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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Ethics center brings renowned peacebuilder to Deis

Published: October 26, 2012
Section: News

Visiting practitioner and peacebuilder Michel Noureddine Kassa has spent over a decade building bridges between warring parties in Zaire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He spent last week in residence on campus, during which he delivered lectures and held talks concerning his experience promoting humanitarian diplomacy in war-torn African states.

During his stay, which was hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice & Public Life, Kassa participated in events shedding light on the current situation in Africa, leading up to a keynote address in Rapaporte Treasure Hall last Thursday.

“I can’t overstate how it is to feel that what we are trying to achieve on the ground, on the other side of the planet, is understood and can yield so much empathy,” Kassa said.

In his career as a peacebuilder, Kassa has worked with Congress and the United Nations to promote peaceful ideals and cooperation throughout the continent. In 1995, he began his work as the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the DRC, which is ranked last of 187 countries on the Human Development Index.

According to Marci McPhee, associate director of the Ethics Center, Kassa is the most recent of six distinguished visiting practitioners.

“One of the overarching principles of the work of the ethics center is the bridge between scholarship and practice,” McPhee said. “It undergirds everything we do … nowhere is it more evident on campus than when we bring these distinguished visiting practitioners. It serves to bridge scholarship and practice as students are learning in the classroom, but also hearing from someone that has this lived experience that can inform their thinking.”

For five years, the Visiting Distinguished Practitioner program has brought world-renowned thinkers to spend a week on campus, which McPhee described as “the longest week of their lives.” During this time, the practitioner teams up with a faculty sponsor from any university department, funded by a grant from the Ethics Center for travel and other expenses. The practitioners make visits to classes and clubs, holds public events, shares advice with students interested in following a similar career path, and meets with individuals one-on-one.

According to ethics student and debate team member Kateri Spear ’15, “the Distinguished Visiting Practitioner program is a great initiative for students to contextualize ethical dilemmas that are static and theoretical in the classroom setting. Kassa engaged the audience in the problems of reaching stability when multiple factions’ interests are involved … the talk highlighted the difficulties in remaining objectively interested in all parties involved in a conflict.”