Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams was one of the thought-provoking leaders bringing real-world expertise to the Governor’s Institutes on Current Issues and Youth Activism this summer. To read more about it and see student feedback, click here.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and SIT alumna Jody Williams visited the Vermont campus on Wednesday, June 26, to speak with participants from SIT’s Governor’s Institute on Current Issues & Youth Activism program. An activist for human rights around the world, Williams spoke to the youth about her experience growing up in Vermont, her career trajectory, and how one person really can make a difference.
Williams addressed the importance of “starting to help kids understand from a really young age that we have rights, but we also have responsibilities to create the type of world we want to live in.”
The event was conducted as an interview hosted by Language and Culture Department Director Bea Fantini, followed by a question-and-answer session.
Williams’ career as an activist began as a public protester against the Vietnam War in 1970. After earning her master’s degree from SIT Graduate Institute in 1976, she went on to teach for two years in Mexico. “I had not left Vermont. SIT got me out to a country that is fabulous and fascinating and full of issues. I witnessed extreme differences between wealth and poverty that I had never seen before in my life.”
Williams later went on to spend many years in El Salvador working with human rights projects and peace campaigns to end the war. She eventually became aware of the issue of landmines, and began working tirelessly to raise global awareness of the huge civilian suffering caused by landmines. “I couldn’t believe that years after the wars were over there were still people being killed by landmines.”
In 1997, Williams was the 10th woman (out of an almost 100-year history) to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Her efforts led to the establishment of a treaty banning the use of landmines — now signed by 161 countries.
One youth program participant from Vermont asked Williams how young people could get involved in activism. Williams responded by encouraging participants to “find an organization that is working on whatever issue interests you and volunteer. That way you can see if the organization shares the same philosophy for change as you do.”
“I believe in the rights and responsibilities of all of us to take action to make the world a better place for everybody,” Williams told a receptive crowd.
After the interview, Williams met with youth group participants and signed copies of her new memoir, My Name is Jody Williams: A Vermont Girl’s Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Williams is now working with a number of other Nobel Prize–winning women in a collective called the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which works to promote peace and justice by supporting organizations that address violence toward women. Her leadership for world peace, human security, and human rights has continued to grow to include work toward an international treaty on cluster munitions, human rights in Darfur, and many other critical issues.
Listen to Williams describe her work in an interview with Vermont Public Radio after her SIT visit.