Schulz ‘71 was a student at Oberlin during very turbulent
times," said Wendell P. Russell Jr. ‘71 in September
when he presented Schulz with the Alumni Council’s Distinguished
"When we entered Oberlin in the fall of 1967, little did
we know that within a few weeks all hell was going to break loose
on our campus and turn our college years into a crucible of intense
and often violent social change," said Russell, who is president-elect
of the Alumni Association.
Schulz, who has been director of Amnesty International USA since
1994, received the award in recognition of his career, which "represents
the best of Oberlin’s values of internationalism, social
justice, and the advancement of human rights," said Russell.
While on campus, Schulz met with students and described some of
the "extraordinarily formative" events at Oberlin that
led him to become a lifelong human-rights advocate.
"What I found here was a school where the competition of
ideas, the fundamental questioning of basic assumptions, develops
the capacity to let no idea be so profoundly held that one kills
in its name."
Fascinated by the connection between intellectual thought and
the way in which history is shaped, Schulz said he took classes
from "four compelling professors [of history, English, sociology,
and religion, respectively]: Geoffrey Blodgett, Dewey Ganzel, Milton
Yinger, and Clyde Holbrook."
From them he learned that ideas "are not just fun, they're
not just pretty, but they have consequences in the world. And if
ideas are warped into rigid ideologies, they can have profoundly
negative, disastrous consequences."
During 1970, his junior year, Schulz experienced his first major
disaster: the shootings at Kent State University. "I was a
student minister, the only minister, at a small Unitarian church
in Kent. I wasn’t
there when the shootings occurred, but many of my parishioners
were Kent faculty members, and they were profoundly affected by
the day’s events, so I drove over there
"I found a city under siege. The National Guard was posted
on all of the street corners, and the city council had banned all
gatherings. Churches were not even allowed to hold services to
commemorate the death of the students. We found that outrageous
so we defied the city and had our own memorial service."
The experience, he said, helped him understand a number of things,
including that "sometimes governments, even democratic governments,
can turn on their own citizens."
From Oberlin Schulz went on to pursue two master’s degrees
and a doctorate and service as a parish minister, president of
the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and executive
director of Amnesty International USA.
Throughout his 27-year career, Schulz has spoken out in opposition
to the death penalty; given his support to women’s rights,
gay and lesbian rights, and racial justice; organized and participated
in demonstrations; and written extensively on behalf of all four
causes, including the 2003 book: Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the
Ruin of Human Rights.
He has also traveled extensively, both in the U.S. and abroad,
on investigative missions for Amnesty International (AI). In 1997,
he led a mission to Liberia to investigate atrocities committed
during that country’s civil war, and in 1999 he traveled
to Northern Ireland with AI to insist that human-rights protections
be incorporated into the peace process.
A few days after the Alumni Council presentation, Schulz and an
Amnesty delegation flew to another crucible of violent social change,
Darfur, in Southern Sudan, where they spent considerable time in
the refugee camps listening to horror stories from victims of the
How does Schulz deal with the pain? He says one thing that keeps
him going is meeting victims who somehow have emerged whole from
their suffering; or, if not whole, then they have decided not to
allow that experience to define who they are for the rest of their
"I also try hard" he says, "to keep in perspective
that as painful and poignant and sad and tragic many of the experiences
are that I hear about, it is nothing compared to undergoing them.
My role, ultimately, is to be a voice for those who have no voice."
While on campus, Schulz also presented a free public talk drawn
from Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights. Excerpts
will appear in the winter issue of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine.