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Students consider forum

Eileen Duffy | Thursday, September 14, 2006

To some students, today’s second annual Notre Dame Forum is a can’t-miss event led by big names and equally big ideals. To others, however, the cancellation of class for the two hours while the forum takes place is the real news.

Father Thomas Streit, director of the University’s Haiti Program and the Center for Global Health in Biology, said the forum has generated anticipation among students.

“I think [the forum] already has achieved a lot in that it has gotten the discussion really going already,” he said. “I’ve noticed that already in my classes. The forum will be the great culmination of all this buzz that’s already been going since the beginning of the semester.”

Students like sophomore Courtney Haven said the University did a commendable job in choosing the focus of this year’s forum.

“The topic is really interesting,” Haven said. “I think it’s going to be a big thing in the future, the issue of global health.”

Sophomore Dan Thaner, who works with biology professor Nora Besansky at the Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, said the issue is especially pertinent today.

“It’s definitely opened up my eyes – it’s made me want to go to Africa this summer, just to see what it’s really like,” he said. “Even though I’m more aware of it, I still feel ignorant of it all.”

The problem being so dire in Africa, a continent quite a distance from South Bend, may diminish it in the minds of some Notre Dame students, Assistant Vice President for News and Information Dennis Brown said.

“I think most people here are cognizant of the fact that there’s a real problem with AIDS in Africa, but that’s in Africa, not middle America. So they don’t really take it very seriously,” he said. “This is an opportunity to focus in, to give the student body a chance to hear from internationally known experts in the field, an opportunity to look at this thing in depth.”

Sophomore Claire Sloss – who is “interested in social justice” – is planning on attending the forum, but admits that she’s required to do so for a class.

“I think it’s nice [that classes are cancelled]. It allows everybody who wants to attend, to attend,” she said. “But I think it’s also a good excuse for kids not to go to class.”

A good exuse for students like senior Jorie Reger, who said she is “stoked” about classes being cancelled.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to cancel classes, even though I’m excited,” she said. “People who have class cancelled aren’t saying, ‘Yes, I can go to the forum.’ They are saying, ‘Sweet, I can go do whatever I want now.'”

Panelist Michael Dewan also expressed concern over the length of the program.

“To be honest, I don’t know how much inspiring two hours can do,” he said. “But at the very least, it can raise people’s eyebrows and get people to start thinking about [global health]. If people can listen to what Drs. Farmer, Sachs and Opwonya have to say, maybe they’ll be that much more interested in educating themselves or going out and making a difference themselves.

“Ideally, that’s what the purpose of the forum is.”