Introducing ENACT: The Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation

December 16th, 2015

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This year, the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life will introduce a program across the nation, called ENACT, which will engage college students in transforming state laws. To do this, the center is creating a national expansion of the course Advocacy for Policy Change offered at Brandeis. This course combines learning about ethical issues in lawmaking with actual work in the field advocating for structural reform to existing law or the introduction of new legislation. The Ethics Center Leadership Council interviewed Hannah Marion ‘16, an alumn of Advocacy for Policy Change, to find out more about the influence of the course on students.


How do you think that the course Advocacy for Policy Change impacted you, personally, academically, and career planning-wise?

Before taking this class I thought I wanted to ultimately be a social worker, but after taking the class I realized just how much policy can affect people, and decided I also wanted to get a law degree and work in social policy.

What is an example of something meaningful you learned in Advocacy for Policy Change?

I learned that if you care enough about an issue, and put effort into advocating for a specific policy, you really can make a change.

How did the “experiential learning” aspect of Advocacy for Policy Change influence the course for you?

I loved it! Being able to talk to legislators at the State House was a great opportunity, and I definitely felt like I learned a lot from it. I also got a lot out of working with advocates in the community and learning from their experiences.

My group and I reached out to the Massachusetts Bail Fund and the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition. We participated in a couple different phone conferences and were really able to better understand the issues regarding bail reform in order to advocate at the State House. We met with a couple different state representatives and were able to offer them our legislative research report in hopes that they would vote in favor of bail reform. We also spoke with the Commissioner of Probation, Ed Dolan, to get his opinions on the record because his department would deal with the proposed legislation. Overall, the structure of the class really allowed me to grow as an independent learner and made me realize that being a successful advocate is based on doing sound research of both your argument and counterargument and being very persistent.

What do you think about Advocacy for Policy Change becoming a national program? Do you think that having this course offered around the country will impact students or spark change?

I think it’s a great idea! I definitely think that it would help to spark change.


Be sure to find out more about ENACT on the Ethics Center’s website:

Top 5 Upcoming Ethics Center Sponsored or Co-Sponsored Events

March 23rd, 2015

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The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, commonly known as “the Ethics Center,” is an organization at Brandeis with a mission to create effective solutions to injustice and conflict through coexistence work, support of international courts, and stimulation of ethical practice in professional and civic life.

One of the great programs at the Ethics Center is sponsorship and cosponsorship of events that relate to the mission of the Center.

Here are the top 5 events sponsored by the Ethics Center coming up just within the next nine days that you do not want to miss!


  1. An International Court to Fight Corruption: A Federal Judge Makes the Case

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Join the Alumni Club of Greater Boston’s Lawyers Network and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 from 6:30-8:30pm in the Faculty Club for a talk by Senior U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf on the consequences of corruption and how an international court can combat those issues. Hear commentary from Brandeis alum Bruce Singal ’70, Brandeis Legal Studies faculty member Guive Mirfendereski, and Brandeis undergraduate Mia Katan ’15. Details and link to RSVP here:


  1. Ethics Center LIVE! Photo Manipulation in Pursuit of “Beauty”ethicslivebeauty

Don’t miss a discussion on the Ethical Inquiry “The Ethics of Digital Photo Manipulation: Alterations in Pursuit of ‘Beauty’” researched and written by Brandeis alum Hailey Magee ’15 on Friday, March 27, 2015 from 4:00-5:30pm in Levine-Ross, Upper Sherman. This event, organized by the undergraduate Ethics Center Leadership Council, will draw from opinions from different student groups on campus to initiate discussion. Student groups cosponsoring include Active Minds, The Justice newspaper photo editors, and Women, Inc. (WINC). Details:

See the Ethical Inquiry here:


  1. How I Got in the Movement: A Civil Rights “Living Legend” Tells His Story – Julian Bond

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Come hear the 2014-15 Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life, Civil Rights living legend Julian Bond speak about his experience as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and where his activism has taken him over the subsequent decades on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 3:30pm in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall, Goldfarb Library. He will highlight significant events and people of the 1960s and will talk about additional movements that have come from the Civil Rights Movement, up to and including the fight for marriage equality and the opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Fellowship is hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President. Details:


