Making a worldwide difference

Sam Houston students Shay Everitt and Brittany Wilbert and Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Tamara Waggener presented their work at the 2007 Annual Alliance of Universities for Democracy in Cluj-Napoca, Romania from Nov. 2 until 11.

“They presented a paper outlining United Nations war crime tribunal’s rulings in cases involving rape in Bosnia and Rwanda,” Waggener said. “They attended conference panels and social events were organized for students who participated in the conference.”

AUDEM, or the Alliance of Universities for Democracy, is an organization created in the early 1990s whose mission statement is to “promote the development of democratic values, civil society, civic engagement, and intercultural understanding through international exchange among institutions of higher education.” This particular conference attended by Everitt, Wilbert, and Waggener was one part of AUDEM.

“AUDEM was created to help universities in former communist countries transition to their new socially responsible and proactive roles in democratic societies,” Everitt said.

The trip was sponsored by the Department of Political Science, as well as the support of Provost David Payne, the Department of Computer science and Dr. Cooper, department chair as well as AUDEM chairperson and the Student Government Association of SHSU.

Attending the conference in Romania was a chance to spread a message and knowledge about war crime, as well as refine the paper in progress, hopefully to be published in the spring of 2008.

“The conference gives faculty and students the opportunity to interact with their Eastern European counterparts,” Waggener said. “The students and I received very helpful feedback on our paper.”

Rather than give a lecture, the girls decided to interact with the other participants in a round-table format, involving discussion, question and answers. This gave them the opportunity to get information and feedback to help them finish the paper, as well as quell a few nerves.

“That meant more feedback from the audience and more response from us,” Everitt said. “I was more anxious than nervous, but I realized that I knew a lot about my topic and was completely ready for it.”

Everitt’s and Gilbert’s topics centered around their research about war crime, specifically rape as a war crime.

“War crimes about women have been generally seen for hundreds of years as a lesser crime committed by military units. However, in the last decade, this thought has changed and finally crimes like this are slowly being confronted by the international community,” Wilbert said. “I hope that once I continue this research after the winter break I will be able to understand more why this has happened.” Through the development of the paper and all the research involved, both girls developed a strong standpoint on their topic in general.

“Looking at my research, I feel that the UN would not have defined rape as a war crime if there wasn’t an outcry from global media. Without the media, the mass rape of women would still be going unpunished and these disgusting men would not have been exposed,” Everitt said.

“I was glad to find out that these victims, silenced by societal pressure, were given a chance to speak out and change the course of history.”

The trip to Romania was not only conferences and presentations, but a chance to see a different country up close. After the conference, the girls with Dr. Waggener and fellow passenger Dr. John Newbold spent three days in Constantia.

“I have to say that the view was absolutely beautiful,” Wilbert said. “We saw everything from metropolitan cities to small villages on the edge of the road.”

As well as the scenic landscape, Everitt and Wilbert got a glimpse of an entirely different culture.

“It was so amazing to tour a country to which I would never voluntarily vacation. It really was a transitional country, in terms of its culture. We would be driving 80 kilometers per hour down this two-lane “highway” and would have to stop because a horse drawn cart carrying hay or a group of wild horses would be crossing the road,” Everitt said.

Overall, the AUDEM conference and trip to Romania was a door-opening opportunity for Everitt and Wilbert.

“This experience has opened my eyes to the differences and difficulties that the world is facing and I hope that I can use this knowledge to teach others at this school and beyond what I have learned,” Wilbert said.

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