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The university's Center for International Dialogue works to bridge cultural chasms.
By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Published February 10, 2008
The Saudi Arabian minister of state will sit down Monday with Rwanda's president in a rare face-to-face gathering aimed at improving relations between their very different countries.
The meeting spot? Not a foreign embassy or the White House, but the Tallahassee campus of Florida State University.
The research institution is the leading U.S. college in the United Nations' fledgling "Alliance of Civilizations," an attempt to bridge religious and cultural divides around the world. Monday's forum, hosted by the FSU Claude Pepper Center for Intercultural Dialogue, is expected to draw 300 state and national officials, students and scholars.
"This is certainly one of the biggest things to happen to FSU," said student body president Joe O'Shea of Dunedin. "We certainly have a growing international presence, and I think this is really part of FSU's niche."
For FSU, the conference also marks the launch of two pioneering efforts: an international alliance of colleges that will do research to help countries develop new policies and relationships; and the construction of a school in Rwanda, to be financed with money raised by FSU students.
"We're talking about bridges, and the bridge to development is education," said Monsignor William A. Kerr, director of the Pepper Center. "Universities, being learning environments, have a unique ability to expose the commonalities between these different groups. Things are not going to get better, we're not going to have a climate of dialogue, unless universities are involved."
He plans for FSU and the Pepper Center to serve as a think tank for policy development and research, much of which can help the U.N.'s peace-building alliance.
The alliance is the brainchild of the Turkish and Spanish prime ministers, who came up with the idea following the March 2004 train bombings in Madrid. It officially kicked off in Madrid last month with attendees including former Irish President Mary Robinson and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka of Nigeria.
People who go to Monday's forum will hear Saudi Arabian Minister of State Abdullah A. Alirezza discuss U.S.-Saudi relations.
The keynote speaker, to be introduced by former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's son Yuval Rabin, is bestselling author and former Lebanon War fighter Michael Oren. Oren is a Middle East expert who served in the elder Rabin's government.
Paul Kagame, Rwanda's president since 2000, will discuss the importance of education in helping his nation rebound politically and economically from war.
Before Kagame leaves Tallahassee this week, he'll receive two significant gifts: an honorary FSU degree, and the promise of a technical school to be built by FSU students starting this summer.
A group of 17 students, including O'Shea, will use more than $40,000 raised through a student campaign called "True Seminoles" to build the school.
"We really hope we can build a permanent relationship with the students of FSU and the students we'll be working with in Rwanda," O'Shea said. "We are a school that can reach out and piece together the resources to support the U.N.'s goals."
Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3403.
[Last modified February 9, 2008, 23:50:17]