  1. “Anita,” an award-winning Argentine film about a national tragedy seen through the lens of a woman with Down Syndrome

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Rescheduled from DEIS Impact, the annual festival of social justice at Brandeis sponsored by the Ethics Center and the Student Union, this event will feature a screening of the film “Anita,” which tells the remarkable story of a young woman with Down Syndrome whose routine life in Buenos Aires is tragically disrupted by the horrific 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association. Join sponsors Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, the Nathan and Toby Starr Center on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and Brandeis Buddies on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 7:00pm in Heller G3 for the film screening. Details:


  1. Klansville, U.S.A.: Film Screening and Panel Discussion

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Save the date for a screening of the film Klansville, U.S.A. hosted by the Department of Sociology at Brandeis on April 1, 2015 at 7:00pm in the Wasserman Cinematheque in Sachar International Center, as part of 2014-15 Richman Fellow Julian Bond’s three-day residency at Brandeis.  Klansville U.S.A. is based on Brandeis sociology professor David Cunningham’s book by the same title, and the film screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring filmmaker Callie Wiser, Professor Cunningham himself, and Julian Bond. For additional information contact Lauren Jordahl at


Want a complete list of Ethics Center sponsored events? Want to apply for funding and/or publicity from the Ethics Center?

Check out all upcoming events here:

Check out the cosponsorship process here:


5 Thought-Provoking Quotes from Inspiring Ethics Center Guests

April 25th, 2014

1. Eliza Dushku, actress and a social activist gave the Keynote Address: “Uganda By Way of Boston and Hollywood: A Social Justice Journey” at the 2013 ‘DEIS Impact “festival of social justice” together with her mother, Judith Dushku.


“The running joke in our family is that when other kids and families were going to Cancun or Hawaii for Spring break, our mother was bringing us somewhere where there had just been a revolution, there was about to be a revolution, or where she was going to start one.”
Full video. 


2. Dr. Patricia Hill Collins ’69, PhD ’84, is a Distinguished University Professor of Sociology at University of Maryland, College Park. She obtained her bachelor’s degree and completed doctorate at Brandeis. In October Dr. Collins received the fifth annual Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize, which recognizes outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations. (The Gittler Prize is hosted by the Ethics Center on behalf of the Office of the President.) Her prize lecture was titled “With My Mind Set on Freedom: Black Feminism, Intersectionality and Social Justice.”


“Intersectionality as a knowledge project that is committed to social justice finds itself pinioned between the rock of taking on intellectual and political agendas that ironically limit its emancipatory potential, and the hard place of seeing the tremendous human need for an analytical framework that can engage social injustices.”
Full video of her lecture and an interview hereExcerpt from transcript (see page 5).


3. Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service, delivered the keynote address at the inaugural ‘DEIS Impact “festival of social justice” in 2012, centering on the importance of local action as a crucial foundation for global results.


“And as much as I want many of you to go into international work, and as much as I hope that someplace in this audience is the future Secretary of State or future head of the Agency for International Development, I want to remind you that Westerners do not have all the answers.” Excerpt from transcript (see page 5).

4.  Dr. Salomón Lerner Febres, Rector Emeritus of Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and former President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru, delivered the keynote address for the symposium “Just Performance: Enacting Justice in the Wake of Violence,” hosted by the Center in December 2011. He spoke on “Memory of Violence and Drama in Peru: The Experience of the Truth Commission and the Yuyachkani Theater Group.”


“Art is divorced from both efficiency and efficacy…. its aim is to dignify all human beings – its business to shake us out of passive conformity to what is, and provoke us to dare explore what we can and should be.” Read his full comments in the original Spanish:  “Memoria de la violencia y dramaturgia en el Perú: La experiencia de la Comisión de la Verdad y el Grupo Yuyachkani” or in an English translation. Also available: an extended excerpt from transcript (see page 5).


5.  His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, now a member of the Ethics Center’s International Advisory Board, gave delivered the second Distinguished Lecture in International Justice and Human Rights at Brandeis on January 30th, 2013: “Beyond Nuremberg: The Future of International Criminal Justice.” He was introduced by Donald Ferencz, son of Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz and co-founder and executive director of the Planethood Foundation.


