The Harrington School of Communication and Media brought speakers from different backgrounds together to virtually discuss global issues and potential solutions Tuesday night.

During the fifth annual “Global Resilience: Community Impact in Volatile Times” event held on Nov. 17, five different speakers gave presentations about global crises, how to handle them, how to prepare for the next crisis and how building community can help get one through a crisis. 

The five speakers are all individuals who have worked in different countries with various government types. The speakers were able to shed light on global issues and global response to crises, rather than just crises in the United States alone because of these prior experiences.
Alexander Fekete, a professor of risk and crisis management at the Technical University of Cologne in Germany, joined the panel from Germany. He talked about groups vulnerable to COVID-19 and risk communication in Germany. 

“How to communicate who is at risk is not that easy in Germany because we are not familiar with terms such as vulnerability and vulnerable groups,” Fekete said. 

According to Fekete, the groups at risk in Germany are very similar to those in the United States, such as elderly people and people with preexisting health conditions. 

The media in Germany is also showing a lot of COVID-19 protests that are currently happening, Fekete explained. According to Fekete, the groups protesting include, “different interest groups, in-between individuals who are just unhappy with the lockdown in general, or have lost their jobs, or don’t like face masks in general.”

Fekete spoke about how the coronavirus has caused a lot of distrust in these and a lot of pre-existing opinions have played a part in individual reactions to COVID-19, as well.

Norbert Mundorf, a professor of communication studies at the University of Rhode Island and the interim director of the Harrington School, was another speaker at the event. His discussion focused more on COVID-19 in the United States and the country’s approaches to resilience and behavior change.

“The COVID crisis has shown that we, as a society, lack readiness at all levels, but at the same time, as humans we have shown a tremendous potential for resilience in the face of COVID crisis,” Mundorf said.  

The discussion of COVID-19 at a global level highlighted that there are many similarities happening on a global scale because of the pandemic, Munorf explained.

This panel discussion went beyond the coronavirus though, also discussing diversity, social justice and environmental concerns. 

Speaker Muthoni Muriu, who has had a 20 year career at Oxfam, a charitable organization focused on creating innovations to reduce global poverty, spoke about how the pandemic brought to light a lot of other issues. 

“Economic systems for example that did not include a safety net for low-wage workers and small businesses have taken a really big hit,” Muriu said. “Places where gender based violence was already a big problem have seen issues of intimate partner violence turn into a really urgent crisis. In fact, we are calling it the hidden epidemic.”

 Jaya Sarkar, an international development professional who has worked in India, Latin America and West Africa focused on the resilience and struggle for decolonization in West Papua. She also shared some insight on the partnership that URI now has with West Papua. 

 “URI is part of this partnership now with the Papuan Language Institute and there are 10 West Papuan students on campus now,” Sarkar said. “And because of COVID, 16 additional students are studying remotely.”  

Diversity was also a big point of discussion at the event. Louis Fosu, a professor of political science at URI, has served as a special advisor to American and African government officials and the United Nations. He led his talk with a more interactive conversation. In his conversation, he posed the questions ‘what does diversity regarding resilient institutions mean to you?’ and ‘why is diversity so important?’ 

“I believe there is a conflict with identifying with the other person that is not us and will never be us because you are a different race, a different color, a different religion or different cultural value,” Fosu said.

Fosu’s presentation covered a lot of important topics regarding diversity and he also touched upon what society needs to do to make diversity more important and valued. He talked about how we, as a society need to look at our own ethics and morals, as well as have more conversations between individuals from different backgrounds with different ideas.

After each panelist’s individual presentation, they all came together for a final discussion and closing points. This panel ended with a short musical performance by Frank Romanelli, a senior lecturer in the writing and rhetoric department at URI.