University of Virginia students had a front-row seat to the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy Tuesday at the State Department, where Secretary of State John Kerry issued firm words to Russia over its annex of Crimea.
Kerry used a previously scheduled University Town Hall to cast Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin as being on “the wrong side of history.”
It was his first public response to the Russian leader’s speech, in which he laid claim to Crimea from Ukraine. “I was really struck and somewhat surprised and even disappointed by the interpretations in the facts as they were articulated by the president,” he said. “And with all due respect, they really just didn’t jibe with reality or with what’s happening on the ground.”
The students and their professors were invited to the State Department for the formal unveiling of Diplomacy Lab, in which college and university students and faculty tackle global issues and contribute to the creation of State Department policy.
The State Department selected U.Va. and the College of William & Mary to participate in the national pilot program last fall as “founding partners.” Delegations from both schools were invited to come to Washington Tuesday as special guests for the official nationwide launch and were seated in the two front rows.
Members of the audience, mostly students and Washington-based interns, stood in long lines to ask Kerry questions about foreign policy. The secretary encouraged them to become politically engaged.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Kerry also announced a new, interactive map called Department of State by State, where users can learn about State Department engagement state by state, and recalled giving his first foreign policy address as secretary at U.Va. last February.
U.Va.’s OpenGrounds, which encourages collaborative, cross-disciplinary work across Grounds, played a large role in the University’s participation in Diplomacy Lab, managing the interface among students, faculty and the State Department.
“We are thrilled by the success of the diplomacy lab, piloted by the Presidential Precinct, U.Va., William & Mary and OpenGrounds,” said William H. Sherman, OpenGrounds founding director, architecture professor and associate vice president for research. “This demonstrates the potential for university partnerships to provide value on issues of national and international importance while developing the next generation of leaders.”
At the beginning of last semester, nearly 100 students and nine faculty members from disciplines including law, sociology, anthropology, politics, global development and public policy divided into multiple teams to work on individual issues ranging from human trafficking to analyzing the effects of social media on women and children vulnerable to sexual or gender-based violence.
Third-year students Schuyler Miller and Daniel Rosenfeld helped design an implementation strategy for a project to remake the Community of Democracies, a global democratic group whose goal is to promote and strengthen democracy worldwide. Continuing a State Department endeavor that stalled after the leader of the implementation phase left to become the CEO of the Clinton Foundation, their work could become part of a larger report the U.S. will give to a Community of Democracies group charged with redesigning the model.