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Samar Katnani: An Arab-American Makes Peace With Her Palestinian Heritage And Champions Understanding

May 6, 2004 -- Foreign affairs major Samar Katnani has seen the power of Sustained Dialogue change her life. Katnani, who is part Lebanese, part Palestinian, grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Having internalized the negative stereotypes of Palestinians, she “grew up reluctant to tell anyone the truth — I was Arab,” she wrote in an article for the Sustained Dialogue magazine, Stereo Type.

The Sept. 11 bombings forced her to come to terms with her identity. “I was shattered. I would say it was the most difficult time in my life.” To heal emotionally, she joined the Arab Student Organization, and she got heavily involved in Sustained Dialogue, becoming one of its first moderators and vice-chairwomen.

“I also needed my classes and professors to complete my understanding of being Middle Eastern, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and eventually, race and power relations. Extracurricular activities provided personal experience and human experiential knowledge. Classes provided academic and theoretical grounding,” she said.

Katnani decided to launch a pilot program for better Jewish-Arab communication. Those first meetings, before they used the Sustained Dialogue process, soon degenerated into political arguments, with the students yelling at each other, she recalled.

“It was frustrating to see such poor relations between Jewish and Arab students. I thought we should be able to come together and talk about this rationally and personally,” she said.

Following the Sustained Dialogue process, however, turned things around. She credits the program with opening the lines of communication and helping the students build healthy and respectful relationships. “It’s been amazing.”

Katnani sees educational inequality and the curriculum as the root of most of the problems in America, she said. She will join Teach for America next year in New York City to better understand that inequality and its socioeconomic context.

“The fact that minorities have different, and essentially negative, experiences [compared to] whites, and for the most part have poorer education is something that should be addressed much earlier,” she said.

Believing in Jefferson’s idea that education should prepare individuals to become active citizens, Katnani plans to go to law school eventually and work on changing the education system.

Contact: Anne Bromley, (434) 924-6861

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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