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Global Initiative in Local Arena?

Robert Seymour’s op-ed piece this week in the News & Observer connects nicely with an exhibit I saw last week at UNC’s Center for Global Initiatives.  Seymour’s headline, “Stranger in North Carolina,” refers to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and it follows up the Terry McDermott’s recent New Yorker article, “The Mastermind.”  It seems that the seeds of hatred and terror were planted during Mohammed’s sojourn in NC–a disturbing thought.  Seymour doesn’t dwell too much on the implicit failure to “welcome the stranger,” but emphasizes the positive opportunity presented to us here in North Carolina by international students (and we could add immigrants and tourists).

Todd Drake has seized that opportunity to welcome and learn from outsiders.  Supported by a grant from UNC’s Center for Global Initiatives, he has created a photography exhibit called “Esse Quam Videri: Muslim Self Portraits,” and the focus is entirely on Muslims in North Carolina.  Thanks to a tip from Samia Serageldin, I attended the closing celebration of the show at the UNC FedEx Global Studies Center, and I talked a bit with Todd Drake.   It struck me that he has found a way to use art to reach across the social barriers that so often prevent us from interacting in meaningful ways with the very people we sometimes travel thousands of miles to see. 

It strikes me that the currently popular concept of “global education” could be applied quite close to home.  How could I help World Literature students reach out to the world in their immediate area?  I used to require all my students in that course to attend a performance, a restaurant, or some event in the local community that related in some way to the literature we study.  I even maintained a web site about such opportunities.  It was a lot of work, though, without a very clear benefit.  Todd Drake’s approach seems more interesting, and he expressed interest in working with me to put something together.  Here’s his blog, “Make Art Like You Care.”

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