UCF summit discusses breaking down cultural barriers
The dialogue on national security and extremism is one not exclusive of university settings. The Web continuously teaches us that extremism and hate can come in the form of trending tags such as #ISIS or #Islamophobia. In Florida, a consortium of universities is trying to remind students that nations can work together to combat intolerance.
Recently, UCF was home to scholars and practitioners who came to discuss "Opportunities and Challenges for Human Society and Development" at the 2015 Florida International Summit.
Sponsored by the Florida Network for Global Studies and the UCF Global Perspectives Office, among others, the annual event was co-hosted by FSU and the UCF.
Its spotlight was dismantling cultural barriers in an era where dented perceptions presently frame much of the narrative of extremism and inequality.
The other participating universities — FIU, UF, UNF and USF — also part of the FNGS consortium, were able to bring students and academics to the summit, which included panel discussions on other related topics such as human trafficking, national security, cyber attacks, illegal narcotics, education, health and the protection of the environment.
John K. Mayo, conference co-chair and director of the William A. Kerr Intercultural Education and Dialogue Initiative at FSU, said all universities work together throughout the year, selecting the theme and the host university for the Summit.
"The idea here is to focus on what is happening internationally that a well-educated person from a Florida university should know about," he said.
He believes students tend to interact more with others from the same degree program and, unless they have a major that specializes in international affairs, they may not really have an informed perspective of the political climate at some of the regions discussed by panelists, such as Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.
David M. Luna, senior director of national security and diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State, opened the summit with an overview outlook of world affairs, touching upon issues such as violent extremism, cyber crime, organized criminal and elicit networks in a globalized world, insecurity and instability from drug trafficking and violent criminal networks, and excessive consumption and pillaging of natural resources. Nations need to work together to combat these problems, he said.
"When nations work together across borders and sectors as partners, humanitarians, and agents of positive change, catalyzing and collective action can defeat today's agents of mass destruction and secure an enduring global peace," Luna added.
Other speakers included Aakif Ahmad, co-founder and COO of the Center for Policy Resolution in Washington D.C.; Serhii Plokhy, director of the Ukranian Research Institute at Harvard University; and Ted Reynolds, senior research fellow in terrorism studies at UCF.
Their panel discussions were aimed respectively at dismantling stereotypes, touching upon the rise of Pakistan as a democratic nation; modern Russia as an extension of USSR politics; and extremism in Europe as proof of conflicts inspired by a lack of understanding of other cultures.
"In the United States, we need to work on understanding how people become enamored with these types of activities [ISIS] to maybe prevent them from engaging in them and it's not just Islamist terrorists. We have other types of terrorists as well such as far-right skinheads," Reynolds said.
Chanice Demosthene, a junior at Dr.Phillips High School, came to the event through the International Council committee at the Center for International Studies magnet school. She said she has a lot of Muslim friends and it saddens her people lack an understanding of their culture.
"Personally, I feel that people should look into the media more, because as the media it's their job to broadcast the information and I think if we expose ISIS for what they really are, it might help people not associate them with Islam," she said.
Richard Haddock, UCF senior studying international relations, Asian studies and diplomacy, said the summit made him think about the importance of engaging leaders, who, at a glance might be worlds apart politically or otherwise, yet through dialogue they may convene and agree on similar values and traits, an example all nations should follow.
Juan David Romero is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.