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Ambassador Rick Barton: Peacebuilder and Annenberg Scholar
November 2, 2016
One may have seen him greeting nearly everyone while walking through the Concourse, cheering on the soccer team, or attending club meetings. With this level of engagement, one might suspect him to be a longtime professor. Yet he has managed to build this rapport with students in only two weeks. Tack on his laid-back personality and quick-witted humor, and one would never suspect he is a peacebuilder who has worked at both the United Nations and Princeton.
This humble, compassionate, and very intelligent man is Ambassador Rick Barton, Principia’s Annenberg Scholar. Ambassador Barton was invited to teach a World Focus Seminar at Principia this semester, a modified version of a course he teaches at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Ambassador Barton’s career has spanned 40 countries. He worked at the Office of Transition Initiatives, where he aided development after crises. In 2009, President Obama appointed him as Ambassador and U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Prior to that, he was the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, where he built alliances in countries such as Burma, Kenya, and Honduras in order to decrease violence.
In reflecting on the history of his varied career path, Ambassador Barton said that his three highlights have been “making a difference, getting to know people and places, and consistently getting to reform and improve how the U.S. solves problems.”
With regard to conflict resolution, Barton said, “I worry that there is a silenced majority in society that is not heard in politics.” In an effort to combat this, he has offered several peacebuilding strategies over the course of his career.
Barton’s close engagement with Principia students mirrors his first important peacebuilding strategy: “Get to know people and places.” Taking time to listen and understand the problems/situations of others has been key to his career as a peacebuilder.
While working at the Office of Transitions, for example, he created the Women in Transition program, relying heavily on local resources. The program was implemented in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, which left 800,000 people [dead] and two million others as refugees. Those left in the villages were mainly women who had previously led their households. Women in Transition provided these women modest funds to start their business plans. The small businesses not only allowed them to support themselves but, on a larger scale, became an opportunity to “enhance their position in politics,” said Barton.
[A consistent thread in Ambassador Barton’s programs] is his belief in the inclusion of differences. When asked if the United States had provided enough support to the refugee crisis by offering to take in 10,000 Syrians, Barton said our amount of support was “not even close” to what it should have been. According to Barton, Lebanon and Turkey have taken in (respectively) one and two million refugees. If the U.S. were to follow suit with this absorption rate, the nation would have taken in around 80 million refugees to date.
Ambassador Barton believes that students can contribute by becoming more globally aware and engaged. His deep perspective on peacebuilding has been a blessing to Principia this semester and will undoubtedly continue to help the world.
This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in the October 2016 Pilot, Principia College’s student-run magazine.