As we return from a short fall break there is anticipation in the still-warm fall air. Our Homecoming Weekend begins in a few days, and many of our first year graduates will be returning for a packed weekend of activities and fun.
The last two weeks brought two of our most difficult case studies of the semester. We first tackled the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan. As the U.S. and Afghan governments contemplate reconciliation with the Taliban, many observers worry that women’s rights (which were dismantled under the Taliban) will recede. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, long viewed as a strong advocate for women’s rights, has the challenging task of balancing these imperatives.
Our case study connected us with Ambassador Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Rights; Vikram Singh, Senior Advisor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (Special Representative for Pakistan and Ambassador); and Lissa Muscatine, who just retired as Director of Speechwriting for the State Department. We also visited the Afghanistan Embassy, just a few blocks north of us, to discuss the government’s official view.
The highlight of the week came on Friday, when Lissa Muscatine visited SEGL. (Earlier in the week, she had visited to give tips about effective speechwriting. As part of that visit, she told the incredible story about the lead-up to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s famous 1995 ” Women’s Rights and Human Rights” speech in China.) In groups of four, the students presented speeches they had written for Secretary Clinton to deliver in front of four audiences: the UN General Assembly, the U.S. Congress, the Afghan Parliament, and the press (and American people) at the National Press Club. Muscatine critiqued each speech and then allowed students to turn the tables and critique a speech she had written about the same issue. The session was lively–our second “Master Class” of the semester.
Last week we discussed one of history’s most intractable disputes: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. After a detailed PowerPoint overview on the history of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East, we met with two key players in the conflict: Ghaith al-Omari, a former advisor to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas who helped lead the 1999-2001 “permanent status” talks (including the Camp David summit), and Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Satloff visited SEGL after a whirlwind 24 hours: hosting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for dinner and taking the mayor of Jerusalem to lunch.) These two speakers reached for conciliation while also revealing subtle differences in viewpoint. Our students also videoconferenced with Suhayb al-Jawhari, a Fall 2009 SEGL student who lives in Jordan and is of Palestinian descent. The case study was particularly challenging for many students and it was remarkable to sit in on their powerful reflection session (purposely held without any guests) at the end of the week.
This week is shortened by the holiday and the PSAT on Saturday. We will soon begin focusing on our social venture projects; on Wednesday, we will visit Ashoka, the largest organization of social entrepreneurs in the world, to learn about their Youth Venture program (which generously provides our graduates with up to $1000 in seed funding). After that, it is on to the “Odyssey” section of Ethics and Leadership (more on that next time!).