Samantha Power speaks in the round-table discussion in Williams Hall, which was held in addition to her Center for Ethics' Peter S. Hagerman, '61, Lecture on Thursday, Oct. 18. Power served as the United Nations Ambassador for the Obama Administration from 2013 to 2017. (Madeleine Sheifer/B&W Staff)

Former UN ambassador visits Lehigh’s ‘slice of the world’

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Samantha Power, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama Administration, came to Lehigh on Oct. 18 as the second speaker for the Center for Ethics Peter S. Hagerman ’61 Lecture Series.

Her lecture, “Changing Your Slice of the World,” focused on the idea that although individuals may be too small to change the world, people can change their own “slices” of the world through their actions.

“I think the main thing to focus on is small acts and actions that can do — either in the short- or long-term — some good,” Power said. “(Don’t) feel that just because (something) doesn’t solve the melting planet that it’s not worthwhile.” 

Power said hearing from 192 countries for nearly four years gave her more of an “outside-in” perspective on the U.S. and its government. She said she realized how many “slices” the U.S. really impacts.

She noted the difference between reading and writing about American leadership and said she witnessed how other countries view the U.S. as a leader.

“It’s another thing to be sitting in a meeting with, let’s say the U.N. Secretary-General, to be briefed by some problem and to see every country in the world just waiting to see what America has to say before they even formulate a response,” Power said. “That’s leadership.”

Power’s visit also involved round-table discussion sessions with both undergraduate and graduate students. Power said she appreciated that students came prepared for the discussion with critical commentary and questions.

Topics of discussion included human rights, American foreign policy and increasing U.N. legitimacy.

Alyssa Nadler, ’21, an undergraduate economics and sociology double-major, was invited to take part in the discussion through her public relations work with the Center for Ethics.

She deals with some of the harshest human rights issues worldwide and yet she has confidence that despite everything going on it is going to be okay, and that doing your part doesn’t mean doing some giant act of service, it can simply mean educating yourself and others,” Nadler said. “The way she encouraged us to start with small goals instead of huge goals made it seem possible that each of us can have an impact on problems that seem so out of our control.”

Power said the Center for Ethics and Hagerman Lecture Series drew her to Lehigh.

Robin Dillon, a professor of philosophy and the director of the Center for Ethics, said she’s not surprised that the Center for Ethics peaked Power’s interest because the issues she is passionate about have ethical dimensions.

“What she is about is addressing deep, moral (and) ethical issues from a political perspective,” Dillon said. 

Power emphasized the importance of working with college students because they are in a phase of their lives in which they discover their ambitions. In fact, it was during college that Power realized she wanted to go into human rights work.

“I was developing an empathy I wouldn’t have known was lurking within me,” she said.

Power offered two pieces of advice she wished she had told herself during her own college years —  know how to write and “know something about something.”

She said writing skills are the gateway to comprehensive thinking.

“Learning how to express yourself clearly means, I think generally, that you’re learning how to think logically and persuasively and tell stories and express yourself in a manner that will serve you well incredibly no matter what you do,” Power said.

She said in order to “know something about something,” students should invest themselves in distinct areas of study and ask questions. By learning how to ask and answer those questions, students develop a set of skills that can be applied to any field they enter going forward.

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