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Amnesty International Hosts First Conference

By Sarah Wallace

 

Emily Walsh ’14 welcomes Amnesty members from across the state. Photo by Mallika Mitra.

Brandon Siedlaczek ’16 and Stesha Marcon ’14 present their thoughts after the first workshop. Photo by Emily Walsh.

 

Rachel Selina ’17 and Emily Kowey ‘17 are pictured collaborating with other members of Amnesty. Photo by Emily Walsh.

People from Amnesty International chapters of all ages, from seniors in college to senior citizens, gathered in the Hicks Banquet Hall for Kalamazoo College’s first Amnesty Conference.

What unified these people was their common goal of the Amnesty International Chapters: to generate action to prevent and end abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.

Approximately 25 people were in attendance at the Conference, with K being the only collegiate presence. The other attendees came from chapters representing the cities of Southern Michigan. Eight members of  Amnesty International were also at the Conference.

With the help of K alumni to lead Amnesty’s two workshops, the Conference was a definite success.

Meredith Loomis-Quinlan is a recent K alumnus who currently works for Michigan United as an Economic Justice Organizer and was recruited to conduct a workshop. The topic of her workshop was “Story of Self.”

One of the members of Amnesty in attendance, Rachel Selina ’17, found this workshop particularly valuable. She recognized how a personal narrative can be used to spur along a movement to motivate people, even if it’s all you can offer.

“We all have a personal narrative to share, and these are stories that mean more than if you were to just present statistics,” said Selina.

“It’s true that sometimes when you’re talking to someone about something horrific, empathy isn’t all that healing, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can offer.”

Karla Aguilar, another recent Kalamazoo College alumna who now works for the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL), hosted the second workshop.

Both the workshops and the conference as a whole opened up the opportunity to strengthen connections with many other groups, like Michigan United, the ACSJL, and in particular, the city of Kalamazoo’s Chapter of Amnesty.

The city of Kalamazoo’s chapter is the oldest in Michigan. Emily Walsh ’14, one of the co-leaders of Amnesty, is excited to follow through on the connections that were made after the conference.

“To my knowledge, we’ve never made any real connection to the Kalamazoo city group but now we’re hoping to, and it’s a step I’m really excited to take, because they’ve definitely got a lot of history and wisdom to share,” said Walsh.

One of the ideas at the conference that would involve both the local and school groups includes a write-a-thon during the spring: writing letters in an attempt to promote human rights, as well as lobbying in Lansing for Lobby Week.

An advantage of being part of Amnesty International as a collegiate chapter allows K’s group access to numerous resources on the campus community. From this recognition came a sense of unity and commonality with other groups and clubs.

“Our goal for hosting this conference was to establish a sense of unity, because it’s easy to feel isolated in our efforts,” said Walsh.

“At the Conference, we realized that organizations on-and off-campus really should be working together, like the Arcus Center and the Kalamazoo chapter, because our goals are so similar and so interconnected.”

Seeing Red

Russia’s LGBT Laws Cause International Uproar

By Brandon Siedlaczek

Brandon Siedlaczek

Over the course of the past few months, Russia has taken center stage in news outlets worldwide, in response to the passing of anti-gay laws less than a year before the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The bill, signed by President Putin, prohibits propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors. Since the signing of the bill into law, violence against LGBT individuals and groups in Russia has amplified, and the 2014 Winter Olympic games have become surrounded by controversy.

Since the passing of the bill into law last June, there has been an upsurge of homophobia in Russia. Bans have been placed on gay rights parades, protests, and demonstrations, and certain entities within Russia could be fined if it is deemed that they are promoting LGBT propaganda.

Foreigners within Russia who are classified to promote the so-called “nontraditional sexual relations” could have to face imprisonment and deportation from Russia. These laws have become extremely problematic and have restricted the rights of LGBT individuals in Russia.

Violent attacks against LGBT individuals and organizations have increased since the passing of the anti-gay law. In November 2013, a gay club in Moscow was attacked with harmful gas that was sprayed inside the club while constituents were inside. Fortunately, the gas could be filtered out of the club.

