One of Boston College’s own made history last week as the first-ever U.S. Youth Observer at the United Nations.
Brooke Loughrin, A&S ’14, spent Sept. 22 – 27 in New York City, attending events during the UN General Assembly week and blogging about her experiences. She spent much of her time attending the Social Good Summit, a three-day annual event meant to bring together world leaders and activists in order to discuss how social media and new technology can be used to facilitate social good.
As part of her application to be the U.S. Youth Observer, Loughrin was required to write a paper about a social issue that she believed the UN-and, in turn, youth-should address. She chose to focus on the way water security influences women’s issues, a topic that was based in part upon her own international and volunteer experiences. Loughrin studied abroad in India during high school, and discovered that a major impediment to girls’ education in poorer countries was the fact that they had to spend hours every day finding water for themselves and their families. “I realized that, since I’m interested in women’s education and women’s empowerment, the only way to address those issues effectively would be to be more up-to-date on water issues. I think they’re directly connected, and sort of inextricably connected,” she said.
Loughrin said that one event that stood out to her was the Concordia Summit, an annual conference set up by a nonprofit organization. The topic of this year’s conference was partnership between the public and private sectors, and Loughrin observed a panel that included ambassadors from the Afghanistan delegation. The roundtable, which also included professor Kathleen Bailey of the political science department, talked about how, through public-private partnership, the status of women and girls in Afghanistan could be addressed. After the event, Loughrin, who is editor-in-chief for Al-Noor, BC’s Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies journal, took the opportunity to network by setting up a photo essay exchange with female students from the American university in Afghanistan.
Besides the events that she attended, Loughrin also had a private meeting with U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, a lunch with Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer, and met with Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero. “I was so surprised that so many of these leaders were willing to take not just five minutes out of their day, but a half an hour or an hour, to meet with me as a youth delegate. So I think it shows that the commitment to youth voices in the UN isn’t just in name, I think they are really excited about having youth engaged, and it felt very genuine, it wasn’t just photo ops … There was a lot of substance in their willingness to meet with me, and to give me advice that I could give to other young people about how to prepare for a career in international affairs, and what are the major issues that they see as being the most important in the future, what languages are the most important going forward, so lots of really practical advice for all of us, depending on where we end up 10 or 20 years down the road.”
Loughrin highlighted two pieces of that advice which she would pass on to BC students. She stressed the importance of learning a second and even a third language-although BC has a language requirement, she said, many students don’t truly advance to a level of functional proficiency, which is crucial in international affairs. She also said that striving to learn about disciplines outside one’s own major is critical. “So many issues are so interconnected that I think it’s important, whatever issue is important to you, whether it’s human trafficking or global health or nuclear nonproliferation-every issue requires you to engage with stakeholders from so many different disciplines that it’s not enough to be a student at BC and master your department and know everyone in your department but not work with students and faculty in other departments-it’s just not going to be enough for issues like climate change and water security.
“You can be sort of reluctant to talk to people at Boston College that know so much about something that you don’t know anything about, but that’s your opportunity to ask them so many questions about what they do, and the thing is, everyone loves what they do at Boston College, so I don’t think that anyone is going to turn you away … I think you should use your four years here to really ask those questions and learn about as many things as you can outside of your major and activities.”
The U.S. Youth Observer position runs through June of 2013, so Loughrin’s obligations are far from over. She goes back to New York from Oct. 5 – 10 to speak at the Third Committee of the UN and draft resolutions with the other 40 youth delegates to the UN. In December, she will travel to Washington, D.C. for a week to meet other representatives from the Department of State and speak at different events. Loughrin will also travel to different UN associations across the country to speak about her experience and answer questions about U.S. engagement in the UN. A large portion of her responsibility will be speaking at schools-as she sees it, providing a tangible link between the youth that she meets and people like Hillary Clinton. “You have to engage the voting public and give a compelling argument for why the U.S. commitment to the UN is more than just worth its money … it’s essential. I think it’ll be really interesting to go to places where people have reservations about that, and also to break down some of the misconceptions.”