George Rupp DIV ’67, the president of the International Rescue Committee, which assists refugees in crisis zones, spoke on Saturday at the 10th annual Ivy Leadership Summit, which brings together student leaders from across the Ivy League. Student organizers presented Rupp with $1,000 for the IRC’s relief efforts in Haiti, money raised at both last month’s Sex Week at Yale speed dating event and the Ivy Summit fundraising dinner on Friday.
Rupp, a former president of Columbia University and Rice University, spoke about global challenges in the 21st century, such as climate change, unequal distribution of natural resources and the destructive impact of globalization on traditional communities. He also discussed his organization, which resettles refugees and provides humanitarian aid, education and medical care on the local level in order to rebuild communities damaged by political unrest and warfare.
In an interview with the News, Rupp — who received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton and his doctorate from Harvard — talked about the intersection between academics and community activism.
Q. How does your background as an academic administrator help you with your work with the International Rescue Committee?
A. What I did as an academic administrator was to identify problems and then get the right group of people solving them. That’s pretty much what I do now: We have a set of senior colleagues, and every day there is an interesting array of problems and we collectively figure out the best way to address them.
Q. What activities were you involved in when you were a student at Yale?
A. I attended Yale Divinity School in the mid-’60s, from 1964 to 1967. I was really actively involved in the earliest period of protests against what became the war in the Vietnam. I was first involved in 1964, in a group called Americans for the Re-appraisal of Far East Policy that [activist] Staughton Lynd and [former Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin ’49 DIV ’56] organized. I became extremely involved in it as an extracurricular activity because people were unaware that we were moving into what became the war in Vietnam. I found it exciting to work with a small group of people trying to call attention to that problem.
Q. How did your involvement in the anti-war movement at Yale later influence your humanitarian work?
A. I think both involvement in the civil rights movement in Jersey City, N.J., and this involvement here in New Haven with the earliest part of the anti-Vietnam War movement helped me get a real taste for the way which it’s possible for a committed, even a small group of individuals to make a difference on a social, political issue.
Q. Your organization works a lot with local development. For students interested in making a difference in their local communities, what areas should they focus on? What should be their approach?
A. I think education and health care would be two excellent examples. I think it’s really critical to try to identify communities that share your values and commitments, and work with them. I do think it’s important for university students, college students, to work with other civic associations, within the town or city where they are located, rather than only do work within their own student organizations.
Q. What academic preparations do you recommend for students interested in helping economic development in other countries?
A. I think that they can go into a range of directions. I think a significant amount of anthropology would be useful to begin to know how to understand other cultures. Certainly economics would be helpful to help people learn to do the economic development work required. Political science is very helpful for understanding how institutions work and how important having legitimate governance is to any kind of development. If someone is interested in becoming in really effective in the health area, it’s important to have basic medical sciences and related disciplines. There is a way for a person whose interest are going over a whole range of direction to be effective in international relief and development.