Monday, March 07, 2011

Introducing my students to a Washington Post reporter

Towards the end of last semester, a Washington Post reporter contacted AU’s Public Relations Office about meeting a class of international relations students to provide information for an article she was writing. A PR staff member contacted me and I suggested the reporter join students in my undergraduate “International Development” class for our end-of-semester dinner, held in my Anderson Hall faculty resident’s apartment. When she agreed, I thought it would be helpful to introduce her to this special group of School of International Service students and the distinctive culture we created during our semester together. Here is what I wrote:

I thought it might be helpful for Janna (the reporter) to also know a bit about our class members. The course is 300 level, primarily juniors and seniors, but with several sophomores who have been very engaged and effective participants. Like other students in the School of International Service, many have international experience. One student is from Haiti, another form the Virgin Islands, another from India, another from Jordan. Four spent a Semester Abroad in China. One lived and worked for an extended period in a Nairobi slum.

The subject matter of the course is “International Development” which could be roughly translated as “initiatives, programs and policies to end poverty in the poor countries of the global south, but also including Washington DC and other US cities”. As an Honors Supplement one student is doing a film on homeless people who work with the DC weekly newspaper “Street Sense.” We will be viewing it Monday night. Another has done anthropological field research on the lives of four single poor women who live in DC.

Class sessions involved lots of sharing and discussion. Students were asked to write five “reaction papers” during the semester (an idea I borrowed from a colleague at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy where I was in residence as a Visiting Professor last spring). In these papers, they were asked to reflect on class readings from the vantage point of their own values and personal experiences. Many of these, which we discussed in class each week, were moving and evocative.

What I have found inspiring about this class is the degree of affection and mutual respect with which we have come to regard each other. Contrary to the image some hold of AU as Washington’s “liberal” university, class members’ political views range across the entire spectrum from “Right” to “Left”. For example, some strongly oppose military involvement in development projects. Another hopes to make a difference in development pursuing a career as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. (My own background, incidentally, includes five years of active duty service as an officer in the United States Navy.) But whatever views are held and expressed, they are listened to fully and with respect. This class provides a model of civil discourse from which members of the US Congress could learn much.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home