Students tackle international dispute

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Afghan, American students debate affirmative action

Divided only by an ocean and two continents, SLU students are set for a Skype debate with students in Afghanistan on affirmative action and it’s applicability to Afghan culture. The debate aims to honor Black History Month within an international forum, while also bringing a new level of cultural learning and discussion to campus. Both the Cross Cultural Center and the Center for Global Citizenship are hosting the event.

“The basic idea for this unique program is to generate conversation about civil rights and human rights as they relate to Black History Month,” Katie Gauthier Donnelly, Program Manager at the CGC, said.

The debate will focus on America’s history of policies concerning affirmative action and whether application of similar policies in Afghanistan would be practical and desirable in Afghan society. The concept is taken from a yearly international debate held during Black History Month by the ODSAO (Open Debating Society of Afghanistan-Organization), the first registered debate organization in Afghanistan, in conjunction with the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan. Frozan Maqsoodi and Reshad Farzan, two of the six founders of ODSAO, worked with their mentor Diana Carlin, the Associate Vice President for Graduate Education and International Initiatives, to bring the event to SLU.

The debate topic provides a unique opportunity for international and intercultural communication on issues that aren’t part of the usual public discussion. Carlin noted that there are many conflicts in Afghanistan over women’s rights, specifically concerning educational opportunities and the role of women in the government. Cultural restrictions on women working and violence against women have also received more media attention lately. The debaters will attempt to demonstrate how American affirmative action policies might or might not help the country resolve such issues.

“Affirmative action is still controversial in this country,” Carlin said, noting that the topic leaves plenty of room for consideration.

Farzan stated that 11 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, Afghan citizens are still trying to adjust to the differences between the two cultures.

“[People are] trying to adjust to positive U.S. history,” Farzan said. “Seeing that [some things] happened in America and happened well, the belief is [they] will happen in Afghanistan.”

According to Carlin, part of the debate’s purpose is helping students understand the influence of American culture abroad.

“Culture is rather permeable,” Carlin said. “You take a general principle… [and consider] how you make that work with cultural restraints.”

She claimed one of the biggest issues with U.S. foreign policy is a lack of cultural experience amongst congressional leaders, which is something she hopes events like this can help change.

Maqsoodi also noted that one of the goals of the event is to expose Afghan students to American culture. She said that her work with Carlin and debate as a whole allowed her to get a scholarship at SLU. Other students involved with ODSAO have been afforded similar opportunities, and she hopes the international competition does its part in giving more students the chance to learn about new cultures.

“Apart from the debating experience that we have we also want to share the cultural experiences and the changes that debate has made in so many young lives in Afghanistan,” Maqsoodi said. “Knowing more about the U.S. environment and the studying environment in schools, we will try to share it back with our Afghani students.”

Four judges will decide the winners based on which side can present the most practically sound argument.

Michael Wolff, the dean of SLU Law and a former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice, and Richard Harvey, an associate professor of psychology, will sit as the American judges. According to Maqsoodi, two neutral judges have been invited to sit with the Afghan team, but their participation  has yet to be confirmed.

The debate will be held in a British parliamentary format. Carlin and Farzan stated that the British form is more popular internationally, and more exciting overall.

The event is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 6 in the CGC with a rebroadcast at 7 p.m. that will include a question and answer session.

John Giebfried, Eric Behna, Sara Rahim, Jonathan Pulphus, Paulina Menichiello and Roger Dale Perkey make up the team of six SLU students in the competition.

The students in Afghanistan will represent ODASO and come from four private universities: Mohammad Dawood Safi attends Kabul University, Abdul Wahab Qurishi comes from Kabul Polytechnic University, Sadia Sayed attends Karwan University and Abdul Khaliqu Sherzai is a student at Kardan University.