“After all, was it not humanity’s retrospective awareness of how terrible miscalculations led to two world wars that subsequently produced a multilateral system of states centered on the United Nations, and ushered in a new family of multilateral treaties and human rights instruments, all enabled by a shrinkage in the geographic distances between us stemming from technology, increased air travel, vastly improved communications and a correspondingly huge expansion in commerce and banking, and then – as of late – the creation of a new international criminal justice system?”
Full videoFull transcript. Extended excerpt from the transcript (see page 5).


–Shota Adamia ’15, member of the Ethics Center Leadership Council

9 Ethics Center Rockstars That Will Blow Your Mind

April 8th, 2014

I guarantee you’ve never heard of many of these amazing individuals who have and continue to work to change our world.  Fun fact–each of these incredible people are or were at one point affiliated with the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life!  Read on for crazy amounts of inspiration…

1. Wendi Adelson ’01 ez-e27tbwGIcxUc2fcqAVWFqwdn5xBkuqGCAvtoAj-I 

Cover of Wendi Adelson’s 2011 novel This is Our Story

  • 1999 Sorensen Fellow who worked with The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina during her fellowship
  • Clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law
  • Director of a student-led legal clinic that provides free legal services (disability and immigration) to homeless, disabled and undocumented patients in Tallahassee, Florida.
  • Author of This is Our Story, a novel about human trafficking and the law in the United States, based on her own experiences with her clients, published in 2011. This is Our Story was selected as the work all first-year students will read and discuss for Florida State University’s “One Book/One Campus” shared reading program in 2014.
  • Read more about Wendi’s work in Argentina here

2.  Kate Alexander ’12 NOAp1PkVLHJ0IVjcv9IHUthDo4gH9SIj3j_lU7obqvw

3. Jocelyn Berger ’03 3P8EWUdK7_bvfZ4b-9R08g-vuySKkRtKVDdWSoC6b9A

Jocelyn Berger, at Brandeis in 2002, holding the publication that features the internship projects of the 2002 Sorensen Fellows. Read it here

  • 2002 Sorensen Fellow who worked in Sri Lanka
  • Has worked for a number of faith-based, secular, community, social justice, humanitarian, and peace building nonprofits and NGOs
  • Completed a Master’s degree in International Affairs at The Fletcher School at Tufts, focused on post-conflict peace building and development.
  • Currently works in community engagement and political organizing at American Jewish World Service
  • Read about her Sorensen Fellowship experience in Sri Lanka here

4. Will Chalmus ’07 VI6yewY7vy1ksvZuqcNJELz8NZtVHLrfucRG-n9qcAM

Will Chalmus, Natasha Faria, Eileen Kell, and Abigail Steinberg ’12 (right to left) during a Playback workshop at ‘DEIS Impact 2012. Photo by Sheila Donio

5. Richard J. Goldstone H ’04 wvBSQ4FvlUlDG7cWrAUHhNkMSHoLkp2NrB_3DLd7i48

Richard Goldstone (center) speaks during an Ethics Center sponsored event: “Extremists and The Challenge of Public Conversation”

  • Chair of the Center’s International Advisory Board
  • Retired Justice for the Constitutional Court, South Africa
  • Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda
  • Succeeded Kofi Annan as Chairman of the International Advisory Board of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court
  • Faculty Advisor for the Brandeis Institute for International Judges since 2002
  • Read more about Judge Goldstone here

6. Daniel Koosed ’08  PH7QI06je1Offfg-2xYal6rMOUgk75gkvMOnLp6stz8

Sorensen Fellow Daniel Koosed ’08 (third from left) in Arusha, Tanzania in 2007

  • 2007 Sorensen Fellow who worked in Arusha, Tanzania as an Academic Intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR):
  • Attended law school at the University of Miami where he obtained another fellowship and returned to Arusha as a Legal Intern during the summer of 2010
  • Koosed passed the Florida Bar Exam and is now working full time as an associate immigration attorney in Miami with a law firm called Rodney & Rodney & Bernstein, P.A.
  • Read more about Daniel’s Sorensen Fellowship in Tanzania here

