After taking a class in Georgtown’s Polycom RealPresence Experience room in New North Hall, Matt Smallcomb (COL ’09) found himself fascinated by this technology, which allows students to engage in advanced videoconferencing with people around the world and sought to find a constructive way to use the technology outside of the classroom. Teaming up with Zack Bluestone (SFS ’09), who studied abroad at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Qatar last fall, the two decided to organize a student-run, politically focused set of forums to take place between Georgetown students in the District and in Doha.

According to Smallcomb, these conferences aim not only to bring together students who are interested in discussing important current political issues, but also to help foster a stronger bond between the two physically separated student bodies. He hopes that each location will gather a group of 10 students who will then be able to engage with one another in comfortable conversation on various world issues.

“This forum is the first known attempt at a cross-campus student organization. We are making it a priority to discuss issues and ideas that interest students on both sides . and give students in Qatar an opportunity to get to know students on main campus and vice versa,” Smallcomb said.

Lamia Adi (SFS ’12) participated in the forum at SFS-Q and agreed with Smallcomb that it is a rare opportunity to connect with students from different backgrounds and with varying viewpoints.

“I would like to gain knowledge of the D.C. students’ ideas and perspectives. More importantly, I want them to know more about us,” Adi said. “We may be Arabs, but we’re not the typical Arabs propagated by the media in the U.S.”

The first forum, which met in November, seemed to indicate future success for the program.

“We had good attendance on both sides and it generated a lot of enthusiasm among attendees. It was a stimulating discussion of President Obama’s electoral victory and a possible change in course for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East,” Smallcomb said.

The group had originally planned to discuss less controversial issues, and then build up to those that are more controversial, like the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, given current events, Smallcomb said, their plan has somewhat changed.

“This week we are actually talking about the situation in Gaza,” he said. “It’s what’s on everyone’s mind so there’s no reason to avoid the subject.”

Smallcomb, Bluestone and Adi will continue to work together to elect topics for future forums. According to Smallcomb and Adi, sessions will tentatively include discussions of Qatar’s role in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the broader Middle East, Islamophobia, a Gulf without oil, free speech in the Middle East, Islam and America, Terrorism and Israel-Palestine.

Smallcomb said that because the program is not part of the Student Activities Commission and is not requesting funds, the process of conducting the forums has been relatively easy.

“We have received a lot of support through the Office of the Provost and the SFS Dean’s office,” he said.

Smallcomb said that the main challenge that now faces the group is how to get underclassman involved in the program.

“We are still looking for a good way to let people apply on campus,” Smallcomb said. “Right now the group is all seniors, but we want this to outlive us, so we need to get underclassmen involved.”

Students on both ends of this project are excited for future conferences and hope that they will help build a bridge between Georgetown’s main campus and its campus in Qatar.

“By the end of the [forums], I want people on both ends to consider visiting the other side, because really, it’s a great opportunity,” Adi said.

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