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Secretary John Kerry holds town hall meeting with W&M Diplomacy Lab students

  • Conversing with John Kerry
    Conversing with John Kerry
    W&M students Caper Gooden '16 (at microphone), Darice Xue '16 and Michael Hibshman '15 traveled to the State Department on Tuesday for a Town Hall meeting with the Secretary of State at which he fielded questions.
    Courtesy U.S. Department of State

William & Mary students attended a town hall meeting Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in which the Diplomacy Lab program was announced.

William & Mary is a pilot partner in the Diplomacy Lab program, which launched in November 2013 under the Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) at the university.

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The Department of State’s Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, Tomicah Tillemann, created the initiative, which brings students and faculty together in small teams to research diplomatic challenges that have real-world application in current foreign policy.

The program gives students an opportunity to provide important research to policymakers, and this spring it expanded from its two pilot universities, William & Mary and the University of Virginia, to include Florida International University and the University of Oklahoma.

Students, faculty and administrators from each of the Diplomacy Lab partner universities were invited to the town hall meeting with Kerry at the Marshall Conference Center of the State Department, where the project was officially announced.

In a talk titled “Making Foreign Policy Less Foreign,” Kerry discussed current diplomatic challenges in international law in Ukraine and the State Department’s continued work towards international cooperation to address issues in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, South Central Asia and around the world. Kerry also touched on the importance of maintaining stability in foreign policy through relationships, as well as the significant role that commerce plays in public diplomacy. He unveiled the Department of State by State project at the meeting, which is an online interactive map that details how foreign policy efforts have brought economic development to each state.

“Foreign policy is not just about what happens over there; it’s about what happens over here as a result of what happens over there,” Kerry said. “It’s about the security and peace that we can bring to American stability that comes through our relationships.”

The secretary of state opened the town hall-style meeting to questions, the first of which came from William & Mary student Caper Gooden ’16, a Diplomacy Lab and PIPS participant. Gooden asked about how the recent expulsion of the ambassadors in the Middle East affects U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Kerry answered by reaffirming the importance of the region’s Gulf Cooperation Council, and noted that many of the GCC member states believe that Qatar is operating outside of the council’s desires. He underscored the department’s commitment to encouraging the region to work together through their challenges to a unified resolution.

“The town hall event with Secretary Kerry was an interesting way to hear his perspective on global issues and current events,” Gooden said. “The Secretary appeared relieved to have a break from the current crisis in Ukraine, and his level of discourse was not overly formal, as most speeches normally are … it was a unique opportunity to interact with him that I am unlikely to get again.”

Gooden encourages other students to participate in the Diplomacy Lab program to gain practical experience in foreign affairs.

“The Diplomacy Lab program is an exciting opportunity to apply the research and critical thinking skills we have cultivated while at William & Mary to the ‘real world’ without having to leave Williamsburg,” Gooden said.

Michael Hibshman ’15, an international relations and economics major, also participated in the Diplomacy Lab program and attended the town hall meeting with Kerry.

“The Diplomacy Lab program is a great opportunity for undergraduate students to contribute directly to the policymaking process,” he said. “It’s one thing to write a policy memo for a government class, but is quite another when officials at the State Department are on the phone asking for specific advice about a problem they are facing.”

Tillemann hosted the Diplomacy Lab students before the town hall meeting and continued the discussion after Kerry’s departure. Tillemann stressed the importance of tapping the intellectual capital of undergraduates to research innovative solutions to today’s foreign policy issues.

“We can’t solve all of the challenges without you,” he said, addressing the students. “The world needs your help.”