7. Rebecca Miller ’13 ci8Dum8-XaePVkdb4aSmXydx7amIv_QHiQwyLmiKelk

Rebecca Miller (left) at the Massachusetts State House (Photo: Ruth Weld)

  • Member of the Advocacy For Policy Change class in the spring of 2011
  • Lobbied for a Massachusetts state bill that guaranteed 15 non-paid days of leave for victims of violence and sexual assault
  • Won an Advocacy Policy Change award that allowed her to build on her lobbying efforts by undertaking other advocacy initiatives the following summer (See “Awards support student summer advocacy work”)
  • Now works as legislative aide to Massachusetts State Representative Tom Sannicandro and is assisting current Advocacy for Policy Change students with their efforts on Beacon Hill!
  • Read more about Rebecca’s work in Advocacy For Policy Change here

8. Michael Ratner ’66 MichaelRatner

Michael Ratner (at right) speaking with other Ethics Center International Advisory Board members at “Social Justice and the University: Perspectives from the U.S. and Abroad” in 2012

  • Member of the Ethics Center board
  • President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and is Chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin
  • He and the Center for Constitutional Rights are currently the attorneys in the United States for Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He is still trying to get Guantanamo closed and the indefinite detention scheme it spawned ended
  • Writes and litigates on the enforcement of the prohibition on torture and murder against various dictators and generals who travel to the United States
  • In 2006, the National Law Journal named Ratner as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States

9. Aziz Sohail ’13   95TTnCSF21MjOl6cP1PeWtJsF9rGhkyXbelR-WEYaf4 


–Talia Lepson ’16, member of the Ethics Center Leadership Council

10 Most Inspirational Moments from ’DEIS Impact 2014

March 26th, 2014

Agonizing that you couldn’t make all 55 ‘DEIS Impact 2014 events? No worries! Here are the 10 moments I found particularly inspirational. For more information on the incredible speakers, performances, and events that took place, click here. What inspired you? Let me know below!


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1. “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” – Ndaba Mandela took several deep breaths before quoting from his grandfather’s inauguration address. ‘DEIS Impact keynote address



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Photo: Sister Helen speaking at Social Justice and “Protest, Politics and Change: Social Movements” (SOC 155b) taught by Prof. David Cunningham during ‘DEIS Impact College.

2. Sister Helen Prejean describing the hero in her book, Dead Man Walking, as the father of a murdered teenager fighting the death penalty because he knew it’s not what his daughter would have wanted. Dead Men Still Walking: A First-Hand Account of Death Row by Death Penalty Activist Sister Helen Prejean



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3. Alum Blanca E. Vega ’98 (second from right in photo) describing the racism she faced as a Latina on the Brandeis campus and how it motivated her to advocate for racial equality in higher education, reminding students that social justice begins at home. 3rd Annual Brandeis SoJust Leadership Forum




4. The courage and empathy filling the room at Queerlogues, an event where students explored LGBTQ issues through poetry, song and monologue. Queerlogues



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5. The sobering Harry Potter Alliance event “Magic Can’t Create Food, Can You?” demonstrating the difficulty low income Americans face cooking a nutritious diet … and getting a shout out from Brandeis alum and HPA founder Andrew Slack ’02. Magic Can’t Create Food, Can You?




6. Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy personally thanking students for volunteering their time at the Chill Zone, stressing that even one act of service is social justice. Brandeis Unites in Service




7. The emotional and personal film “Seoul Train” shown by Brandeis Liberty in North Korea taking students for a heart-wrenching ride as North Koreans attempted to flee to freedom. The Secret Underground Railroad Out of North Korea



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8. Damiana Andonova ’15 sharing her experience as a Sorensen Fellow witnessing discrimination against Roma infants in Bulgaria during “Recognizing the Roma Conflict – An Exploration of Human Rights.”



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9. The rhythmic heartbeat of communal drumming at the Brandeis Beats event “Beats of Peace” as Peacebuilding and the Arts Director Cynthia Cohen told a story describing a Hutu and a Tutsi drummer traveling and performing together in an effort to combat ethnic tensions in Rwanda. Beats of Peace




10. The enthusiasm, dedication, and determination of the ‘DEIS Impacters, the ‘DEIS impact steering committee, and Ethics Center staff that made it all possible.

