Lessons learned: Georgetown’s Amnesty International chapter returns with structural change
Georgetown has lacked a permanent Amnesty International group since its main leadership graduated a few years ago. This semester, a group of eight proactive students decided to start the organization up again. Although they are not an officially recognized university group yet, they have been holding events and planning throughout this semester and into the fall.
Previous Amnesty groups petered out due to structural problems. “I think Amnesty failed in the past because it had a hierarchical structure. The leader really drove the group so when he graduated, the momentum died out and the group vanished for a couple years. The current board is organized so that we all drive the club collectively, tackling different parts of events, communications. I think that by creating a flat board and attracting members who are really passionate we can keep the club from disappearing after we all graduate,” Sophie Snowden (COL ’14), a board member, said in an email.
Amnesty speakers came to Georgetown last fall to host the “I am Troy Davis” event. Several students resolved to restart the Georgetown Amnesty chapter after this event, and had their initial meetings funded and hosted by the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Justice. “It’s really surprising that [Amnesty] hasn’t really been well established here,” Kayla Corcoran (COL ’15), a member of the board, said. “There are lots of specific groups targeted towards specific causes, but Amnesty is really great because it’s an umbrella organization for human rights, it can really be an outlet for everyone who’s interested in human rights.”
This semester the group held a movie screening of The Kite Runner and hosted speaker Sanjeev Bery, the director of North African and Middle East Advocacy for Amnesty.
Speaker events and movie screenings, however, will not remain the priority agenda for the group. They also hope to get involved in more direct actions. “Since this semester we didn’t have access to funds, film screenings were an easy way to grab people’s attention and raise awareness of the group without spending money. But next semester we’re planning more direct actions, which could include panels on controversial issues to which we’ll invite embassadors or representatives from the country’s government that we’ll be debating. We also plan to take actions off campus as well through rally events and by working with other colleges to make greater change,” Snowden said.
Last semester during finals, the group held a letter writing campaign that involved students signing letters to assorted political leaders in the United States asking them to stand up against the Guantanamo Bay prison. The group hopes to cater events to Georgetown’s study body.
“We don’t want to do things that are too far removed from student worries,” Laura Higbee (COL ’15), another board member, said. “That makes them harder to relate to, and people are less willing to spend time on them.”
Additional reporting and writing by Vanya Mehta
Photo: Amnesty International Design, 1995, Israel Branch