Indiana University Northwest enjoyed an active political season last fall, with various campus organizations hosting debate parties and political forums, and with faculty members offering the local media their knowledgeable opinions on assorted aspects of the historic U.S. presidential campaign and other contests.
But political action at IU Northwest has not ceased just because the election is over. The School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), which houses the university’s political science department, announced recently that IU Northwest’s Alpha Gamma Phi chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, the national honor society for political science undergraduates, has received funding in the amount of $1,876 from the national organization for two events in Spring 2009. These include an essay contest, which received funding in the amount of $225, and a Human Rights Awareness Week, which will be held the week of March 23. Funding for the latter event is $1,651 and will be used to bring several speakers to campus for that weeklong public-awareness event.
“We’re feeling very good about it,” said Alpha Gamma Phi president Christopher Mercado, a senior history and political science major at IU Northwest. Mercado wrote the grant proposal, the chapter’s first. “The funding is taken care of, and so we’re looking forward to putting on some really good events.”
The IU Northwest chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha was formed in 2006 and was initiated by Assistant Professor of Political Science Marie Eisenstein, Ph.D. According to the award letter sent by national chapter representatives, the grant was very competitive and not every chapter that filed a proposal was funded. Alpha Gamma Phi was fortunate to have two events receive funding. The essay contest, “Breaking the Chains of Oppression: Ethics and Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy,” is open to all IU Northwest students, and the $225 will be divvied up among the top three entrants as determined by a five-person panel of faculty and students.
Human Rights Awareness Week, meanwhile, will bring to campus three guest speakers with experience in human-rights advocacy. On Monday, March 23, Melanie Partow, an attorney and lecturer formerly of the International Criminal Court, will deliver the presentation “While the World Watches: The International Criminal Court and the Advancement of International Law.” On Tuesday, March 24, Matt Morrison, of Thar Saile, the Irish American Unity Conference, will give the presentation “Too Long a Sacrifice: Human Rights Abuses in Northern Ireland and How Justice Can be Achieved.” Finally, on Wednesday, March 24, Gretchen Pierce, Ph.D., of the Chicago-Guatemala Partnership, will give a talk titled “In our Own Backyard: Terror and Violence in Latin America.”
Mercado expressed enthusiasm for the entire lineup of speakers and said that each would bring different experiences and viewpoints to what he hopes will become a community-wide discussion about human rights and the importance of international law.
“Right now, this is the heyday for international law,” he explained. “The International Criminal Court is now convicting people who are guilty of human rights abuses. There are people from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda who have been tried under international law. If we can get people to understand more about international law and why it’s important, then maybe we can get more people to support it and follow it.”
Human Rights Awareness Week at IU Northwest will also include a variety of other events, including movies and documentaries, and daily workshops in support of a local letter-writing campaign on behalf of human-rights issues.
“I’ve been in contact with Amnesty International, and they told me that letter-writing campaigns and petitions have actually led to people being released from prison,” Mercado said. “We’re going to have letter-writing workshops where people can learn how to write these letters and mail them off.”
For her part, Eisenstein said that she is pleased to see the honor society taking an active role in promoting political issues on campus. The Alpha Gamma Phi chapter has 26 members, including 13 who were inducted during the fall semester. More than half of the university’s political-science majors are members, but the organization is open to any student who has at least 12 political-science credits.
Eisenstein credited Mercado, who also edits a regular newsletter for the chapter, with generating enthusiasm for the honor society and its initiatives.
“To me, a faculty advisor should be just that: an advisor,” she said. “It has to be up to the students to take that leadership role in the organization. Christopher has really spearheaded the effort to get other students involved in the honor society and in putting together an agenda of things for the honor society to do.
“This was our first grant that we applied for,” noted Eisenstein, who was also the president of a Pi Sigma Alpha chapter as an undergrad. “It feels so good when you’re successful.”