– Mia Katan ’15 member of the Ethics Center Leadership Council

‘DEIS Impact explores LGBTQ Issues

March 14th, 2014

With its aim to tackle issues regarding social justice, ’DEIS Impact 2014 featured events covering a wide range of subjects, one of them being issues faced by the LGBTQ community.

Two of the most striking events regarding these issues were “Queerlogues” (read a Hoot article about the event: “‘Queerlogues’ demonstrates Brandeis’ LGBTQ pride”) and “Breaking the Silence on LGBTQ Sexual Violence” (see a ’DEIS Impact Blog post about the event, written by a ‘DEIS Impacter).

“Queerlogues” was arranged by the Queer Resource Center and featured multiple performances by Brandeis students. The aim of the event was to provide a safe space for participants to share their stories, hardships they have faced and courage they have found through the support of empathetic people they have encountered. Students read poetry, performed songs, read vivid monologues and left the audience empowered – most of the listeners with tears in their eyes.

One could sense that most of the people in the room felt an inexplicable connection with others, shattering the negative social constructions that tend to obstruct one’s capacity for empathy even against one’s kind will. Performers disclosed what was under their external layer of conduct and reminded the audience of the depth of human feelings, magnitude of one’s bias and actions on other people’s lives and the importance of human loyalty.

I left “Queerlogues” feeling empowered after seeing a large group of passionate individuals, yet I could not forget about the grim aspect of the human nature – violence that often exhibits itself from individuals whom one would least suspect. After all, can one definitely tell if a particular person is capable of sexual violence per se  – an issue unfortunately prevalent in the modern society?

“Breaking the Silence on LGBTQ Sexual Violence,” the second above-mentioned event, concentrated on occurrences of sexual violence on the LGBTQ community and ways of addressing and hopefully reducing, if not exterminating that violence. The event was hosted by the Queer Policy Alliance club and featured two speakers who provided the audience with statistical information, as well as gloomy details of the subject.

Speakers conducted a small workshop that put the audience in the position of encountering a case of sexual violence and gave them suggestions on how one can address the problem. We were provided with details about resources to reach out to in case of encountering such a case (for resources visit Boston Area Rape Crisis Center).

Both of these events restated the importance of activist work, as well as of tackling individual cases of oppression with the aim of achieving social justice and ensuring the protection of human rights of every single member of the community. I was moved and inspired by both of these events and I do hope that more students start to pay attention to the issue that affects our entire community.

– Shota Adamia ’15

Beyond Words

January 16th, 2014

I’ve always loved to draw. The margins of my chemistry notebooks are dotted with doodles, my dorm room walls are plastered with sketches of landscapes and flowers. Until I became a member of the Ethics Center Leadership Council, art had always been about the aesthetic.

The Peruvian theatre group, Grupo Cultutural Yuyachkani, performs at Brandeis

The Peruvian theatre group, Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, performs at Brandeis

Art took on new meaning when outreach for Peacebuilding and the Arts became my semester project for the ECLC. The Peacebuilding and the Arts program views art as a medium for conveying stories about conflict and reconciliation. Past work includes the Dor Guez exhibit at the Rose Art Museum, the documentary, Acting Together on the World Stage, and a performance by the Thai theatre artist and social activist, Kop. Throughout the fall semester, I learned just how important art can be for people living in areas of conflict and their search for peace.

Last October, I visited Dr. Cindy Cohen’s class, PAX250, “The Arts of Building Peace.” The students had been assigned to interview people who had struggled with conflict and use any type of media to create pieces that demonstrated the interviewees’ resilience. Video footage of a Holocaust survivor, a poem about a student who travelled the world and was imprisoned in a foreign country, a song written about an Israeli soldier…I found it incredible that experiences of people I had never met could move me so much. The stories were certainly noteworthy, but I think it was the artful depictions that played to my emotions. Indeed, the art evoked feelings that are beyond words.

