Irish President visits campus, gives lecture on global hunger and poverty

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Karin Goh/Staff

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Irish President Michael Higgins paid a visit to campus Monday afternoon, delivering a lecture on global hunger and poverty and attending a reception for Irish-connected students, faculty and researchers.

Higgins’s lecture, held at International House’s Chevron Auditorium, focused on the state’s role in eliminating global hunger and poverty. He emphasized the necessity for international agreements to lead the way in solving food insecurity, explaining that it is a “phenomenon of the developed world” to shy away from politics as a means to solve global issues.

Higgins was slated to announce a donation to launch an Irish studies program within the campus Institute for European Studies, according to a campus press release, but did not make the announcement during his lecture.

Throughout his talk, Higgins referenced UC Berkeley public policy professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s work and commemorated his efforts to research and speak on the topic of wealth and poverty.

Higgins also identified gender inequality as a contributor to lasting global hunger, saying that governments must empower women in agriculturewho, according to Higgins, produce more than half of the world’s food supply.

Monday’s event drew over a hundred students, including a significant presence of both Irish exchange students and those originally born in Ireland. Several students were eager to hear Higgins address students specifically and explain the role of universities in solving a problem with a worldwide scope.

“It was a fascinating and reflective experience to hear what role I can have,” said UC Berkeley senior Avantika Sood. We’re not necessarily directly connected to the problem right now, but hear about it every day.”

Attendees had the opportunity to write down questions for Higgins on index cards, which were pre-selected and discussed in a facilitated question-and-answer session after his lecture. Question topics included the role of large farming corporations in perpetuating global hunger and the value of a political science degree in today’s society.

Sophie Mulhall, an Irish exchange student in her junior year, hoped that Higgins would mention whether the country of Ireland has achieved significant progress in solving hunger and poverty. While he did not speak about Ireland extensively, Higgins mentioned that Ireland has invested “a great deal” in its agricultural production.

According to a press release from the Consulate General of Ireland in San Francisco, Higgins received a tour of the Bancroft Library after the lecturewhich houses a collection of Irish items including original documents by Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who taught at UC Berkeley — and later held a reception to announce a new partnership between the Irish consulate and UC Berkeley to “enhance academic ties and develop new programs.”

According to UC Berkeley Celtic Studies lecturer Thomas Walsh, Higgins honored students in the Celtic Studies department at the reception. UC Berkeley’s Celtic studies department was the first degree-granting program in Celtic languages and literature in North America, according to a campus press release.

“I’m glad I’m here because it’s not every day you see the president,” said Eleanor Vardigans, a UC Berkeley junior originally from England who studies at a university in Ireland. “I’ve never had an opportunity like this.

Ariel Hayat is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ArielHayat.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Eleanor Vardigans is originally from Ireland. In fact, she is from England but studies in Ireland.