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Hawai`i's diversity: a global model for cooperation?

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Date: Friday, October 18, 2002
Contact: Dr. Steve Worchel, (808) 974-7300

For Immediate Release

Hawai`i's diversity in the midst of an increasingly homogenous world was a hot topic of discussion during a recent session of the International Graduate College. In fact, University of Hawai`i at Hilo Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Steve Worchel, found his presentation to be just as popular as the aloha shirts and local tees that he passed out during the session.

The event, which annually attracts the outstanding advanced doctoral students worldwide, who are in their final stages of dissertations, was held September 1-11, 2002 at the Schloss Riesenburg Castle on the outskirts of Gunzburg, Germany. The theme of this year's gathering was "Human Violence."

The school is the collective creation of several European universities, including the University of Jena in Germany, Kent University in Canterbury, England, Van Catholic University at Louvain University in Belgium, and the University of Berne in Switzerland. The institutions pooled National Science Foundation (NSF) grants from their respective countries to set up the special school.

From those who apply, a limited number are accepted on the basis of their academic achievements, and are accompanied by the psychology faculty of their respective institutions. The students and faculty are joined by an international guest faculty of five to six professors who receive special invitations from the board of directors.

Joining Worchel at this year's gathering were faculty from Penn State, the University of Montreal, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan. All participants live and learn in the castle during the entire session.

"It's a unique kind of graduate situation with the best students from the best universities in Europe and other destinations," Worchel said. "Every professor dreams of working with the cream of the crop, and that's what this gathering was all about."

During the session, the visiting professors discussed their research, related topics of interest and theories under development. The students then convened into working groups chaired by the visiting professors to develop theories or research projects that the students can work on collectively for the rest of the year. They also consulted individually with the guest faculty, who critiqued their projects and discussed various issues.

Worchel's presentation focused on the issues of social identity, development of identity, and how these issues impact the likelihood of violence. These factors are all closely related to the events going on today, but were of particular interest to the students, from predominantly European universities.

"One of the things they talked about is how Europe is slowly dividing into smaller and smaller countries along ethnic lines," Worchel said. "You have the Balkans, which used to be Yugoslavia, as opposed to five or six different countries that are more ethnically homogenous. The Czech Republic and Slovakia is another example, from which used to be Czechoslovakia and of course, the former Soviet Union, now having been divided into multiple ethnic states."

Worchel noted the issue of ethnic identity in the world and how it will define future international relations has become very critical. Germany, for example, is paying people of German ancestry residing in Russia to return to their homeland. He says some fear that Germany may want to claim a portion of Poland, because there is a German concentration in the western part of the country.

"Against this trend, the U.S. remains one country with an ethnically diverse population, with Hawai`i the poster child of ethnic diversity," Worchel said. "The students were fascinated by this and wanted to know why ethnic diversity works in Hawai`i, but not other places." The discussion of this issue kept Worchel busy as eight of the approximately 30 graduate students chose to network with him. "Let's say I was joyfully overburdened," Worchel said.

Worchel sees some fascinating research questions being explored as a result of the dialogue that was initiated by his presentation and subsequent discussions with students. Among them are the issues of defining ethnicity and the importance of homeland to an ethnic group. "When you look at the conflict in the Middle East involving Israel, the homeland issue is very relevant," Worchel said. "It's a different story on the U.S. mainland where the indigenous people have essentially been wiped out and nearly everyone is an immigrant whose first generation in the U.S. often dates back less than 200 years."

Homeland becomes a critical issue in Hawai`i because of its people's connection to the land. Worchel notes that those who consider themselves protectors of the land are concerned with passing it on to the family's next generation. Those who have no homeland tend to view it as more of a commodity to be bought and sold.

"The students were totally fascinated with the differences between their own situation, as opposed to the U.S. and Hawai`i," Worchel said. "This has generated interest in looking at models of inter-group relations to see if creating one group of diverse people facilitates them getting along, or whether this is better accomplished through smaller groups with recognizable boundaries and increased relationships between these groups."

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