Last November I visited PAX250 again. This time, a special presentation was made by Jane Wilburn Sapp, a renowned musician and cultural worker who grew up during the Civil Rights Era in the American South. By the end of the session, everyone in the overfilled classroom joined Jane to sing, “There’s a River Flowing in my Soul.” Music is infectious, and Jane’s messages were unanimously received. 

This Spring Dr. Cindy Cohen is offering students interested in music, peacebuilding, and the Civil Rights Movement a unique internship/ independent study opportunity documenting the life and work of Jane Sapp. Students will act as videographers, transcribers, and researchers and have the chance to work with Jane in a workshop setting. Jane’s work has the ability to bring people back to the civil rights era, a time that Brandeis students rarely think about. Understanding the struggles of others, I believe, makes us feel whole, and there is no greater unifying force than art.

While words come in different languages, art is universally understood. In a few days I’ll be leaving to study abroad in South Africa, a land recovering from Apartheid. I wonder what kinds of art forms I will encounter that will help me understand the struggles faced by the people who live there and their ability to gain peace.


-Erica Granor ’15

Post-Mubarak Life for the Zabaleen Community

October 17th, 2012

In 2010, Sorensen Fellow and Brandeis alum Madeleine Stix ’12 worked in Manshiett Nasser in Cairo with the Zabaleen, a Coptic Christian community in predominantly Muslim Egypt. A summary of her experience and her insights can be found in her essay “Treasure Amidst Trash: Preserving Community in the World’s Largest Garbage City” in the Brandeis Ethics Center’s publication Shifting Perspectives: Encountering Community in a Changing World. The Zabaleen are the largest community of informal garbage collectors in the world and are the focus of the widely acclaimed film Garbage Dreams, which Madeleine helped to promote during her time serving in Egypt. In her essay, Madeleine describes the origin of the Zabaleen community and the religious and economic discrimination they face in current-day Egypt. Migrating from Upper Egypt to Cairo 70-80 years ago, the Zabaleen used to work as rural pig breeders, but were forced to relocate to the Cairo landfills due to agrarian reforms by Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser that evicted the Zabaleen minority from rural lands.

In 2009, in an effort to “clean up” the Zabaleen landfill slums in Cairo, the Egyptian government enforced the mass slaughter of 300,000 of their pigs, destroying the livelihoods of many waste scavengers. Stix interned with the Spirit of Youth Association, started by local Zabaleen waste scavenger Ezzat Naim Guindy, to help implement a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to introduce the marginalized Zabaleen community into the formal waste system in Egypt. To do this, she helped promote a strategy known as source separation, where the Zabaleen, rather than scavenge the waste in the landfill, actually start separating their waste at the source in waste management facilities to make it easier for them to recycle. The Spirit of Youth Assoc. also established a Recycling School for Boys, where boys bring plastic containers to the school and fill out a form showing how many bottles they’ve retrieved (learning reading, writing, and arithmetic in the process) to aid their work.

Since the fall of Mubarak, the Zabaleen have continued to face adversity and discrimination. Since the Egyptian Revolution, progress on the Gates grant and the recycling project in Egypt has been suspended due to continued religious and socioeconomic discrimination against the Zabaleen community (Madeleine Stix, Oct. 17, via e-mail). According to Stix, when Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood Party was elected President of Egypt earlier this year, he promised to resolve Egypt’s waste management issues through the “Clean Homeland Campaign”, that models a new waste management system based on Turkey’s current system. The question still remains whether the marginalized Zabaleen will be introduced into the formal waste management system and permitted to work at the source of waste collection sites, or whether the reforms will abandon the Zabaleen community and only involve multinational waste management companies. Although the Zabaleen and the Spirit of Youth Association would like to continue their work on their Gates initiative and would like to work alongside the multinational organizations to build an effective organic and non-organic recycling process, few know what to expect for Egypt as a whole, let alone the Zabaleen community, under the new Morsi regime (Madeleine Stix, Oct. 17, via e-mail).

