Panel discusses diversity

Students and members of President Bill Clinton’s administration discussed the importance of diversity in education during a Dialogue on Diversity in the Hippodrome Tuesday.

Our population is becoming increasingly diverse, and that makes it especially important to encourage young people to reach out to those from backgrounds that are different from their own, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said at the event.

Five panelists, including Student Association President David Burt and Amiko Matsumato, director of the Office of Community Service, discussed President Bill Clinton’s plan for One America, a June 1997 proposal aimed to encourage Americans to respect their own culture while embracing others.

Dean Mary Futrell of the Graduate School for Education and Human Development opened the forum by explaining the difference between dialogue and debate.

Dialogue emphasizes listening to a deeper understanding … it permits questioning and in order to understand the other person’s position, one must be willing to reevaluate one’s own values, she said. The advances of technology have brought people together and with that an increasing probability of conflict.

Panelist sophomore Chris Darmanin described the benefits of programs such as Tuesday’s discussion.

Dialogues like this are constructive and can only help issues that arise such as diversity on our campus … and they contribute to the larger picture of the goal President Clinton and the Secretary (Riley) are trying to achieve, he said.

Senior Seth Rosenzweig, who organized the event, said the success of Tuesday’s event is difficult to gauge.

If dialogues like this don’t continue in small numbers, then the event was a failure, he said. The goal is to really reach out to those who aren’t dialoguing and for those who are, to keep continuing to listen and voice their feeling.

While working as an intern for Susan Frost, Riley’s senior adviser, Rosenzweig presented the idea for GW to host a discussion because the University has a diverse student body, Rosenzweig said.

I was inspired one day, Rosenzweig said. I think GW with its diversity would be a great place to hold an anchored event to promote the Department of Education’s initiative.

After the panel discussion, Undersecretary of Education Judith A. Winston touted Clinton’s educational endeavors.

President Clinton is the only president to challenge the nation personally and professionally on the topic of diversity and engaging the initiative the president has posed, Winston said.

The goal of Clinton’s One America initiative is to promote racial reconciliation and college opportunity, according to the Education Department’s Web site. It includes the Campus Week of Dialogue and National College Week programs.

The Campus Week of Dialogue attempts to bring together college students to express their feelings about race in a comfortable setting.

Senior Reena Ninan said the event helped develop an understanding of differences among students.

I think more dialogue and active participation on diversity (is important) . because it has never been addressed in this matter, Ninan said. It is a matter of continuing this and implementing new ways to bring more diversity.

Riley also said the value of diversity must be emphasized.

Some people see diversity as a liability. It isn’t. It is a great asset, he said. If we can give all our young people a first-rate education, we can build an America that is prosperous, strong and democratic.

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