By Sarah Wallace
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.”