“Choosing One’s Commitments to Causes”: A Review of the February 2012 Ethical Inquiry

October 9th, 2012

During the past two weeks, I have attempted to examine, promote, and engage the ethical factors underpinning one’s chosen commitments to causes (as outlined by Leah Igdalsky ’14 in the Ethics Center’s February 2012 Ethical Inquiry). Igdalsky’s Ethical Inquiry attempts to elucidate several rich and complex issues regarding one’s selected path of social justice by juxtaposing and analyzing methods of committing to a cause. The issues discussed include the relative impact of local versus global action, the comparative effects of advocating for one’s own identified group versus demonstrating global justice advocacy, and the relative effectiveness of contributing money versus time to a social justice organization.

As I read the issues presented, several firsthand and secondhand experiences of social justice action came to mind. For instance, the discussion of local versus global justice reminded me of a heated discussion at the Friday night panel in the Millennium Campus Conference in Northeastern (Sept. 16-17, 2012) between Daniel Cordon, Director of Transitional Employment for the nonprofit Haley House Bakery Café in Boston and Maya Cohen, Executive Director of the student-led global health organization GlobeMed. Cordon highlighted the hypocrisy of students seeking to affect global change when they neglected to first face challenges of poverty and inequality in their own backyard. Cohen, in contrast, underscored the fact that dollars go further in developing countries where the need is greater and that solving community issues abroad can help find solutions for local problems at home and vice versa.

It became readily apparent, however, that criticizing one method in favor of another was an unproductive and unhealthy conversation as both are worthy paths that deserve equal fervor and attention. When I asked Brandeis professor and RESULTS Boston Global Leader Cynthia Tschampl about this dilemma, she gave me this piece of advice (quoting American theologian Frederick Buechner): “vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need”. One may discover their vocation through a series of “a-ha moments” that expose them to issues (local or global) that inspire them to act. Brandeis Heller School Professor Sarita Bhalotra encountered her “pivotal experience” when she went to medical college in India and was for the first time exposed to the dire conditions in which the majority of India actually lived. These experiences shaped her vocation to study medicine and health policy and teach students about global health care delivery as it relates to social inequities.

In her discussion of in-group help vs. supporting foreign groups, Igdalsky also brings up several valid points. For instance, when she states how helping one’s own group is often beneficial because the individual already is aware of the group’s dynamics and needs, I was reminded of a fellow intern during my global health service trip to Venezuela last year. Because she was Venezuelan herself, she was able to infer local customs and language better than us, giving our otherwise foreign group greater legitimacy in the eyes of the local community. On the other hand, striking a balance between supporting one’s own native or local community and pursuing global justice is a responsibility of the informed global citizen. Professor Tschampl advised me to keep in mind that one’s commitment to local and global actions changes as one’s obligations evolve through life’s various stages. She describes how as long as she was single, she could contribute more than 10 hours a week to groups working against local and global poverty, but as she begins to start a family, she will have to alter her time commitment to these causes and contribute in other ways.

In the section “How to Help? Money vs. Time”, Professor Tschampl agrees somewhat with Igdalsky’s assertion that foreign aid to developing countries can create opportunities for misuse. However, she disagrees with the contention (which cites a 2006 report by the National Academy of Public Administration called Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed) that the Haitian government should be blamed for its mishandling of the “billions” of dollars in foreign aid prior to the earthquake in 2010. The source cited in the inquiry claims that the presidential election in 2000 won by Jean-Bertrand Aristide had a participation rate of only 5% by registered Haitian voters. However, according to several sources (such as Melinda Miles and Eugene Charles’ book Let Haiti Live and the International Coalition of Independent Observers of the 2000 Haitian election), the participation rate was closer to 60% and the election of Aristide was deemed free and fair.

As a result of skewed U.S. opinion that the election was a fraud, the Bush administration led a crippling embargo on the Haitian government in 2000 that impeded improvements in education, roads, health care and water supplies (according to Tracy Kidder’s 2004 New York Times article “Why Aristide Should Stay”). Concurrent U.S. policies led by Rep. Hyde and Sen. Helms assured that no aid was provided to the government of Haiti, helping to ensure the ineffectiveness of both “aid” and government  (C. Tschampl, via e-mail, Oct. 7, 2012). After reviewing several sources, it becomes clear that the mishandling of aid was the result of U.S. interference at multiple levels rather than the Haitian government’s misuse of the aid.

