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Scholar Activist Encourages Students, Community to Become Voices for Global Change

October 07, 2015

Touching upon her own activism work supporting rape victims in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 2015 Distinguished Donahue Scholar Dr. Lee Ann De Reus PhD spoke to members of the Lasell community about becoming voices for change on many global issues.

De Reus, co-founder of Panzi Foundation, USA and an associate professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State-Altoona, gave the annual scholar lecture in de Witt Hall October 6 to a crowd of students, faculty, staff and other community members, including the local group Congo Action Now.

In her talk, De Reus discussed her advocacy in support of rape survivors in the DRC, a situation stimulated by the illegal mining practices there, and described the roles that activists can play to support the victims of human rights violations.

"Thirteen hundred women come to the Panzi Hospital with injuries from rape. Often they are disowned by their families. We provide platforms and megaphones for these women," De Reus said.

Panzi Foundation created Panzi Hospital in Eastern DRC to provide medical and after care to the community, including victims of rape and sexualized violence.

De Reus also encouraged the audience to look beyond the issue of conflict minerals and illegal mining to consider additional factors that contribute to the human rights violations in the DRC, including land disputes, the failed state and displaced populations.

She used the situation, and activism there, as a primer to the audience on how to become educated on an issue and become an advocate.

"The world needs you," she told the group.

De Reus discussed the difference between "hit and run activism," such as opportunities for one-time involvement, and sustained involvement in a cause to affect change.

"There should be a larger conversation about why we need (to support these causes in the first place)," she said, adding that people should talk about why homeless shelters and food pantries are needed at all.

She outlined a range of roles individuals can play in supporting important global change, including supporting an issue you really care about or making an agreement with yourself to "do no harm."

In addition to giving the speech, sponsored by the Donahue Institute for Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion, De Reus met with students over the course of several days in classes to discuss activism, international outreach and women's rights.

De Reus is a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow and the recipient of numerous awards from Penn State University including the prestigious George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Spirit of Internationalization Award given in honor of her commitment to global service and outreach. She leads the Genocide Relief Project, a local community-based anti-genocide advocacy, education and aid organization and she is a featured activist in John Prendergast's book, The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa's Worst Human Rights Crimes.

A guest blogger for Women Under Siege and speaker about the crisis in the DRC, her 2013 presentations include TEDxPSU, Daring to Make a Difference for Congo ( and the Oslo Freedom Forum, A Different Kind of Warfare.