“Education should teach us how little we know, not how much. It should be an exercise in humility,” says Don Mullan, special advisor for international initiatives, School of Public Service.
As a visiting scholar, Mullan — an international human rights advocate and author — has been lecturing, helping develop Peace and Justice programs, and working to expand international opportunities for DePaul students and graduates.
For the spring quarter, Mullan is developing a class, “Journey to Justice: Stories of Tragedy and Triumph,” that he says will pose the question: “How can we use imagination to address issues of social injustice and help heal the hurts of history? Imagination is important in dealing with human rights issues: that’s one contribution I bring to the students of DePaul.”
Last October, Mullan participated in the visiting artist series hosted by the School of Cinema and Interactive Media. Part of his presentation was a screening of the film, Bloody Sunday, based on his book, “Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth,” a compilation of eye witness accounts of a day in Northern Ireland when British soldiers killed 14 and wounded 13 unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders.
When just a teen, Mullan witnessed the incident, which was quickly covered up by authorities. Twenty-five years later, his book prompted a new investigation by the British government, ending in an apology from Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the event unjustified and unjustifiable. Mullan says this was a healing moment: “Peace is not the absence of war; it’s the presence of justice.”
He recalls another event from his youth that helped shaped his philosophy:
“I saw the body of a policeman who’d been shot dead, blood pouring out of his head and chest. Standing over him were his teenage son and daughter, clasping each other in shocked horror. At that moment, I realized that violence doesn’t inflict only physical wounds; it also inflicts historical and spiritual wounds.
"I could imagine that son and daughter in time telling their children what happened to their grandfather and those children in turn telling the story to the next generation. That moment of violence would pulsate and ripple through the generations. Also, I thought if I were that son and daughter, I would spend the rest of my life ensuring that the people who did that would never achieve their objectives. There would be a hardening of heart, a digging in of heels, and a vociferous cry of ‘no surrender’ — I realized this is not the way forward.
"I began a journey to learn from the great peacemakers of the world who were committed to social justice through non-violence.”
Mullan recently edited and re-published in Ireland “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave,” an exploration of the abolitionist’s life and work. He credits the civil rights movement in the U.S. with inspiring the Catholics in Northern Ireland: “We owe a deep debt of gratitude to the black people of the United States, because we came to see ourselves as part of a global struggle for civil rights and justice.”
Championed by Patricia Monaghan from the School for New Learning, Mullan was awarded an honorary degree in 2011, at which time he donated his papers to DePaul.
“DePaul’s commitment to social justice issues certainly reflects and aligns with my life’s work,” he says. “I love the spirit of DePaul. From the top down, Vincentian values are apparent: there’s recognition that every student who comes through these doors is special. The Vincentian spirit sees the spark of God in everyone: every human being must be valued and respected.”