For the nation, September 2011 marked the 10-year anniversary of an American tragedy. But for Fairhaven College, it marked the 10-year anniversary of the World Issues Forum, a free public event meant to inform and engage attendees on current world problems.

The World Issues Forum brings roughly 25 speakers, who discuss a wide range of social, economic and cultural topics.
The forum on Oct. 5 featured a death-row exoneree, Juan Meléndez. He presented about the dangers of the death penalty after his experience of being on death row for 17 years.

Fairhaven student Stephanie Willis attended Meléndez’s presentation, as well as a few presentations during her freshman and sophomore years.

“It was really powerful and moving,” she said. “Juan was a very captivating speaker and even though his story was heart wrenching and tragic, he found what it was to make it inspiring and focused on why the death penalty should be abolished in the United States.”

Attendance rates tend to vary for different speakers; for Meléndez’s speech the Fairhaven auditorium housed roughly 125 people for the forum, said Shirley Osterhaus, World Issues Forum coordinator.

The importance of knowing global issues is tremendous, Osterhaus said.

“We live in a global village. Just ask any student where their clothes are from or where the food is from that they’re eating,” Osterhaus said. “I think it’s critical to understand the politics around the global issues and the economic issues the social issues that are all globally impacted.”

Outside of Fairhaven, other departments at Western contribute to the forum. Canadian-American studies, anthropology, political science, women’s studies, and communications all collaborate for a wider range of speakers, Osterhaus said.

As a partner in world issues, each department nominates someone they would like to bring from their discipline that can address some kind of global issue, Osterhaus said.

Some students, such as Willis, value the importance the forum has.

“When I’ve attended, the speakers are passionate, well-informed, articulate and are able to inspire the audience,” Willis said. “The speakers understand if you have to leave early for a class. Plus I think it’s important to educate yourself on global and current-day issues.”

Fairhaven student Adam Gillman is enrolled in the World Issues Study Group this quarter, a four- credit class that coincides with the forum throughout the year. Gillman said he attended the forums before enrolling in the class.

“The World Issues forum is one of the only places in our community where students can come together with faculty, community members and the keynote speakers to discuss and learn about world events and the realities that many people face outside of the comforts of Bellingham,” Gillman said. “The environment is one of openness where students can feel free to voice their ideas, questions and critics.”

The students in the study group do research each week about the visiting speaker in order to prepare themselves, Osterhaus said.

“We meet on Mondays and they do research on the topic they’re going to hear about on Wednesday, so they come with some background,” Osterhaus said. “They do the research primarily from independent media sources because I want them to get skills and have access and know where to find better information.”

For Gillman, participating in the study group and attending the lectures is fueled by his desire to be educated about the experiences of others.

“I wanted to learn and enhance my knowledge about the world and issues that others face,” Gillman said. “I want to help educate my peers on issues that often are not covered by mainstream media.”