This attack was only one of a series of attacks where the club and its patrons had been targets. From the conflict that has arisen from the passing of the anti-gay laws, some influential figures have decided to seize the opportunity to promote the rights of LGBT individuals.

Emma Green-Tregaro, for example, a Swedish high jumper, created controversy in the fall of last year when she painted her nails rainbow in connection to the rainbow flag and to supporting the rights of LGBT individuals. She had been asked to remove the polish since making any sort of commercial or political statement during competition went directly against the code of conduct for athletes, even during qualifying rounds of competition.

Green-Tregaro’s action provoked controversy and discussion around the implications of the anti-gay laws for Olympic athletes competing in Russia.

It’s important  that we be aware of these issues so we can think more critically about how certain issues that occur globally can be addressed locally. So in connection to and in support of Emma Green-Tregaro, K’s Amnesty International group held a tabling event last week that allowed students to discuss the human rights issues occurring in Russia while painting their nails rainbow in support of LGBT rights.

These events are important for spreading awareness on human rights issues and developing a critical lens to view the policies that shape their society. The event, furthermore, sought to increase support for LGBT individuals everywhere. Amnesty International meets every Wednesday at 9:00 pm in Bissell Theater and is open to all K students and community members.

Amnesty Builds Local and Statewide Relations at U of M Conference

By Sarah Wallace, Arts and Entertainment Editor

K College''s Chapter of Amnesty International at the state conference

Members of Amnesty International are taught about public narrative

Emily Walsh ''14 and Rachel Selina ''17 listen to a lecture

This past Saturday, Kalamazoo College’s Amnesty International organization brought eight students to the University of Michigan’s campus for their first statewide meeting.

K’s Amnesty group is part of an international effort to raise people’s awareness of human rights violations and includes collaboration with cities around the world.

At K, the group promotes these rights by writing petitions and letters to representatives, working to protect women and LGBT rights, defending freedom of expression, and abolishing the death penalty, among other things.

“When it comes to human rights violations, people are very aware of the ones going on nationally, rather than ones close to home. Like in Grand Rapids where there are a lot of human trafficking issues that a lot of people aren’t aware of,” said Mallika Mitra ’16, one of the four co-Presidents of the group.

From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., the group discussed ways to bring new members to the group and magnify their effectiveness. K students not only discussed with other college’s group members, but with city members who have established their own Amnesty presence. Grand Rapids, for example, had members from their Amnesty organization in attendance.

For part of the meeting, the hosts conducted an activity aimed to develop everyone’s personal narratives. Personal narrative training involved framing one’s objectives in a way that connected to the human rights act that the student is pushing for, and then making that coalesce in an emotionally and logically effective act.

“The personal narrative is a really integral part of the training for both political campaigning and just trying to communicate effectively to whoever you are trying to influence,” explained co-President of Amnesty Emily Walsh ’14

Out of the eight people in attendance, four of them were first-year students. Both seniors in attendance at the conference, Walsh and Rachel Serina, were pleasantly surprised at their involvement in the group.

“There were mostly first years, which was great,” said Walsh. “One of the problems with student organizations at K is the turnover rate because we’ve got juniors on study abroad and it’s hard to get a cohesive group going.”

Serina also noticed their engaged role in the group.

“For the first years to come to this conference to want to come the entire day to learn about new ideas for the groups in terms of events and all… I can tell they are really committed,” said Serina.

The statewide meeting left the students with tons of new ideas for the group, as well as a definite direction for their future progression.

“I think that [the conference] invigorated us, definitely, and left us with a new sense of purpose for the year,” Walsh said.

Sometimes Amnesty’s battle for human rights seems like an indefinite one. Yet, with all of the voices present at the conference, there was undoubtedly strength in the cause by which they were united.

“People don’t know what the success really looks like in our push for human rights, but just getting people together with the same idea, that is success,” said Katie Skinner ’17.