Opening Night: Summit 2013

The night began with a great dinner, and ended with an even more elaborate feast of discussion.

After gobbling some cheesy lasagna, it was time for the meaty part of the night. First up was the opening keynote speaker, Northwestern University President, Morton Schapiro. Next, we watched How to Survive a Plague, a documentary on AIDS activism in the US in the 80’s and 90’s. Finally, there was a panel discussion with Amirah Sequeira, the National Coordinator of the Student Global AIDS Campaign and Peter Staley, a founding member of the Treatment Action Group and leading subject of the preceeding documentary.

President Schapiro’s speech struck me as a particularly effective way to launch this year’s Summit. He spoke frankly about our generation’s power to enact change, and his generation’s failures in addressing fundamental global issues. Today’s American youth has been described as a generation of cynicism; we were children when planes struck the Twin Towers, barely boasting double-digit ages while the US began two wars in the Middle East, and teens when the worst economic recession since the 1930’s hit. Schapiro argued that our experience with these negative global and domestic issues transform us to act, but that we cannot act alone. The 300 of us Globemedders sitting there needed something to bring back to our chapters, to our schools, to our communities. We need data.

If we can tell people about global health issues in a way that incorporates the facts, the staggering numbers associated with epidemics and poverty the world over, that we would force people out of complacency. The numbers don’t lie, and I think as a chapter, Tufts has a lot to offer. We have data, we can get those numbers, and we can convince our chapter members and our fellow Tufts students to care, to feel connected, to get upset and take action.

Schapiro also spoke about what makes an effective leader in the world of development:

  1. Have empathy. Experience someone else’s perspective. Open yourself up to listening to the people you are trying to help.
  2. Have humility. Schapiro said one of his biggest regrets as a young economist years ago was have the hubris to tell government officials in African countries how to run things. It ended up hurting more than helping. We are not smarter, we are not better than those we are trying to help. “But for the grace of God,” as Schapiro put it, we are not in their place.
  3. Hold yourself accountable. This is where the data comes in. Have facts, have ways to monitor what you do, and if what you’re doing isn’t working, change. Prove that you are being a positive and effective agent.

Schapiro ended with a joke about the incompetency of his generation, and how his faith in youth relied on the fact that he knew we couldn’t mess up as badly. We all laughed, and in that room of 300, we all somehow felt the electricity of our potential. We will do more than ‘not mess up as badly’ as our predecessors.

Rachel Weinstock ’15