United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke Tuesday afternoon to a crowd of over 600 on student leadership, cultural heritage and climate change.
Throughout his address, Ban encouraged students to take an active role in shaping various political environments of today, ranging from the threat of terrorism to feminist issues to sustainable development. Ban also spoke to necessity of transparency in appointing his successor, a process that will take place later this year. The talk, which filled Sprague Hall, was the keynote address for the Global Colloquium of University Presidents, a series of events involving six universities relating to the theme of preserving cultural heritage. Ban was briefly interrupted during his talk by a Fossil Free Yale protest intended to challenge the University’s current stance on divestment, though he continued speaking afterwards.
“I am inspired to be among some of the most distinguished academicians around the world. So many young students today who are sitting here will surely become leaders of tomorrow, and it is important for this colloquium to discuss about how leaders can provide good opportunities for young people,” Ban said.
Ban emphasized the importance of preserving cultural heritage, saying that its destruction is a loss that can never be remedied. He thanked the University for its support in seeking projects to preserve and promote shared cultural heritage, adding that institutions around the globe have also partnered to strive toward peace and worked diligently on pressing concerns such as women’s rights and the protection of the environment. He said that the preservation of cultural heritage is central to tackling peace around the world.
During a question-and-answer session at the end of the talk, University President Peter Salovey asked Ban about his view on what Yale could do in terms of combating climate change. Educational institutions, not just nongovernmental organizations and civil societies, should take initiatives and actions in environmental and other kinds of activism, he said. He compared the role of the secretary-general as someone who “preaches,” and universities as institutions that “teach” people what to do.
“[Young people] have a legitimate right to challenge the community. It is perfectly legitimate for you to say: ‘This is the place where I’ll have to live. Please make this world sustainable,’” Ban said.
When Ban addressed sustainability during the second half of his speech, around 20 student protesters, all dressed in orange, stood and held a banner reading, “U.N. supports divestment. Universities when will you?” The students sat down when security staff approached, and then Ban thanked the students for their active involvement in sustainability and divestment. As people were entering Sprague Hall before the talk, other members of FFY distributed flyers promoting divestment, and a rally of roughly 100 students subsequently took place outside.
Janine Comrie ’19, who helped lift the FFY banner, said she was proud that Ban encouraged the University to listen to its students on issues ranging from sustainability to transparency.
Another student who held the FFY banner, Ava Tomasula y Garcia ’17, expressed discontent at the administration’s slow response to broader divestment issues.
“Salovey addressed issues of divestment during the Q&A today, but the administration still hasn’t made a commitment. There is so much more that has to happen,” Tomasula y Garcia said.
Yesterday was the third time Ban has come to speak at Yale.