After our initial year of working with the American Red Cross to introduce IHL to the Bradley University community, we were eager to begin another IHL Action Campaign this past fall semester. Although our 2014 spring simulation was immensely successful, we still learned a lot about what actually goes into making an IHL Action Campaign, and were ready to use all of this new knowledge. Surprisingly, making a presentation on humanitarian values is not all sunshine and rainbows. One thing we really wanted to experiment with this fall was our audience. College-aged young adults may seem like the perfect, motivated audience that would make IHL a “thing”, but we learned that our age group can be a rather lazy bunch.
This fall, instead of just posting flyers everywhere, we challenged ourselves to find another way to reach out to our campus. As noted from totalitarian regimes worldwide, the best way to get a message across is to force people to listen, so we put our heads together and thought: Let’s force them to listen! All jokes aside, we were given the incredible opportunity to partner with the Psychology Department and University administrators in order to bring the campaign to incoming freshmen students and then conduct research on the impact of our activity. All students enrolled in the University Experience course participated in the study. The support of the University and our Red Cross liaisons to include IHL as a part of the freshmen curriculum gave us direct access to hundreds of students.
We presented to 27 classes totaling 543 students, which served as the experimental group. Leading them in a simulation of what it’s like to be a prisoner of war, we showed them testimonials of other prisoners and walked them through some dehumanizing activities before an ICRC member intervened. As a debrief, we lead a discussion and a walking debate to help the students further understand IHL and what the rules of war actually entail. Leading discussions with freshmen challenged us to step up our facilitation skills and find creative ways to connect with them, especially since many students lacked enthusiasm simply because IHL didn’t directly relate to their fields of study. All classes received a pre- and post-test, and initial findings from these tests show that our efforts made a positive impact on the experimental group’s knowledge and willingness to promote IHL!
We opened our presentations up to a variety of audiences this spring semester, too. We were given the awesome opportunity to present to a junior high school in Downers Grove, IL. We went into every 7th grade Social Studies class and taught the students all about IHL and child soldiers. The enthusiasm that these 7th graders showed for IHL far surpassed that of many of our own college peers, which surprised us. Not only did the 7th graders ask more questions about war-related conflict, but their minds were blown by the fact that kids their own age are involved in armed conflict. We even encouraged them to use their favorite social media platform, Instagram, to post about what they learned in class. (I highly encourage you to look at the #WarHasLimits tag on Instagram because it is flooded- “flooded” used loosely- with the 7th graders’ impressions of our presentation.) They were so receptive and engaged; they even asked us if IHL was part of the Geneva Conventions or if ISIS or Ebola related to IHL. Who knew 7th graders were so involved with current events?! (See Mr. Little’s Seventh Grade blog for more information about the day.)
Additionally, because a Bradley professor who is a member of Amnesty International invited us to attend the Midwest Regional Amnesty International Conference: Action Alley, we presented to an entirely new and different audience than just students. It was awesome to display what our IHL Action Campaign team has been up to all year with the conference attendees. We were surrounded by passionate professionals and students who, much like ourselves, were excited to learn more about humanitarian values. We made sure to point out that the American Red Cross has given us ample opportunities to influence so many audiences about what exactly IHL is. We even talked to Illinois Wesleyan students who were interested in either partnering with us or creating an IHL Action Campaign of their own. To say the least, we felt like big shots.
To recap, this past semester we learned a lot about the various opportunities there are for us to spread information on IHL, as well as how to tailor our message to different audiences. It was definitely a learning semester but I’m excited to apply all that we’ve learned to the upcoming spring semester. After all, the world of IHL is but our oyster.
Guest Blogger: Jessica Lach
*The purpose of the IHL Action Campaign is for young people to teach their peers about the importance of IHL, as well as issues related to gender, refugees, and humanitarianism.