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Our Opinion: Balancing Tibet-China Commitments

October 18, 2010

By The Editorial Board
The Emory Wheel, Emory University
October 15, 2010

Few can boast that the Dalai Lama was a
Presidential Distinguished Professor at their
university — or even spoke there — while enrolled
as students. This is one unique claim to fame
that Emory students should be proud of, and in
coming days, the University will make His
Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama accessible to students during his visit.

Between Oct. 17 and Oct. 19, the University will
hold six events to give students the opportunity
to interact with and learn from the Dalai Lama.
The events include the “Summit on Happiness,” a
discussion on the concept of happiness between
the Dalai Lama and representatives of other
religions, and “Professor’s Office Hours,” a
question-and-answer session. Students can still
purchase tickets to attend many of these events.

The upcoming visit not only represents an
important academic tradition, but also speaks to
the University’s devotion to fostering a
community dedicated to civic engagement. Make no
mistake, playing host to such events — and
participating in the now decade-long Emory-Tibet
Partnership — is not a decision that comes
without consideration of possible negative
repercussions. At the expense of not having its
website consistently available in China — an
inconvenience felt by Emory students abroad who

lacked easy access to OPUS and LearnLink, --
Emory has opted for a more complex path. The
quality and measured nature of dialogues on
campus concerning the polarizing political
tensions between China and Tibet are cause for
commendation and are all the more special because
of the direct access members of the Emory
community have to influential players in these contests.

This has not been the case at many college
campuses across the country. When Tibetan monks
visited the University of Southern California in
2008, Chinese students insistently shouted at and
pressured the monks to respond to hot-button
questions regarding political topics such as
Tibet’s old slavery system, creating an
emotionally charged scene which ended with a water bottle being thrown.

Chinese students at other universities have
considered themselves similarly antagonized,
feeling that ostensibly well-intended pro-Tibet
movements were invariably coupled with
over-the-top, anti-China sentiments. In one
noteworthy example that received a great deal of
attention in 2008, a Chinese student who
attempted to calm a dispute between two
protesting groups at a pro-Tibet vigil at Duke
University was forced to go into hiding upon receiving death threats.

Such events have caused other universities that
have hosted the Dalai Lama, including the
University of Washington, to place restrictions
on the types of questions students are permitted
to ask. The need for such limitations has not
been felt at Emory, thanks in large part to
collaborations with both Tibetan and Chinese
figures and institutions. Such partnerships
include the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, as
well as the University’s maintenance, even in the
face of difficulties, of partnerships with seven
Chinese institutions of higher learning and the
Confucius Institute (CI) in Atlanta. Emory’s
various study abroad programs in China, which
many students have benefited from, also fall into this category.

While students have been respectful, however,
there is a flip side to this coin that is not so
positive. Aside from those students previously
engaged in this discourse, current enthusiasm
seems less than what may have been anticipated.
Despite the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities
offered by upcoming events, many have yet to take
advantage of them. Two events have sold out, but
the University’s inability to fill other events
to capacity, such as next Tuesday’s Professor’s
Office Hours event, prompted Emory to advertise
ticket sales to the general public instead.

Furthermore, regardless of a student’s political
or spiritual stances, the Dalai Lama is
undeniably a powerful leader and a highly
recognized figure. His visit is an invaluable
opportunity that few students have during their
college experiences, and there should be no
reason for students not to make a good faith
effort to attend them. Yet in addition to
attending upcoming events, students should also
make a concerted effort to educate themselves on
the issues concerning tensions between China and
Tibet, the spiritual and religious nature of the
Tibetan-Buddhist faith, or even the unique
biography of His Holiness himself. This knowledge
will allow students to ask stimulating questions
and truly engage themselves in what should be an
intellectually stimulating event.

The above staff editorial represents the majority
opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.
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