Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Mahatma Gandhi helped shape the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, a Gandhian expert from an Indian university told students earlier this week at Clayton State University.
Namita Nimbalkar, the director of the Gandhian Studies Centre, at the Kalyan, India-based University of Mumbai's Birla College, explained that Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance helped to shape the ideology of a man who pushed for the rights of African Americans -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"He read Gandhi, therefore he was familiar with his approach of nonviolent resistance," Nimbalkar said. "Martin Luther King, Jr. organized citizens [through peaceful protests] ... and this led to the end of segregation in the South."
The life and philosophy of Gandhi, and his influence on everyone from King to environmentalists, may soon become a major focus at Clayton State, according to university officials.
Nimbalkar's speech, entitled "The Ethical in the Life of Gandhi," served as an unofficial opening, on Tuesday, for Clayton State's planned Center for Ethics and Gandhian Studies. It was an unofficial opening because the center is technically still in the planning stages, university officials said. It will be run by philosophy faculty at Clayton State.
"We're really just getting started at this, so we're open to growing the center, and whatever we can do to achieve that growth," said Clayton State philosophy professor, Todd Janke. He is the director of the center.
Clayton State Director of International Programs, John Parkerson, said discussions about establishing the center began nine months ago, between faculty and administrators at Clayton State and the University of Mumbai. Parkerson's office is helping to facilitate the establishment of the center, by partnering the university's philosophy department with the University of Mumbai's Gandhian Studies Centre.
The two universities already have a long-standing agreement in place that allows for faculty and student exchanges, he said.
"They became serious discussions last April," Parkerson said. "We came up with the idea together. We were just discussing how we could expand our partnership, and we arrived at the idea of establishing a Center for Ethics and Gandhian Studies here, because they already had one ... in India."
Parkerson said the center cannot open until it is approved by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. He could not specify when regents' approval would be sought.
"We're still in the formation stage at this time," he said. "We have everything but the state approval. It's a formality that we have to go through. We already have all of the institutional support."
Nimbalkar recommended that Clayton State's center operate with a student-centered approach. "When we talk of the future, our hope lies in young people," she said. "It is the young who could bring change about. We should give them a mold in which we want them to grow, and they will become the people we want them to be."
Parkerson and Janke said they already have some ideas for activities the center can do, including an annual academic conference, and partnerships with The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, in Atlanta. Parkerson said Clayton State's center would also rely on resources from the Indian community in metropolitan Atlanta, as well as resources at the University of Mumbai.
Nimbalkar said the Gandhian Studies Centre that she oversees takes students to local prisons, to hear lectures from professors, and to interact with prisoners. The ultimate goal, she said, is to use the experience to teach the students why people commit crimes.
"They say 'These are good people, why did they commit crimes?" and the answer is we need to keep a check on our emotions," Nimbalkar said. "People are inherently good ... when we let go of our emotions, that is when crime occurs."
Parkerson said Clayton State's center will cut across fields of study at the university, despite being run by the philosophy department. Since the focus will be on Gandhi's influence around the world, as well as his life, Parkerson said students studying South African politics, or American Civil Rights history would be able to find resources through the center.
It relates to the School of Business, it relates to politics, it has so much that is related to many topics," Parkerson said. "It provides a set of values and standards that have continuing relevance."