will be hosting Inquiry, its annual global issues simulation program for high school students, which this year will address recent issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Roughly 200 high school students from Boston, New York, Chicago and other cities will gather for a conference in Olin Center and Cabot Auditorium addressing the various wars and hostilities that have endured in the Congo during the past 15 years, which have also spilled over into surrounding African nations.
Inquiry’s topic is consistent with the Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) program’s focus this year on “Conflict in the 21st Century.” EPIIC colloquium students will serve as facilitators for the program, meeting individually with groups of high school students to ask them challenging questions on subjects pertinent to the Congo, such as how power transitions can be made in the region; whether outside armies, criminal courts and non−governmental organizations should intervene; and how to do all of this in a productive, non−violent manner.
“We will be representing committees who will be asking questions while not providing answers,” EPIIC colloquium member Jessica Wilson, a sophomore, said. “The students will have to come up with the solutions themselves, if possible.”
The event will begin on Thursday with a keynote address by Peter Rosenblum, who is Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein Clinical Professor of Human Rights Law at Columbia Law School. Rosenblum has worked extensively in the Congo and Central Africa and also addressed attendees at February’s EPIIC symposium.
At the conference, high school students will represent different countries or organizations — for example, Rwanda, Uganda, the Congo’s government and military — and regroup into delegations at the end of the day to collectively discuss their findings.
EPIIC colloquium member Konrad Gessler, who will be working with a high school from Indiana representing the United States government, recognizes that he will have to be careful not to impose his own views regarding the Congo on his students. But at the same time, he said he’d have to avoid giving them false impressions about the ongoing conflict, such as the common misconception that it is primarily a war over the country’s mineral resources.
“It’s way more complicated than a ‘mineral war,’” Gessler, a sophomore, said. “So if students keep asking about this one topic, I will ask them other questions to get them back on the right track. For example, ‘What are the other driving factors of this conflict, besides mineral resources?’”
IGL Associate Director Heather Barry spoke highly of the Inquiry program, which was founded in and has occurred annually since 1991.
“Inquiry gives students the opportunity to understand the complexity of international issues and to put new ideas into practice,” she said. “It’s a great way of bringing these issues into the classroom.”
Wilson said she believes the program will attract students from a variety of racial, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Some of these inner−city kids may have never worked with kids from the suburbs before,” she said. “Inquiry will give these students a way to explore their differences and allow them to form self−improvement, self−development and leadership skills.”
Wilson believes the conference will give the situation in the Congo the attention it deserves, given its urgency and longevity.
“People have constantly swept this whole conflict under the rug,” she said. “They’re way more focused on the situation in the Middle East and the Arab Spring. Granted, those are huge issues as well, but the conflict in [the Congo] has been going on for years and produced millions of deaths. Yet no one really understands the importance and significance of the issues in this region. This event will be a platform for us to discuss these issues.”
“It’s a really complicated topic but one that’s important to talk about, because it doesn’t get enough attention in the media and isn’t often present in the rhetoric of policy−makers,” Gessler said. “It’s important for us to talk about these issues, how they come about and why they aren’t resolved.”
Although Inquiry may be a challenging experience on many levels, Gessler is confident that it will prove to be a rewarding experience for both the visiting high school students and the members of the EPIIC program.
“All year long in EPIIC, we’re really learning and reading intensely,” he said. “We’re immersed in topics for a whole year so that we can understand the complexity of these global issues. Now, to be able to turn around and teach everything we’ve learned to these students is really going to be amazing. We want them to understand the challenges that policy−makers have to deal with and how to confront atrocities occurring around the world.”
“This is our way of giving back everything we have learned from the EPIIC program,” Wilson said. “It will continue the EPIIC trajectory of educating youth on matters of global importance.”