Student dialogues provide on comparative international perspective on current events

March 15, 2021

Two dialogues between Princeton University undergraduates and students from partner European universities provided a comparative international perspective on current events.

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, students from Sciences Po and Princeton University exchanged views on the future of global education and how their study and lives have been influenced by the pandemic, misinformation campaigns and online learning. On Thursday, Jan. 28, students from Belarus and Princeton discussed the uprisings in the U.S. and Belarus. The American students focused on resistance to racial injustice, and the Belarusian students, in forced exile in Lithuania, on their ongoing revolution to challenge their authoritarian government, establish respect for the rule of law, and democratize their country.

The Wintersession events featured a panel-style discussion between students. “The Future of Global Education: Princeton in Dialogue with Students from Sciences Po” was moderated by Aly Kassam-Remtulla, associate provost for international affairs and operations. “The American Uprising and Revolution in Belarus: Princeton in Dialogue with Belarussian Students in Exile at the European Humanities University” was moderated John Borneman, professor of anthropology, director of the Program in Contemporary European Politics and Society, and acting director of the Program in Ethnographic Studies. “The impetus for these dialogues was to encourage an exchange of student perspectives on new limits to global education and to understand better what political issues motivate current student activism,” Borneman said. 

Each student was introduced before giving a short presentation on their own experiences before taking questions from the audience. 

Hannah To, a junior economics concentrator at Princeton, participated in the global education panel. “As a student who is interested in international relations and development, I think it’s important for students to reflect on what it means to get a global education,” she said. She appreciated hearing about the different areas of educational access her fellow panelists were interested in, such as girls’ and women’s education and first generation/low income resources. “It was also interesting learning about these issues from an international perspective. We had a meaningful conversation regarding how the challenges low-income students in Germany face differ from those that low-income students in the United States face,” she said. 

Her Sciences Po counterpart, Jurek Wille, a second-year student majoring in politics and law with a focus on trans-Atlantic relations, said the dialogue reinforced his choice of studying the trans-Atlantic space. “We have so much in common, yet pursue so different paths,” he said. “I find this fascinating and believe we can learn much more from each other than we acknowledge.”

Similarly, Anabella McElroy, also a second-year Sciences Po student, was struck by the differences and the parallels on both sides of the Atlantic. “Higher education diversity was an important issue for all of us, and each school had different ways of approaching affirmative action, tuition relief and diverse recruitment,” said McElroy, who is earning a degree in political humanities. “Understanding varied solutions to the same problem is invaluable, and I hope to keep learning how equal education opportunities can be achieved.”

Princeton administrators stressed the importance of students’ interactions with their peers, especially during the pandemic when universities are operating primarily online and informal interactions between students are more infrequent. “[These dialogues] are vital for advancing their intellectual development and shaping their values,” said Yi-Ching Ong, director of Service Focus at the Pace Center for Civic Engagement. Service Focus brings Princeton first-year students together to explore the meaning of service and its place in their lives. It runs from the spring of the first year through the spring of sophomore year. “We felt it was particularly vital at this moment to create new spaces and opportunities for students to meet others with shared passions, but with different context and perspectives,” Ong added. 

Yauheni Karaulau, a first-year graduate student in public policy at European Humanities University noted that it was really important to him to convey what is happening in his home country of Belarus. “The foreign media decided that since we did not manage to destroy the dictatorship for the first time in a week, we lost,” he said. “In fact, we continue to fight. We have a new civil society that wants change. Black Lives Matter also trying to solve this problem by peaceful means, as in Belarus. This is a long journey, but more effective in the long run.”

Matt Lynn, assistant director of the Bridge Year Program in the Office of International Programs, said these types of student dialogues build understanding and encourage relationship building across difference as the globe grapples with overwhelming collective problems such as structural racism, iniquities in education, healthcare, and housing, gender-based violence, and climate catastrophe. “This ability to communicate and grapple with difficult, often overwhelming subjects, allows for mutual insight, promotes empathy and dissolves stereotypes,” he said. “One of the main successes of the recent student panels on global education and the nature of uprising and protest was the building of common goals and strategies for understanding and tackling some of the root causes of several of the world’s most pervasive, often intractable problems. I hope this type of youth-focused dialogue will become more and more common, as I think it is an extremely important aspect of an engaged and dynamic university experience.”

Both dialogues were sponsored by Program in Contemporary European Politics and Society, Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, European Humanities University, Princeton Institute for International Research Studies (PIIRS), the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship, the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, and Sciences Po.