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  March 31, 2003

Open Dialogue Encouraged On War With Iraq

Issues related to the war in Iraq will be aired on campus, not only in classes and residence halls but also through a special community-wide discussion being planned by a committee appointed by Chancellor John D. Petersen.

The committee, which met for the first time last week, is headed by Mohamed Hussein, professor of accounting. The group is considering an event or series of activities that could be scheduled in the next week or 10 days and would encourage open dialogue about the war. Other members of the committee include Chantal Bouchereau of residential life; Joanne Lewis of student affairs; Christopher Wentzel, an undergraduate student; Shaker Haji, president of the Muslim Students' Association; Reda Ammar of computer science and engineering; Ron Schurin of the president's office; Metin Cosgel of economics; Ken Neubeck, sociology; Christopher Hattayer of the Board of Trustees; Betty Hanson, professor of political science; Michelle Helmin of the chancellor's office; and Ronald Taylor, vice provost of multicultural and international affairs.

The committee will also establish a website that will list all activities related to the war, including discussion groups, meetings and peace activities. Information for the website should be sent to

More than 40 students have been called into active military service, and students on campus have hotly debated the pros and cons of the war already. Peace protesters have etched a giant peace sign into the snow on Horse Barn Hill and camped on the Beach Hall lawn; other students have driven friends to military bases to report for duty.

"As an institution of higher education, we have a special responsibilit y to help our students express their opinions and understand the issues involved in the Iraq conflict from all perspectives. Our role is not to tell students what to think. It is, rather, to help provide the information they need to develop their own opinions based on a strong foundation of knowledge," President Philip E. Austin said. "Peaceful expressions of opinion are always welcome on a university campus and we are eager to provide multiple opportunities for dialogue."

Austin asked academic departments with areas of focus relevant to the situation in Iraq to organize panel discussions open to all students. "There is vast expertise resident in our faculty and now is a good time to bring it to the University community in a variety of non-formal educational settings," he said.

Several departments, including political science, are compiling lists of faculty and senior graduate students who can make themselves available as speakers or discussion panelists at forums being set up for the rest of the semester.

Faculty have also been invited to the residence halls to help facilitate student discussions about the war in Iraq. Interested faculty can contact John Sears at 860.486.3430 or Sessions scheduled by press time include sessions on students in the military; the fundamental politics of war; and war and college-aged Americans.

Austin noted that because students may feel anxious about the war, and about loved ones overseas, staff in the Dean of Students' office (860.486.3428) and the International Center (860.486.3855) are available to talk with students who have particular needs. For students, faculty and staff with concerns about safety, the University Police can be reached around the clock by calling 860.486.4800, or 911 in an emergency. In addition, information on security issues is available at the UConn Police website.

Austin also asked students, faculty and staff to be tolerant of each other. "No member of our student body, faculty, or staff, and no visitor to our campus, should be subjected to discriminatory acts or hostile words based on race, culture, nationality, or religion. Even, and perhaps especially in this time of crisis, it is vital that the University continue to be a welcoming community open to people from a broad range of backgrounds and a wide array of political perspectives."

The William Benton Museum of Art is also offering programming related to peace and terrorism through a five-week exhibit "Rupture and Healing" that opened last week. The exhibition features both visual and performance art.

Through April 11, visitors can witness the ancient practice of healing, a three-week long creation of the sacred Kalachakra Mind Mandala for World Peace by Tibetan monks from the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, N.Y. The monks in residence at the Benton will create the complex mandala as a prayer for world peace and for personal healing. The mandala will remain on exhibit until 2 p.m. on April 27, when there will be a special dismantling ceremony.

The exhibit also allows visitors to revisit and process memories of September 11 by viewing 100 photographs taken by anonymous New York photographers during the first few days after the World Trade Center collapsed. The prints will be on display through April 27. As part of the exhibit, visitors are invited to write their thoughts on index cards and post them. And the exhibit will include a Mourning Wall, an installation of 48 Polaroid negatives by Ellen Carey.

There will also be a special community candlelight vigil for peace and tolerance at 7 p.m. on April 3. The museum will be open that day from 10 a.m. until midnight.

"We are living through very difficult times, filled with dangers and fears on a global scale. While we can't hope to control this overwhelming world theater, we can voice our opinions to our leaders and find ways to empower ourselves within the constraints of our own lives," said Sal Scalora, director of the Benton Museum.

"When we engage in shared experiences, we are not left alone with our fears. We are united with others who share these same feelings. It is our intention to provide the community with a space within our museum walls for reflection, discourse and healing."

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