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Wm. & Mary and Univ. of Virginia students contribute to U.S. diplomatic policy

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In the U.S. State Department's first public response to Russia's having signed a treaty with Crimea on Tuesday, March 18th -- in which the former 'semi-autonomous territory' would henceforth become annexed to Russia -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made some very firm statements.

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President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin yesterday deemed acceptable the results of a hurried vote in a referendum, in which the people of Crimea indicated that they would favor the option to allow their territory to be annexed to Russia. This followed months of protests that were often violent, leading to the eventual ouster of Crimea's former president earlier this month.

In a previously-scheduled event, described as a “University Town Hall,” Secretary Kerry noted that both the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin were on “the wrong side of history:”

“I was really struck and somewhat surprised and even disappointed by the interpretations in the facts as they were articulated by the [President, Putin], and with all due respect, they really just didn’t jibe with reality or with what’s happening on the ground.”

The State Department extended the invitation to students and their professors, as part of a formal unveiling of a new initiative referred to as Diplomacy Lab, in which both the students and members of the faculty in their respective schools must grapple with a wide range of global issues and then contribute from their academic perspective, toward the creation of State Department foreign policy.

Encouraged by Secretary Kerry to ask questions, the focus of the event was “to make foreign policy less foreign.”

The State Department extended the invitation to students and their professors, as part of a formal unveiling of a new initiative referred to as Diplomacy Lab, in which both the students and members of the faculty in their respective schools must grapple with a wide range of global issues and then contribute from their academic perspective, toward the creation of State Department foreign policy.

Secretary Kerry marked the occasion with the announcement of a new interactive map – now called Department of State by State – where users are invited to explore the State Department's engagement in each of the 50 states – state by state.

The audience for the event on Tuesday was comprised primarily of students and Washington-based interns, who waited their turn in long lines in order to interact with Secretary Kerry who encouraged them to become politically engaged in the area of foreign policy:

“Get involved in the political system. If you don’t think somebody else is making good choices, go tell people what the better choices are and show them how you can follow through on them, and don’t get bought out by the vast sums of money in American politics. Fight that and give people’s voices back to people. That’s how you do it.”

The Secretary noted that he had given his first foreign policy address as Secretary of State at the University of Virginia on February 20, 2013. (See the UVa Today article for that event, here.)

The Diplomacy Lab and the University of Virginia manage the interface among the students and the faculty. The State Department, and UVa's OpenGrounds has enabled the cross-disciplinary collaborative work across the 'academical village,' and has played a substantial role in the University's participation in the Diplomacy Lab's pilot program.

The State Department selected students and faculty from UVa and from the College of William & Mary to participate in the national pilot program which began last fall, designating the two Virginia Schools as “founding partners.”

OpenGrounds serves to build bridges of interaction among each of the disciplines in Jefferson's ideal of having an "Academical Village," where knowledge can be exchanged in an interdisciplinary approach, generally:

"OpenGrounds is building new networks to connect faculty, staff, students and diverse partners, inspire those who take risks at the frontiers of their fields and collaborate across boundaries, to create new disruptive ideas that make a real impact in the world."

Delegations from both William & Mary and UVa were invited to come to Washington on Tuesday, as special guests, and were seated in the front rows for the event. Third-year students at the University, Schuyler Miller -- a double major in government and foreign affairs in the Department of Politics Honors Program; and Daniel Rosenfeld, who is majoring in political philosophy, policy and law -- both helped to design an implementation strategy for a project to remake the Community of Democracies, which is a "global democratic group whose goal is to promote and strengthen democracy worldwide," continuing a State Department endeavor that had been in the process of development earlier on.

In the era of Social Networking -- combined with the trend for browsers like Google Chrome and others which are accommodating more users' having access to the internet now, through tablets and smartphones; and now having the layout and design overtaken by fonts that would seem to be most appropriate for 2nd or 3rd- graders, and conveying language that is reduced to up to 140 characters, or up to 100-200 words, and now being read by users accustomed to consuming information through short videos and audio soundbites, in attention spans approximately equal to an elementary-school child -- it will be interesting to learn, eventually, whether these College and University students, or those who succeed them, can adapt to a language of diplomacy that will take civilization to a more peaceable geopolitical perspective in the 21st-Century. It should be quite a challenge. The fate of the world that is at stake will shortly be in what one sincerely hopes will be in their 'safe hands.'

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