The first assignment for freshmen at Brenau University this year included a rare opportunity — getting to meet with former President Jimmy Carter.
Students in Brenau’s freshman seminar, which is required for all first-year students, read Carter’s book “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.” On Friday, they went on a field trip that included a meeting with Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta.
The book addresses the injustices faced by women throughout the world.
Students had the opportunity to ask questions and talk with the former president.
Britney Dobson, a freshman biology major, said the event was inspiring, but not necessarily in the way she thought.
“We didn’t expect President Carter to walk in the room like he was one of us,” Dobson said. “He was very down to earth, very human. ... He seemed to want to talk to us, to want to be there.”
During the program, which was held especially for Brenau students, Carter discussed women’s issues, which are the subject of his book.
Melani Stein, a freshman psychology major, said the event and book both stoked the interest in feminism she already had.
“I definitely feel like I learned a lot from the book, especially the statistics,” Stein said, “... but it really hits hard when you actually hear someone say it. ... To hear him support my cause, and a cause that I think everyone supports, it really touched my heart.”
“It’s one thing to read it,” Dobson said. “It’s another thing to hear him talk about it.”
Stein said she asked Carter why he chose the word defenseless to describe the situation of women in society.
“He answered that he doesn’t believe personally that women are defenseless, and he went on to describe many instances in which women’s rights are stripped from them and they can’t fight back,” she said.
Stein said, while she understands why Carter used the word, she still thinks he could have chosen a better one.
“I’m still dissatisfied with the use of the word,” she said. “I would prefer disempowered.”
Still, she said she was impressed with the way he responded to student questions.
“He answered every question extremely thoroughly and made sure the person who answered the question felt satisfied with his answer,” she said.
Dobson said she asked Carter a question that he found difficult to answer, “What is to be done about children who aren’t safe in their own homes (because of abuse)?”
The answer was not a particularly hopeful one.
“He basically said it’s an ongoing problem that is largely ignored by law enforcement,” she said.
Stein and Dobson said Carter discussed a range of problems faced by women, from domestic issues such as campus rape and child molestation to global issues like infanticide and genital mutilation.
“He was asking us to bring to light the women who are being abused,” Dobson said. “He was asking us to talk about it to anybody who will listen.”
Dobson said she didn’t realize the kinds of trials women face before reading the book and attending
“Women aren’t protected, just because of their gender,” Dobson said. “I learned that in more ways than I really suspected, women aren’t treated the same way as men. ... Law enforcement, if you come to them with a rape, they might say it’s your fault. ... In cultures that aren’t quite as developed as we are, little girls are killed or mutilated.”
“Many women in every single country are unable, because of society or culture, to defend themselves,” Stein said.
In keeping with the title of his book, Stein said Carter closed the program with a call to action.
“He told us about gender discrimination with babies in India and China. Little baby girls are often suffocated at birth or aborted,” Stein said. “He told us, ‘I want you to take it upon yourselves, as your own responsibility, to alter the world and make it better.”
Now, Stein and Dobson say they plan to volunteer with Rahab’s Rope, a nonprofit that runs a local store to raise money for victims of human trafficking. Rahab’s Rope participated in Friday’s program.
“To be aware and to be educated about these things really helps with attacking the problem,” Stein said.
“Everybody was just wowed by what President Carter said,” Dobson said. “The work he does for women is just amazing.”