About Meeting of Minds

At a time of deepening conflict between the United States and the Islamic World, the need could not be greater for an informed, wide ranging dialogue in the United States within and among communities linked to the Islamic World and the Middle East.

Our project meets that need in three key venues: the university, the high school, and the larger community. We have developed and begun to disseminate a unique, replicable model curriculum and cultural template for promoting understanding, engagement and peaceful approaches to conflict resolution in the Middle East and the Islamic World. This program draws upon the widest range of responsible viewpoints here and abroad while challenging Queens College students, Queens high school teachers and students, and community members to reflect critically on their most basic assumptions, conceptions and goals.

Our model comprises two inter-related parts. The first is a series of semester long courses—The Middle East and America: Meeting of Minds or Clash of Civilizations. Courses range from a basic history of the Arab Israeli Conflict, to a more sophisticated survey of how the media influences Americans’ understanding of the Islamic World, to an advanced simulation in which students assume the roles of negotiators and try to tackle the root causes of the Arab Israeli conflict first hand. Always, the students are required to meet one of the primary objectives of the Meeting of Minds Initiative, which is to “walk in the other side’s shoes”. Each student is asked to examine, or negotiate, the pains and claims of the side to which they are least sympathetic and least knowledgeable.

The second of the two inter-related parts of the program is a cultural component that utilizes the power of art and music to promote tolerance. Through the years, we have produced such events as the dramatic picture and narrative exhibition This Land to me; Some Call It Palestine, Others Israel, the American premiere of the Oscar nominated film Paradise Now, the concert series Common Chords: the Ties that Bind, Art of the Possible,and an evening of cross cultural comedy called Funraising.

Both the educational and the cultural component of the Meeting of Minds project are based at Queens College, but are amplified into the broader community in a number of ways. This Land to Me has become the centerpiece of a high school curriculum produced by the Michael Harrington Center. High school teachers from all five boroughs attend bi-annual training sessions in which they learn how to utilize the curriculum. So far, 450 teachers have received this training and implemented the This Land to Me lessons into their classrooms. The Common Chords cultural program was reproduced at Forest Hills High School, and at the University of San Diego, both in the Spring 2008 semester. Students at Forest Hills High School were further engaged by participating in the first ever “Common Chords” Composition Competition, in which they were asked to contribute original music and poetry on the themes of tolerance, diversity, and the ties that bind. The University of San Diego event was such a hit that it was reprised in March of 2009.

Our Middle East curriculum and cultural programming continue to receive significant local and national press coverage, including articles in The New York Times, The Jewish Week, The Daily News (New York), The Chronicle of Higher Education, Newsday, The Knight News, and The Queens College Magazine. The project was featured on WNYC public radio’s section of Morning Edition and on Brian Lehrer’s morning talk show (WNYC). Television coverage included CUNY T.V. and a feature section on the national CBS Evening News.