Itzel Abigail Herrera Gómez, Talloires Network Steering Committee Student Representative, attended the University Social Responsibility Network Summit in Haifa, Israel. Abigail provides a thoughtful reflection on her experience and the education program she has developed.
Reflecting on How Universities May Contribute More Meaningfully to Society On December 2nd, I had the honor of representing the Talloires Network at the University Social Responsibility Summit organized by TN partner network, University Social Responsibility Network at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The University of Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem hosted the Summit entitled “University Social Responsibility in Shaping a Future of Critical Hope.” The goal of the Summit was to exchange ideas and meet other leaders in the field to support social responsibility initiatives around the globe.
For student representatives like myself, the central objective was to create a student-only Steering Committee, which will be responsible for promoting social responsibility projects and research with students at USRN campuses. For that purpose, leadership on the USRN Steering Committee was appointed: President (Yat Chung Wong, Hong Kong), Vice President (Nadhirah Ezzah, Australia) and Secretary (Romario Roman,South Africa). In addition to seats on the USRN Steering Committee, two fundamental teams were formed: a communication team and drafting and publication team. I was appointed Secretary of International Relations and my main tasks will revolve around forging alliances between USRN student projects and Talloires Network members including the promotion and dissemination of their regional and international collective work.
The student members of the USRN Steering Committee will share their progress of their projects and initiatives through official USRN communications channels. Their progress will be presented at the Global Youth Leadership Summit to be held in July 2019. The USRN encourages the participation of students in the Summits, acknowledging their perspectives and recognizing their unique impact in the field.
Summit conferences are based on issues of social responsibility, leadership, entrepreneurship, service-learning and community engagement carried out by universities, addressing the pressing problems facing society, and breaking the paradigm that the university is a separate entity from society.
At the Summit, I presented an initiative I am currently developing called, “Access to Education for Orphans and Underserved Communities” that will officially launch in early 2019. The initiative will involve Universidad Veracruzana (Mexico), marginalized communities and an orphanage, with the main objective of teaching them English and basic life skills. The idea of starting this project came about because access to education was a theme of the Talloires Network Leaders Conference, TNLC 2017.
At the Summit, I also had the opportunity to exchange ideas about projects and possible alliances with the attending members, learn more about the application of social responsibility in the universities of different countries, the contribution to the community through projects carried out by students through the service-learning, the research work that academics carry out and which contribute to developing projects addressing the current challenges facing universities in this area.
At the end of the Summit, we went on a study tour offered by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was an enriching experience. I was able to observe the environment in which the university is located and the conditions that the marginalized communities are living in. This is one of the reasons why universities must be greater allies to reduce this marginalization and contribute more meaningfully to society. In fact, at the end of the tour I received a book called “Voices from Sheik Jarrah” that tells the life condition of the people who live in a Palestinian neighborhood that is surrounded by a wall and separates them from the rest of the city where the level of poverty is high.
Finally, it should be mentioned that this Summit not only showed the optimistic side of the practice of social responsibility in universities, but also the realistic side of what this type of work means to students, teaching staff, academics in the hope of a better future.