Another revision was suggested by RESULTS Educational Fund Advocacy Associate Allyson Goldsmith (Brandeis alum ’10), who proposed that the “How to Help” section should also include advocacy and policy change. This issue is implied in the “More Questions” section, but could be elaborated on further as it is often just as important as direct service or money contributions in changing global and local policies and is an important aspect of the Ethics Center’s work. For instance, the Ethics Center launched Advocacy for Policy Change in 2009 along with the Legal Studies Department at Brandeis, giving undergraduate students the tools to advocate for legislative reform. Students such as Ethan Davis ’11 and Mark Garibyan ’11 were given the opportunity to become educated on local issues such as human trafficking in Massachusetts by speaking with advocacy leaders and calling their Congresspeople about passing important bills (page 16 of the Sept. 2011 Student Report) .

Their advocacy efforts undoubtedly made an impact as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick finally signed anti-human trafficking legislation into law in Nov. 2011 (H. 3808, “An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People“). Likewise, global advocacy for legislative policies related to human trafficking is just as important. For instance, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which authorized the State Department to establish global standards for confronting trafficking and slavery, has currently expired and has yet to be renewed by Congress (S. 1301, “Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011). This issue deserves equal if not greater attention as many agree that human trafficking is modern day slavery (see Pres. Obama’s speech on 9/25/2012 at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting). All in all, the inquiry brought up many interesting ideas and dilemmas, but could be revised to address the above suggestions.

“American Exceptionalism” or Two Speed Justice

January 20th, 2012

Over the last couple of weeks, outrage has erupted over a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act ( This provision will enable the President to allow for the indefinite detention and torture of Americans suspected of terrorist activity.

It violates the fundamental right of Habeas corpus and will preclude American citizens from having a fair trial. Evidently, this bill encroaches upon the values that we hold as inalienable rights and that make up the grandeur of our country.

Unfortunately, these practices sound far too familiar. Our government already resorts to such procedures. The National Defense Authorization Act will, in fact, extend the undemocratic measures practiced between the walls of Guantanamo Bay to American citizens.

There is a clear double standard in our conception of justice. Whereas we consider it unfortunate that alleged criminals born beyond our borders are not given the benefit of the doubt, a defense, or the basic respect for human dignity- it is inconceivable for our own citizens to be subjected to such a horrific treatment. So why are we more comfortable with the assault of non-US citizens? Is this sentiment motivated by what is commonly dismissed as self-interest? Or does it stem from a belief in American exceptionalism? The indignation of Americans, on all sides of the political spectrum, faced with the idea of being potentially directly implicated in this existing ritual, is revealing of the American belief that American citizenship is a de facto qualification for the reception of fundamental rights. Americans seem to feel entitled to democracy.

We argue that we have been passed down a quasi-sacred set of rules by our founding fathers, and, by association, are guaranteed a certain amount of rights.

But what makes America, and what makes its laws so “exceptional”? Constitutional rights seem to have little strength, and even further, little legitimacy, if we do not consider them to be universally applicable. A human right can’t be exclusive to a specific people. The Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal” loses all meaning if it solely serves to justify the equality of citizens amongst one nation. In this sense, our democracy can’t be viewed as legitimate unless we adopt an outward-looking conception of justice. Our sense of entitlement is crippling democracy, and our belief in American exceptionalism is undermining our foundations entirely.

Our sense of entitlement further stresses the importance of rights at the detriment of that of our duties. We expect much from government and do very little to make it representative. Voter turnout in the United States is embarrassingly low. For example, in 2008, the United States was proud to point to a pale voter turnout of 63%, viewing the engagement of a small majority of its population as an accomplishment.

Our sense of entitlement blinds us from our obligation to the rest of the world. It is also robbing us of our participatory role of citizens, leading to the dismemberment of the democracy we claim so dearly. To live in a truly democratic country, and to help build a world that we can proudly refer to as “just”, we must remember that we are not entitled to democracy. Democracy embodies universal principles that must be applied to all. Democracy is hard work, but as Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Sasha Beder-Schenker

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