As media coverage of the tragedy in Haiti fades, the University of California system is working to further its role of providing humanitarian operations in the earthquake-stricken nation. In light of the country’s continuing privation, the UCSF Mission Bay campus hosted more than 230 UC students, staff, and faculty this past Saturday for the UC Haiti Summit.
With the intent of developing coordinated relief efforts among the UC campuses, the event opened with a series of keynote speeches, providing insight into the island country’s current situation. Talks included UCSB professor Dr. Claudine Michel’s address on Haitian history and the roots of inequity, a discussion by UC Berkeley’s Dr. Laura Stachel on practical solutions for providing clinical services, and Columbia professor Dr. Richard Deckelbaum’s speech outlining the importance of collaboration among different sectors. Ambassador Leslie Voltaire, head of the UN Haitian delegation, culminated the talks by delivering an assessment of Haiti’s current needs. This was followed by breakout sessions on education, food production, health care, economic development, and infrastructure, which reconvened to present viable solutions to further engage the UC in rebuilding Haiti.
What many find particularly significant is the fact the event was coordinated entirely by students, with nine out of 10 UC campuses represented at the conference. “Remarkable student organizers from across the UC system, such as UC Berkeley’s Tu Tran, have realized that the most effective way that we can promote the cause of legitimate, long-term support for Haiti is through an intelligent, coordinated effort,” said Nicolas Pascal, event organizer and director of UCSB’s Human Rights Coalition.
Of course, this wasn’t the first UC event organized with the objective of aiding Haiti. Since January’s disaster, campuses across the system have held multiple benefits and fundraisers. Notably, at UCSB, a series of student-organized events managed to raise more than $50,000 within weeks, with the money donated by students matched by Associated Students. “An important message I have been hearing since then is that we collectively need to keep this positive momentum going,” Pascal noted. “Individually and as a whole, the UC system houses world-class resources and talent, and therefore the responsibility to mobilize them toward helping one another.”
Luckily, it seems that this momentum will not go to waste. As a result of the system’s continued efforts, and particularly last weekend’s conference, there will be a proposal made to the Office of the President to instate a coordinated administrative nerve center for implementing initiatives discussed at the event, likely to be based at UCSB under the direction of Dr. Claudine Michel, who is currently the director of the university’s Center for Black Studies Research. “The center would be a logical place for this considering its successful track record of projects on Haiti,” said the center’s acting director, Dr. Clyde Woods. “We publish the only academic journal on Haiti in the United States, and we have established a multi-faceted relief committee comprised of faculty, staff, and students to engage both the immediate situation and long-term reconstruction needs.”
Michel, who noted that the proposal is still in its early stages of conception, nevertheless expressed her enthusiasm for the prospect of building upon UCSB’s existing leadership in the area. “The Center for Black Studies has already does a significant amount of research on Haiti,” Michel said. “The element that we need to add would be this applied component for UC students from the humanities and the sciences from throughout the system to be able to get in and actually implement their knowledge on the global level.”
Michel also asserted a great amount of confidence in the students’ involvement in the center. “When students decide that an issue is important, it’s not going to go away,” she said. “The university needs to realize that students understand that there’s something called world humanism which is a most noble cause, a call to a higher order, and a moral imperative. They want their school to show leadership in terms of providing global platforms for the knowledge that’s being generated.”
The UC system would be a notable organization in this capacity considering its size and influence. It can also provide a different perspective and approach than most organizations currently engaging in humanitarian operations in Haiti. Thomas Tighe, president and CEO of Santa Barbara-based aid organization Direct Relief International, was optimistic about the idea of a UC-led aid proposal. “Because each UC has a distinct emphasis, this wide range of talents is great to plug into Haiti in an academic and social service circle,” Tighe said. “If UC channels these resources effectively into a system-wide structure it could be one of the most powerful relief clusters in the world.”
Haitian Ambassador Leslie Voltaire agreed that the University of California provides a perspective lacking in many of the institutions Haiti currently receives aid from. “We’ve been getting help from bureaucratic governments, but they have a lot of invested interests which students don’t,” he said.
These changes in UC policy and structure could prove crucial to ensuring that we don’t lose interest in continuing aid efforts. “Within the UC system you already have tools and infrastructure for this sort of action,” Eziaku Nwokocha, a fourth year Black and Feminist Studies major at UCSB said. “We can provide the knowledge of what’s already going on and a feeling that the hype is not over, that we need to keep involved.”
For more information regarding upcoming events involving the region, please visit UCSB’s Center for Black Studies Research Web site at research.ucsb.edu/cbs/projects/haiti.