Carter Visit Encourages JMU Students to Be Global Citizens
From: Public Affairs
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter's record of humanitarian efforts over the past 30 years is nearly unmatched and has garnered the highest accolades from the international community.
James Madison University offered its own symbols of respect for the former president and first lady by presenting its Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award to the pair for their work improving the human condition throughout the world.
"The former president and first lady remind us that the kinds of challenges they have faced are ones that come to us as well," said Dr. Sushil Mittal, director of JMU's Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence. "We honor them, but really, they honor us by being here."
The ceremony was held in commemoration of International Day of Peace, a global holiday established by the United Nations in 1982 for individuals, communities, nations and governments to highlight efforts to end conflict and promote peace.
The Carters are the second recipient of the Gandhi award, which is given every two years to globally recognized individuals who support peace and nonviolence while exhibiting Gandhi's core beliefs in nonviolence, loving enemies, seeking justice and sharing their possessions with those in need.
Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu received the first award in 2007.
The Carters' devotion to public service and international peace serves as a model for the ideals JMU envisions in its mission, said Dr. Douglas T. Brown, JMU provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
"The meaningful work the Carters have done on humanitarian issues spanning the globe exemplify the thoughtful and interdisciplinary approach we emphasize in all of our programs," Brown said. "It's a tremendous learning opportunity and inspiration for our students."
Carter's remarks at the ceremony addressed his thoughts and ongoing efforts in the Middle East peace process, an area he continues to study and serve through the nonprofit Carter Center and as a member of the Elders, a peacemaking group of former world leaders.
"I am familiar with the harsh rhetoric and acts of violence in the Middle East, perpetrated by both sides against innocent civilians. I have reiterated my strong condemnation of such acts against innocent people, at any time or for any goal," Carter said. "We can have peace in the Holy Land."
The ceremony resonated with several members of the JMU community, which has over the past several years expanded the borders of its curriculum and learning opportunities to include a large focus on international service and the Middle East.
"It's really interesting to see a different perspective," said Andrea Ruiz, a JMU senior who spent six months studying Arabic at Misr International University in Cairo, Egypt, last year. "I went there as a student and lived with a family so my experience is completely different from what he's experienced on the diplomatic level."
As part of a U.S. State Department program, JMU's Office of International Programs has established tuition-waiver exchange relationships with four Middle Eastern universities: Misr International University, The American University in Cairo, American University of Sharjah and Al Akhawayn University of Ifrane, which allow for JMU student and faculty exchanges between JMU and the schools.
"President Carter's visit on campus is not just an exciting event for visiting students like me, but it's also a learning experience, seeing and hearing the person live, rather than reading about him in our university textbook," said Basim Ahmed, a student at the American University of Sharjah who is studying at JMU as an exchange student this semester. "I think the students here will benefit a lot from hearing what a Nobel Peace Prize recipient has to say. I hope it makes students interested in learning about the Middle East culturally, and not just a strategic location for wars and oil."
Carter assumed the presidency in 1977, the same year JMU underwent its final name change and formally shifted its focus to becoming a leading globally inclusive and interdisciplinary university.
President Carter's time in the White House is marked by several international peace efforts, including the signing of the Camp David Accords, groundbreaking agreements that provided a framework for possible peace in the Middle East, as well as the SALT II nuclear arms reduction treaty.
"There is extensive discourse in academic and policy circles on how we can achieve peace between Israel and Palestine, but as a former U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Jimmy Carter's words have significant weight," said Dr. Bernd Kaussler, an assistant professor of political science at JMU who teaches courses on Middle Eastern politics and security.
Kaussler, an associate fellow at the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, noted that events such as this provide members of the JMU community a unique forum for frank and open discussion of topics that some may otherwise shy away from.
"Carter is very eloquent and, as such, a talk given by him should be entertainment in itself for JMU students," Kaussler said. "Any former president, but particularly Carter, is free of re-election concerns, political pressure or diplomatic protocol and as such can speak freely. In the case of Jimmy Carter, he certainly speaks his mind."
After leaving the presidency, the Carters established the Carter Center, which supports the causes of human rights, democracy, economic development and public health both at home and abroad. Both Carters have served as international envoys for global issues, written books and shared their message of human rights for all people.
The couple received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1999. Former President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
In recent years, JMU also has extended partnerships with several international organizations to support global perspectives and enlightened efforts toward global citizenship.
JMU's Mine Action Information Center, established in 1996, recently partnered with Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining leader and Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom Prince Mired Raad Zeid al-Hussein to provide information sharing resources to aid the cause of ridding Middle Eastern countries of land mines.
In May 2008, more than 50 JMU students and alumni worked alongside Habitat for Humanity builders from the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, which focused on rebuilding the Gulf Coast community after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Opportunities for global service and study as well as the chance to learn first hand from figures such as the Carters help connect students to other parts of the world they may not get from their studies alone, Ruiz said.
"To a lot of people in the U.S. who have never been there, the Middle East is like a whole different world, so having someone like him who has been there and has this unique perspective as a leader, I think it's important," Ruiz said. "JMU students will get to understand that there's a whole different facet of the Middle East from what they've probably heard about."