UN Sustainable Development Goals Analyzed at Seton Hall
Diplomacy students debate global priorities, bring them to public attention.
On October 23, as campus trees turn to orange and gold outside, students of Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations are debating issues of world leadership. “Goood Morning, Seton Hall!” Martin Edwards, the University’s Director of the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies, welcomes the room full of students in South Orange, New Jersey.
Edwards is kicking off his United Nations “teach in” with a slideshow--and both grad students and undergrads seem surprisingly tuned in for a Friday afternoon. Some are casual in beanies, leggings, and backpacks, but others have arrived in suits. The event, Edwards hopes, will build campus awareness of the "Sustainable Development Goals" for our modern world as determined by the UN at its recent summit in Manhattan.
Every 15 years, Edwards tells the young crowd, the UN revises these goals to reflect the most pressing concerns facing humanity. Compared to the Millennium Development Goals, in place from 2000 until this year, the new set is "loftier." From now until 2030, member nations' objectives will be driven by a common desire to “leave no one behind.”
To do this, he tells the students, the UN has created 17 goals (with 169 smaller targets). A few of the top issues include “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere,” “achieving gender equality,” and “dealing with climate change.” These are no small plans.
The Millennium Goals did not reference the concept of 'civil society'--the web of nonprofit and non-governmental organizations that together serve the interests of the whole citizenry, he says. To mend this, “the UN is doing a lot of internal soul searching.” The Sustainable Development Goals must reflect the worries and wants of both the developing and the developed world, he says. “Everyone needs to be involved here.”
But how can one set of goals reflect an entire world’s needs?
He shows students the results of the 2015 “World We Want” survey, which asked 7.5 million citizens across the world: What are the top priorities for your family? Good education was crucial for both U.S. participants and global citizens as a whole. “When you ask individuals what they are concerned about,” Edwards says, “it doesn’t matter where they live.” The survey showed that right now, the world wants better education and health care above all else. Better job prospects and honest and responsive government were also top shared priorities.
Following the slideshow, Edwards ushers the undergrads off to five different tables, each presided over by a faculty leader and representing a sampling of the new goals for Education, Gender Issues, Land & Water, Peace & Justice, and Healthcare. Each student chooses a topic for consideration and after 20 minutes, switches to another table. “Like speed dating,” Edwards tells them.
The teach-in's aim is to make sure that the UN goals are spread throughout campus and beyond. “We have to make these goals popular,” Alyson Neel, the UN rep for Gender Issues and the event’s keynote speaker, tells her table.
“I want to know more about women’s reproductive rights,” says 21-year old Mari Eboli, a junior in Seton Hall’s Diplomacy Program, as she sits at the Gender table. Eboli has to run before her question gets answered and she looks genuinely distressed that she has to leave. Packing in a frenzy, she throws out her final point, “The reproductive system...it’s ours!”
Sharing UN Goals
By 3 o’clock, diplomacy speed dating has wound down. Edwards delivers final advice on advocacy and communication. Look at the list of the UN’s 17 new goals and “pick a favorite,” he says, relaying some pointers on writing op-eds for local newspapers. “ABC and H,” he told the students: Have an Argument, be Brief, use Current events, and have Humility. Don’t be discouraged if your pitch is rejected.
“Think of how many people would learn about these goals if 20 students in this room published op-eds in their hometown newspapers,” He said. “One of our students just published [an op-ed] in The Guardian.” A buzz across the room suggests definite interest in the potential of published writing.
At least one of the UN’s goals was met on Friday at Seton Hall: Raising awareness is the first step toward turning the Sustainable Development Goals from aspiration to reality. “If the goals are going to work,” Edwards said, “everyone needs to know them, evaluate them, and even criticize them.” The best way to do this is to spread them, he said. "Write that op-ed."
Keep your eyes peeled for some new authors in the opinion pages of your local paper.
Becca Cudmore is a freelance writer and a master's graduate of NYU's science journalism program.