Hope College junior Irene Gerrish of Los Alamos, New Mexico, has been chosen to attend the New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, an international event whose participants will include former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, multiple current and former senior government officials from around the world, NGO (non-governmental organization) and business executives, and leading journalists with the New York Times.
The forum will run Wednesday–Sunday, Sept. 13–17, in Athens, Greece. Gerrish is one of 24 students from 13 countries selected to participate through the Global Liberal Arts Alliance, which is an educational partner in the event with Deree-The American College of Greece.
The forum will explore the theme “Solutions for a Changing World.” As explained on the event’s website, the event will address important questions about globalization, international cooperation and the enduring nature of democracy at a time of unique challenge.
In addition to Kofi Annan, speakers and panelists will include, among others, the former prime ministers of Australia and Spain, Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, Kenya’s minister for foreign affairs and international trade, the director general of Unesco, the chief economist for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the director of global programs for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. An interactive panel session featuring editors and writers with the New York Times will explore topics including reporting on the Trump presidency, fake news and alternative facts, the future of populism, division within America and the future of Europe.
Along with attending other events, the students will chronicle the forum’s 2017 United Nations Global Goals Session. They will each be assigned to one of the 17 groups discussing the global Sustainable Development Goals adopted by countries around the world in 2015. In addition to capturing the conversations, the students will develop reports that organize the next steps recommended by the participants.
The students, who were selected competitively following recommendation by their home institutions, will also work in groups of their own to consider questions raised by the forum’s theme from their own generational and cultural perspectives.
“Irene made a tremendous impression on the college’s selection committee for how she articulated her values, global interests and policy concerns, really bringing a global perspective to both her studies at Hope College and the issues she’s passionate about,” said Dr. Deirdre Johnston, a professor of communication who is Hope’s liaison to the Global Liberal Arts Alliance. “We also saw her as someone who will be especially receptive to listening to others from different political and social systems, having her understanding of the world challenged and then bringing that information and experience back to the campus.”
The forum is an ideal fit for Gerrish, an economics and political science dual major who has long-term aspirations to work in economic policy.
“It seemed like a unique opportunity that I don’t think a lot of people get at the university level,” she said. “I am looking forward to learning about how we can better engage internationally with each other, especially in a very challenging political era globally, and then being able to come back here and apply it.”
Hope is in the Global Liberal Arts Alliance through its membership in the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA). In addition to Hope and the other 12 members of the GLCA, the Global Liberal Arts Alliance includes colleges and universities in Bulgaria, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia and Switzerland.