NCC Students Learn about Hot-Button Issues at Visit to the UN and IRC

Climate change and refugees discussed

Myra Saturen,

Twenty students enrolled in global studies classes at Northampton Community College (NCC) enjoyed a remarkable opportunity to learn about international relations firsthand this past fall, when they visited the United Nations and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Hosted by the NCC Center for Global Education & Global Studies, and the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, the trip was arranged and led by Professor Piro Rexhepi, Program Coordinator for Global Studies Anita Forrester, Director of Global Education and International Services Nathan Carpenter, and Program Coordinator, Center for International Education Lori Boucher.

The trip was one hundred percent curriculum-based and tied to topics studied in the classroom, principally climate change and immigration. The group toured the UN and met with climate expert for the European Union Helge Zeitler. At the IRC, they had discussions with Milagros Cruz, community relations officer, and Jabou Sissoho, volunteer community coordinator.  Cruz and Sissoho spoke about the work of their organization supporting refugees, highlighting the Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment program, which helps newly resettled refugees prepare for their first academic semester in the United States.   

According to Rexhepi, the goal of the trip was for students to understand the interdependence and interconnectedness between climate change, justice and migration and the impact global change has and will have on the refugees of today and tomorrow. 

“The purpose is for students to get an in-depth account of how the delegation negotiates UN propositions and navigates complex international interests and to understand the processes international diplomats follow to seek consensus in and outside negotiating rooms,” says Carpenter.

 “The entire trip really had a huge impact on me,” says Ashley Barrasso, a biological science major, who is deeply interested in social justice.  In addition to her plans to partake in different forms of activism, such as volunteering and interning, she has now added the IRC to her agenda and plans to intern this summer at their New Jersey location for three weeks. “I felt inspired by the change the IRC have had on so many families’ lives. As the climate crisis creates an overwhelming number of refugees, we must be ready and willing to help these families who will be left with nothing.

“We cannot stay ignorant of the climate science.  As specific regions become inhabitable, whether it is from a loss of agriculture, extreme flooding or water shortages, it is evident that relocation of entire communities will be necessary and people will need to be safely integrated into a new society.  At the same time, it is our responsibility as a nation to reduce our impact so that the effects of climate change on entire countries diminishes, including our own,” she says.

Barrasso, however, found some information to be disheartening, when she learned that the daily military expenditure worldwide is equal to about two times that of annual spending on peace and security development.  “How can we do better?” she asks.

In addition to global activism, Barrasso plans to educate people in our country about environmental racism.  She plans to transfer into a local university and continue for a graduate degree in polymer chemistry, focused on using renewable polymer materials to counteract plastic pollution.

Plans are underway to expand on the UN/IRC trip. 

“We are planning to incorporate UN trips and visits to different international agencies and NGOs in our Global Studies program,” Forrester says, specifically in the field course and capstone course.  “By next year we are planning on adding a Latin American concentration to the mix. With New York City right here, it is like having a living laboratory for our students, where they can explore and learn about cultures, as well as visit different international organizations to learn from the experts. We are hoping that some of these activities will bring in even more students who want to become a part of our new truly global Global Studies program.” She adds that many students now want to volunteer for the IRC. 

Lori Boucher thanks Piro Rexhepi, Nathan Carpenter and Anita Forrester, who arranged meetings and prepared students for this unique opportunity.

Lear more about the NCC Global Studies Program and its many opportunities here.