Fordham Humanitarian Group Participates In New York University-Hosted Constortium


Published: April 1, 2010

On March 3, Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) took part in an academic consortium hosted by New York University (NYU) that discussed the ethics in current humanitarian efforts and issues. The audience raised many questions about the various aspects of ethics in humanitarian aid and led to in-depth discussions. Fordham University had members in one of four panels, which included participants from Columbia University, NYU and City University.

The administrative director of IIHA, Brendan Cahill, and Melissa Labonte, assistant professor of political science, organized Fordham’s panel and participated as members. Other members of the panel included Maude Froberg from the International Federation of the Red Cross Society (IFRC), Fr. Patrick Ryan from Fordham’s Center for International Policy Studies, and Jenna Felz, the program officer at IIHA.

The consortium was called “Contradictions and Convergences in State-Building, Peace-Building, and Humanitarian Action” and focused on theoretical and practical methods of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and Iraq. State-building emphasized reconstruction while peace-building referred to various post-war conflict environments.

Felz described the positive turn out for the conference. “Throughout the course of the day, we had anywhere from 300 to 400 people and that included all students, faculty and staff from all four of the participating universities as well as a number of members of the public who had an interest in international humanitarian aid.”

Felz explained how this consortium is a great medium for other universities involved in humanitarian work to come together and collaborate. “The fact that we work with these other universities helps us to expand the reach of the work that we do here at the Institute as well as connect our students to opportunities at other universities,” she said.

In addition to planning these consortiums, the IIHA is also launching a consortium Web site that will guide the flow of humanitarian networking. “It will be a forum for all of the schools to advertise their events and publications in order to share successful ideas for educating students on humanitarian topics,” said Felz. “It will not only help to promote us but also help us collaborate wherever possible.”

A growing part of the IIHA is an organization called Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network (JUHAN), which primarily focuses on educating undergraduates about different aspects of humanitarianism. A three-university initiative between Fordham, Fairfield, and Georgetown Universities, JUHAN started as a resource to connect students, faculty, and staff at the three campuses with the larger hopes of spreading its influence to all 28 Jesuit Universities in the United States.

This spring, JUHAN is sponsoring an online simulation program that will divide participating students up into several groups with each group assigned to different roles in humanitarian scenarios.

“There are three different roles including a media liaison, an expert on the ground, and a CEO who would be the leader of the group. The students have to do preparatory readings about Darfur and the ongoing humanitarian crisis there,” Felz explains. “They will all have to make decisions about how to move forward based on the scenarios that are presented to them. It really shows the difficult decisions that have to be made at any given moment because of how quickly things change in the field and the need for people to have to constantly adapt to these changing conditions.”

While humanitarianism depends greatly on academic background, it also places importance on the practical aspect of aid work.

“In humanitarian assistance, you can learn about the historical or political context of humanitarianism but really you learn by experiencing practical training,” Cahill said.

JUHAN gives students this training by offering hands-on experience to all the participants involved. In addition, the basic foundations of humanitarian aid are very important as well. According to Cahill, the vital principles of humanitarianism are neutrality, impartiality and independence. The idea of neutrality is essential when conducting humanitarian work.

“[The IIHA] is an academic resource, not an operational non-governmental organization (NGO). We are not in the business to bring medical supplies. We are here to create that neutral space for people to learn and that’s really our mission and our purpose.”