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"Take a Stand!"

Ken Bacon talks informally with students and faculty after all-school Assembly

November 2, 2007

Ken Bacon '62, president of Refugees International, spoke to students recently about his organization's work helping people displaced by war and humanitarian crises find resettlement. Focusing on Darfur and Iraq, Bacon described the life and death issues faced by the estimated 35 million displaced persons worldwide, and the role of advocacy in helping address their needs.

"Genocide is not an academic issue," Bacon said during all-school Assembly. "You didn't come to Exeter to be a passive bystander. Take a stand!" Bacon spoke eloquently about the Iraqi refugee situation, which the U.N. recently estimated at 4 million displaced persons. At the end of Assembly, the students, visibly impressed by his presentation, gave Bacon a standing ovation.

"It's very inspiring to see how he is working to help people in need," said Kasey, a senior and member of the executive board of Exeter Social Service Organization (ESSO). ESSO is a broad program of 60 Exeter clubs focusing on local outreach and global initiatives. This term, 650 students – almost two thirds of the student body – signed up for ESSO involvement.

Members of ESSO's global justice collaborative – a group of eight clubs including Amnesty International, Exeter AIDS Response, Community Solutions and Peace Vigil – found Bacon's visit particularly enlightening. For Tory and Maisha, uppers and co-founders of the Violence Awareness and Prevention club, the huge Iraqi refugee numbers were a surprise. "Mr. Bacon's talk helps put things in perspective," said Tory, who played a role in bringing one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" to campus last year. "It gets you more passionate about politics in your own country." Maisha, who spent a summer learning about microloans at Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, concurred. "His visit was really good," she said.

Bacon's visit "really hit home" with the students, according to Laurie Loosigian, Exeter's community service coordinator, in part because of its timing just before the height of New Hampshire primary season. "He made it clear to the students that they can make a difference with the questions they ask the political candidates," said Loosigian. Exeter students have already had the chance to put their questions to the test with Mitt Romney, who came to campus on October 25. Other candidates are expected to visit.

While on campus, Bacon was generous with help and advice. He met with approximately 40 students and faculty for an open question-and-answer session after Assembly. Later in the day, he attended two sections of American Politics and Public Policy (History 440) and met with 15 students working on global justice projects. At all events, excited questions filled the air. "Do you have any practical solution to protecting these people from jihads?" "What groups receive money from Refugees International?" "What are the political hurdles and impediments in the U.N. and U.S. to helping Darfur?" "If we leave Iraq, will that decrease the refugee problem there?" "Can the U.S. over the long term afford such a generous immigration/refugee policy?"

A true Exonian, Bacon listened and talked, all the while encouraging students to take action, and stay on top of the issues. He advised students on speakers to invite to campus, how to make connections with other student groups, and the lessons of commitment and persistence. Several students asked how Refugees International keeps going in the face of opposition. "What do you do when people don't listen to you?" asked one student. "You look for another way to get your message across," replied Bacon. Later, he reaffirmed, "You need to keep pushing to the next level." For Michael, a senior and member of the executive board of ESSO, Bacon's mastery of facts across a broad spectrum was impressive. "He was very confident," said Michael. "He handled the questions well."

In true Harkness fashion, everyone made new connections. While talking to students about his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee early this year, Bacon learned that Zachary Iscol '97, who testified with him, is also a PEA graduate. Both men testified at a hearing examining the Bush administration's failure to provide sanctuary to Iraqi refugees. Read more about Iscol in The Exeter Bulletin, Fall 2007. Additionally, several students spoke to Bacon about the possibility of interning in the offices of Refugees International next summer.

Bacon, whose accomplishments include a 25-year career on The Wall Street Journal and seven years as assistant secretary of defense, came to campus to receive the John Phillips Award, an honor bestowed annually on a graduate "whose life and contributions to the welfare of community, country and humanity exemplify the nobility of character and usefulness to humanity that John Phillips sought to promote in establishing the Academy." Trustee Michael Plater '74, in his presentation of the award to Bacon, commented: "During your tenure as its president, Refugees International has been named one of America's 100 best charities by WORTH magazine and has played a critical role in turning the world's attention toward humanitarian crises in Darfur, Afghanistan, Angola and Uganda, among others." 

Interested in learning more?

Learn more about ESSO's clubs and activities…

Read the John Phillips Award citation for Ken Bacon…

Check out the Refugees International website...