Since 2018, The Pollack Speaker Series at Montclair State University has offered students the opportunity to broaden their global perspectives by hearing first-hand accounts from United Nations representatives around the world. The dozens of speakers that have visited campus or joined virtually include the Ambassador of Egypt, Ambassador of Mexico and the former President of the UN Security Council.
Funded by a gift from the late alumnus Sidney Pollack to support public lectures addressing issues related to the social sciences, the speaker series seeks to give attendees a sense of what diplomacy is, how it is practiced and what goes on inside the United Nations.
Professor Alfredo Toro Carnevali says that it was his desire to bring the Montclair State community closer to the United Nations headquarters, merely miles away in New York, that led him to organize these events. Toro Carnevali, an instructional specialist in Political Science and Law and a former diplomat who worked at the UN himself, uses his professional contacts to invite speakers and make this a reality, shining a light on relevant global issues.
Sonya Agnew, a junior double major in Political Science and Jurisprudence, Law and Society, attended a discussion with Michael von der Schulenberg, former UN Assistant Secretary General shortly after the war in Ukraine began.
“It was very interesting to hear his perspective on the situation having escaped from East Germany and to hear his projections for the future of the war given his expertise in international relations, “ Agnew says. “Especially with such a hot-button topic, the discussion was all the more intriguing.”
For international student and senior political science major, Paula Godoy Barbosa, the Pollack Speaker Series was more personal.
“Every single Ambassador and UN official has been remarkable. However, Mrs. Carolina Azevedo has been the most memorable,” Godoy Barbosa states. “ I have to say finding out that she has worked in peace processes around the world really impacted me, especially because she played a huge role in my country’s peace process six years ago.”
While diplomacy remains the overarching topic, Toro Carnevali insists that another priority was humanizing these diplomats.
“I wanted to emphasize their life experiences,” Toro Carnevali explains. “I wanted students to see what they did after college and how they built their career.”
And by humanizing the people who represent them, the Pollack Speaker Series seeks to humanize the countries they come from.
“The main lesson I have learned from this series is that to ensure international security, we cannot always see the world as black and white but with a grey viewpoint,” Jelvin Thomas ‘23 describes. “When we are dealing with foreign actors with a high record of human rights abuses, we still need to see the humanity in those people and find areas where we can form a mutual rapport. What I learned is that seeking to understand adversarial actors is the best way to develop harmonious peace and coexist between states.”
Toro Carnevali is also the director of the Global Security and Diplomacy minor which he says has seen sustained growth since these talks began. Through the minor, Godoy Barbosa was able to obtain an internship at the Permanent Mission of the Dominican Republic to the UN through the program where she met multiple officials that she was already familiar with due to the Pollack Speaker Series.
Written by Donaelle Benoit