Alma's Public Affairs Institute is guided by the college's mission to "prepare graduates who think critically, serve generously, lead purposefully and live responsibly as stewards of the world they bequeath to future generations."
Public Affairs students have organized forums on immigration, pesticide policy, industrial-agriculture, community sustainability, elections, human rights and international law. These are current or recent past topics. In the future, the Public Affairs institute is committed to sponsoring or supporting projects related to other timely and relevant topics.
From the local distribution of nonpartisan voter guides during election years, to firsthand experience in Mexican health clinics, public affairs students learn in the real world while making a difference in the lives of others. Below are examples of on-going projects.
The Pine River Environmental Project
Over the past decade Alma College Public Affairs students and faculty have been involved in the many steps of environmental clean-up and protection in the Alma Community.
Alma's sister city of St Louis once contained a major DDT production facility on the Pine River and the resulting pollution is still in the process of cleanup. Students interested in Public Health, Law, Environmental Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Communication, Political Science, History and other disciplines have contributed to their knowledge of science, law, media, and policy making to assist the local community.
They especially have provided vitally important research support for the local community advisory group for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Common Table Project
Alma College received support through the Kellogg Foundation for testing the "Common Table Project" - named for the global agricultural common table from which we all eat.
The goal of the initiative is the creation of global dialogue between rural farmers universally impacted by international agricultural forces. The project began with meetings between farmers in rural Michigan and Chihuahua, Mexico.
Globally farmers face the strain of globalized competition, and this project seeks to address concerns stemming from agricultural problems such as:
1. Population dislocation,
2. Land tenure rationalization
3. Industrialization of agriculture,
4. Bio-technology innovation,
5. General environmental degradation,
6. Cultural modification, and
7. Weakening governance structures and processes
Students both working individually and as part of the Public Affairs Mexico Spring term have met and helped recruit the various Mexican Common Table participants. As global agricultural and food dislocations become more serious, contributing to social and political instability in countries as diverse as Ecuador and Egypt, we hope to continue and refine the Common Table process. Students will continue to assist with the development of this initiative as the longer-term goals for improved rural dialogue need to be implemented.
Universal Human Rights Project
Recently, Public Affairs students at Alma have been involved in efforts to improve protections of human rights in the world. These efforts have taken two directions in recent years. First we have organized efforts focused on the U.S. relationship with the International Crimical Court (ICC). Alma Public Affairs students have formed the only chapter of the ICC Student Network at an undergraduate instituitons. Other ICCSN chapters are at institutions such as Duke Law School, the London School of Economics, and the University of Basel. Second, Public Affairs students are promoting dialogue on understanding and strengthening U.S. support for universal human rights. In December 2011, Public Affairs served as a co-sponsor of the conference celebrating 500 years of human rights advocacy in the Americas.
Beyond that event, students in Public Affairs understand we have an important human rights legacy to preserve, both in Michigan and the U.S. Michigan was the first government in the world to ban the death penalty and played a prime role in hosting the underground railroad and the battle against slavery. The U.S. Constitution gave to Congress the power to enforce the "Law of Nations." The first Congress in 1789 passed the Alien Tort Claims Act to implement this responsibility. That law has become an important symbol and real protection for people from around the world who have faced human rights abuse. We need a new generation of Public Affairs students to build on this heritage.