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An Unexpected Path — and a Big Impact
At the University of Dayton, our Catholic, Marianist spirit transcends the classroom and extends into all facets of the institution. Why? How? Faculty and staff who truly want to make a difference in our students’ lives — and in our world.
Binod Kumar has been a part of the University community since 1980, when he joined UDRI as a senior research engineer. During the ensuing years, Kumar proved himself to be a notable hire, initiating and developing multiple contracts, and writing more than 100 research publications and 15 patents. In 2014, Kumar retired from UDRI, but not before finding another path at the University — a path that took shape long before his retirement, with a trip to his home in India.
In 2002, Kumar visited his family in northeast India near the Nepal border. During his stay, he noticed the extreme amount of violence terrorizing the area; kidnapping, rape and murder were commonplace. Almost by fate, Kumar’s visit included a trip to the nearby remnants of an ancient civilization, a place where the philosophy of nonviolence began.
“Nonviolence began here?” Kumar found himself wondering. “It’s so violent right now. What happened?” These thoughts stuck with Kumar long after his return to Dayton, fueling a desire to explore the roots of this sort of violence and how to foster nonviolence in its place. And so Kumar sought to fund a research and educational program to address these issues. Kumar said, “My initial thought was to fund a program in India, but I realized that the corruption over there was so entrenched that whatever money I gave to them would not be spent in a proper way.”
Then a way forward came to light. “There was a luncheon at Kennedy Union, and I was sitting at a table with Brother Ray [Fitz] and a few others, discussing my interest in nonviolence. Brother Ray listened and said, ‘Why don’t you do it here, at the University of Dayton?’ And that’s how it began.”
His quest began in 2005, with the creation of an endowment to fund nonviolence education at the University. The fund brought in various speakers over the years, namely scholars and practitioners devoted to promoting nonviolence. Kumar was lightly involved, but given his work at UDRI, he did not have much time to offer. All of that changed upon his retirement.
In summer 2014, Kumar devoted his time in support of the endowment’s work — which eventually led to much more. He now serves as a human rights fellow at the University’s Human Rights Center, which is home to the endowment. Kumar developed a curriculum for a nonviolence course that he currently teaches, continues to bring in distinguished speakers and launches other initiatives aimed at conveying the value of nonviolence in relation to human rights campaigns.
As Kumar explained, “If we want to protect human rights, we need to understand what is at the root of given instances of violence and then what can be done to foster nonviolence. Education is the most important part of it. That’s what I’m thinking about; that’s what I’m working on every day.”
And what he’s working on — and investing in — changes the way students see the world, encouraging them to embrace a philosophy of nonviolence as a means to achieve social change. Student Catherine Sulecki ‘17 took Kumar’s nonviolence class on a whim and found it to be one of her favorite classes.
She said, “I’m studying political science, so I was really amazed when we studied the differences between nonviolent and violent protests against governments. It was clear that nonviolent actions were more successful and beneficial to society as a whole. This was something that I had never really thought about studying, but once I gained this knowledge I found myself applying it to most of my political science classes.”
Changing the mindset of students like Sulecki — and working toward fostering a more peaceful world — is all in a day’s work for Kumar. It’s just one inspiring story among many in the workplace community at the University of Dayton.
Future Initiatives Enabled Through Kumar’s Work
- In April 2016, Kumar’s endowment brought famed nonviolent activist Srdja Popovic to the University. His impactful work includes leading the nonviolent movement that ended the regime of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Popovic’s presentation at the University was well received by students and faculty alike and is leading to further educational opportunities for students, including internships in Belgrade at the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, an organization that Popovic cofounded.
- Plans are underway to hold a conference sponsored by the Oslo Freedom Forum, a network of advocates promoting global human rights. Annually, the forum holds a flagship conference in Oslo, Norway, but the organization also holds several satellite conferences, including one to be held at the University of Dayton.