Atlas Week promotes international awareness

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More than 130 events will give the Saint Louis University community an opportunity to gain understanding of global social justice issues prevalent today. The 2012 Sam and Marilyn Fox Atlas Week, beginning on March 26, will host a diverse array of events, ranging from prominent speakers to a Billiken World Festival in the quad.

The Atlas Week events are primarily predicated upon a theme of “Empowering Humanity Through Social Justice.”  Michelle Lorenzini,  director of the Atlas Program and SLU assistant professor of Political Science, said that the theme links the local community with global issues.

“In recent years, we’ve tried to stress global-local connections,” Lorenzini said. “Not only how global events affect local events, but also how local events have a global impact.”

The events are proposed and planned by students, faculty and staff, and the week, according to Lorenzini, “fosters interdisciplinary collaboration across the University.”

This year, Atlas Week will serve as the culminating event of the Interfaith and Community Service Challenge. The nation-wide interfaith initiative is administered by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Corporation for National and Community Service, and it challenges colleges and universities across the country to commit to a year of interfaith programming and service.

Lorenzini said that this year’s theme was selected to complement the Interfaith Challenge. The week will begin with an interfaith prayer service on March 26. Of the events, 19  focus on interfaith topics, including seminars seeking to educate students on different religions such as “Judaism 101” and “Hinduism 101.”

On March 29, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and successful business executive Sheryl WuDunn will deliver the keynote address of Atlas Week. WuDunn co-authored a book with her husband titled “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”

“They believe that the best way to alleviate or eradicate poverty is to educate women and girls. Half the world’s population is being denied education, and half the population isn’t even participating in the political, economic or social system,” Lorenzini said. “Really, education is the best strategy for poverty alleviation.”

Nipun Gupta, Intern for the Atlas Program and 2012 Atlas co-chair of programming, said that WuDunn fit the criteria for Atlas Week’s message.

“We were looking for someone who has an international focus and who is well educated about the issue, and someone who has a scholarly component to them as well but has been actively involved with the issue they’re talking about,” Gupta said.

Another key event of the week is the Billiken World Festival takes place on March 30 in the quad. The Festival features international student groups displaying their culture and ethnic cuisine.

“It’s a great community events where people can come out and see the diversity culture at SLU and see the service projects that people are involved with on campus,” Gupta said.

Gupta said that Atlas Week is an effective tool for gaining understanding of global issues and offering students a mean to combat global issues.

“As a student, it’s easy to fall into your own little bubble of classes and social life and not be knowledgeable of what’s going on the other side of the world,” Gupta said. “We try to stress how students can get involved with some of these issues and contribute to change in the world instead of just hearing about them on the news and saying oh that’s unfortunate.”

Lorenzini said that in many ways, Atlas week is the largest diversity event on campus, and that the student-organized events play a large role in its successes.

“I have found and learned that most students learn best from other students, so sometimes student events are the best,” Lorenzini said. “Another good thing if you want to promote student activism, it’s much better if students can see what their fellow students are doing.”