Utah Students Present a Panel Discussion Reflecting on Their Meeting with Iranian President
Students from Westminster & UVU to discuss insights from their Q&A session with Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Krista DeAngelis (801) 832-2682
Oct. 1, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY – More than 25 students from Westminster College, Utah Valley University and Southern Utah University recently traveled to New York to visit with leaders from the Islamic Republic of Iran, members of the Iranian Parliament, opposition activists and scholars to explore issues in diplomacy, peacebuilding and democracy in the Middle East. During the visit, students had a unique opportunity to meet with Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, at a private dinner with academics and students interested intercultural, interreligious and diplomatic affairs.
Students from Westminster and UVU will conduct a multimedia presentation and panel discussion on October 22 entitled “Understanding International Interreligious Diplomacy” at Westminster at 7:30 p.m. in the Gore School of Business Auditorium. The panel will share their perspectives, the questions they asked President Ahmadinejad and what they learned during the visit. Westminster students will also hold an internal campus discussion on October 6 at 5 p.m. in Malouf Hall, room 201. Media members are invited to attend both events.
The trip took place September 21 through 26 in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly and provided students with an opportunity to not only meet with heads of state and other academics, but provided a forum to ask challenging questions to the Iranian president focused on the treatment of dissenters, the holocaust denial, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and nuclear proliferation.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the students,” said Michael Minch, director of UVU’s Peace and Justice Studies Program. “Not only to meet with heads of state, but to engage with scholars of this caliber who have intimate knowledge of Iran.”
Minch, along with UVU’s Brian Birch, were the lead organizers of the trip. Westminster’s Jan Saeed, director of spiritual life, and Doug Larson, director of SUU’s Leavitt Center, coordinated efforts to bring students from their respective institutions.
Saeed, a member of the Baha’i faith, which is the largest minority religion in Iran but does not have representation in the Iranian parliament, participated in the trip for both personal and administrative reasons. “I wanted to ask the president questions about human rights violations in Iran, as well as expose our students to a variety of perspectives on democracy in the Middle East. I also wanted them to use their critical thinking skills and analyze what they learned from an interpersonal, intercultural and international diplomacy level,” she explained.
Westminster student Cooper Henderson believes the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that offered unique insight into the subtleties of diplomacy. “Prior to this experience I focused acutely on my dislike for President Ahmadinejad's heated rhetoric and the prospects of nuclear weaponry in Iran,” he said. “Now my attention has shifted toward the common interests between Iran and the United States. The intimate setting of our meetings allowed me to move forward to cooperative strategies for stabilizing the Middle East, rather than simply criticize the Iranian government's failures.”
During the sessions, the students asked a variety of questions, from Iran’s aggressive stance toward the U.S. and its allies, to the persecution of members of the Baha’i community, and if the president would ever step down from his position.
“I believe this trip was a very educational experience for everyone involved,” said Saeed. “Even though we did not always hear the answers we wanted, it was still an excellent opportunity to make students and others aware of the issues and violations that are occurring in Iran. It also provided insight into the international diplomacy process.”
In addition to the dinner with Dr. Ahmadinejad on September 23, the group also met with leaders from various organizations including the Center for the Study of Iran at Columbia University, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the American Iranian Council and the American Institute for Iranian Studies. They attended a reception hosted by the Prime Minister of Nepal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, as well as a special guided tour of the Islamic Art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Media interested in attending the event can contact Krista DeAngelis at (801) 832-2682.