May 22, 2009
Former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush met with eight Iraqi women at SMU on May 14 as part of the delegation’s visit to the United States under the auspices of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
The exchange, which included several US cities, was coordinated by World Learning Visitor Exchange Program in cooperation with World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth. The women are officials in Iraq representing professions ranging from public works administration to nursing education.
Several SMU faculty members attended the event—Crista DeLuzio of the Clements Department of History and Carolyn Smith-Morris of the Department of Anthropology, both in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences; Maria Minniti, Cox School of Business; Jenia Turner, Dedman School of Law; and Susanne Scholz, Perkins School of Theology. SMU student Natalie Kashefi of Plano also attended. Gail Turner, wife of SMU President R. Gerald Turner, hosted a reception for the group; and Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for development and external affairs, was among those welcoming the delegation to campus.
The World Affairs Council was represented by its president Jim Falk and executive vice president Beth Huddleston, who also serves as a member of the board of the National Council for International Visitors. The Council serves as the Department of State’s coordinator of the International Visitor Leadership Program in Dallas and Fort Worth.
The purpose of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, Women as Social, Political and Economic Leaders project is to help women from other countries learn more about the role of U.S. women in political decision-making and their involvement in the various professions; to promote female participation in the political process; to examine city management and development; to explore the gender dimensions of international economics, trade and finance; and to create ongoing relationships.
“Both President and Mrs. Bush spoke about the vital role women play in building and maintaining civil society and about how essential the guarantee of women's rights is to a healthy democracy,” said History Professor Crista DeLuzio. “The Iraqi women spoke eloquently about their courageous attempts to empower women and to further women's rights in their country. I, of course, teach about the long and ongoing struggle for gender equality in the United States. This exchange inspired me to try to do more to educate my students about women's movements around the world and to encourage them to think comparatively about women's work on behalf of social justice and gender equality across time and place.”
Anthropology Professor Carolyn Smith-Morris observed that Mrs. Bush was eager to hear the women’s perspectives and to discuss problem-solving and skill-building with them. The women also discussed issues and consequences related to the war and their lives in various parts of the country. She said she exchanged contact information and promises of continued dialogue in the future.
After the discussion, guests visited Bridwell Library of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology to look at the library’s copy of the Koran. Bridwell is home to a collection of early and rare books in addition to other holdings.
“It was an honor to welcome the delegation of Iraqi women to our campus today,” Gail Turner said. “I left with a deep appreciation of the courage of these women who are so dedicated to the development of their beloved country.”
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