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Fifteen student delegates from Taiwan, China and the United States have been on campus since last week to discuss and mediate disputes among the three countries at the fifth annual Strait Talk symposium. Originally founded by Johnny Lin '08, this year's Strait Talk ended Thursday after a week of workshops, discussions and presentations.

The symposium's goal is to "have young people come together from places where they haven't had a lot of exposure to each other as people," said the program's director, Henry Shepherd '08.

Prospective participants from the three countries apply to be delegates and five students from each nation are selected to join the symposium. "By bringing them together and putting them in the same space, they will come to see the situation in a new way and a new level of understanding will be reached," Shepherd said.

While Brown students have made up the bulk of the delegation in previous symposia, only one Brown student, Alina Kung '12, is among this year's delegation, Shepherd said. The other American delegates hail from Harvard, Wellesley College, the Ohio State University and Johns Hopkins University.  

Part of this cultural understanding stems from the fact that delegates from each nation are housed together for the duration of the symposium, said Han Cui '10, the program's finance coordinator and a Herald assistant sports editor. "This is part of the whole concept of trust building. It allows them to learn about the other side on a personal level."

The program is coordinated by a steering committee of about 15 to 20 students, Shepherd said.

Upon arriving at Brown, the delegates participate in a combination of closed-door "interactive conflict resolutions" and public events open to the entire Brown community.

Tatsushi Arai, assistant professor of conflict transformation at the School for International Training Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vt., moderated the mediation sessions, as he has every year since the program began. After seven days of dialogue and negotiation, "the delegates produce a consensus document that represents the agreements that they have come to," Shepherd said. "The goal of the consensus document is to show an understanding about the other side."

For the second year in a row, delegates from Strait Talk have been invited to present their consensus document to the Asia Society as well as the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-profit think tank, both located in New York City.

The public events included a peace project workshop, perspectives on cross-Strait international relations, the final consensus document presentation and discussion panels focused on history, international relations and identity.

Cui said she thinks Strait Talk's public events add to campus dialogue. "As of now, not a lot of stuff at Brown is concerned about contemporary Chinese politics or social sciences in general," she said.

Specific proposals this year included a cultural and arts exchange, in which "cultural heritage items could be shared in a joint exhibition to show commonalities in art," said Shepherd.

Delegates also proposed a collection of oral histories from people who remembered periods of tumult between China and Taiwan.

This year, the delegates represented a more diverse group than ever before. "Before, it was very Beijing- and Shanghai-dominated," Shepherd said. "But this year, the delegates' regions of origin are more diverse."

For the future, Strait Talk is working on building a base of alumni and hopes its influence will reverberate for future generations.

"Our goal is to have a generational impact on the way of thinking in the future," Shepherd said.

The organization has 90 alums around the world. "People who have done our program in the past have gone on to powerful positions in law, diplomacy, intelligence and armed services," Shepherd added. "We want people who will be in a position of power in the future so they can affect the situation."

Strait Talk is in the process of creating an organizational infrastructure that can gain an official non-profit 501(c)(3) designation, something they hope it will obtain by the end of this year.

The nonprofit would "help advise chapters of Strait Talk and support alumni," he said.

Alumni networking is a major priority of the organization, Shepherd said. Recent coordination efforts have included a private online social networking site and an academic newsletter circulated to alums every two weeks.

"We have alumni in New York, mainland China and Taiwan who meet up all the time independently of Strait Talk and take the time to continue talking about these issues," he said.

Strait Talk also hopes to expand to more campuses in the future, Shepherd said, having held its first symposium at the University of California, Berkeley, earlier this year.

"The potential to reach new communities is really great. We have a huge opportunity to really have an impact on the situation," Shepherd said.


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