Visitors from Bosnia and Herzegovina meet with Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz JD’75.
Molly Seder ’12, Daniela Zamora and Amer Suljendic (left to right) volunteer at A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village.
Professor Robert Trapp, director of IDEA at Willamette, addresses the students.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Students Get Close-Up of American-Style Democracy
Ethnic tensions between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats remain high in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but at Willamette University, 18 high school students and three teachers from the country are setting aside differences to discuss critical global issues and learn how democracies function.
They are on campus this month with International Debate Education Association (IDEA), a program that promotes debate, discussion and the free exchange of ideas among youths in more than 40 emerging democracies worldwide. With headquarters at Willamette and in New York City and Amsterdam, IDEA has taught debate skills to more than 70,000 young people from around the world.
"Debate is the tool of democracy," says Robert Trapp, director of IDEA at Willamette and professor of rhetoric and media studies. The students and teachers have been learning about American government and sharpening their debate skills in preparation for a competition beginning April 25.
They received an introduction to the court system through a question-and-answer session with Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz JD'75 and Oregon Court of Appeals Chief Judge David Brewer.
"Our job is to interpret the state constitution, and we decide cases that have profound impacts on people's lives," DeMuniz told the group as he explained the importance of the courts maintaining credibility - something that doesn't always happen in emerging democracies.
The visitors also learned firsthand about Willamette's motto, "Not unto ourselves alone are we born." They volunteered at local organizations alongside high school students from Willamette Academy, the university's college access program for underrepresented youths.
At A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village, Salem's children's museum, Willamette Academy student Daniela Zamora and visitor Amer Suljendic swapped stories about high school life as they helped the museum prepare for an art activity. They were assisted by Willamette student Molly Seder '12, a member of the university's parliamentary debate team.
"In Bosnia we don't have a lot of debate," he said. "Lack of dialogue can cause many problems. Our people are divided by ethnic identity, and there are many prejudices where people make assumptions instead of getting to know each other better. Debate helps you learn about other people, and I think that is really important."
The students' final debate will be judged by Justice Virginia Linder JD'80 of the Oregon Supreme Court and four members of the Oregon Appellate Court, including Judge Walter Edmonds JD'67. The public is welcome to attend and meet the visitors. The event is Tuesday, April 28, at 6 p.m. in Paulus Lecture Hall at the College of Law.