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April 20, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

Students sensitive to U.S. image abroad

Forum participants say America seen as arrogant

Image

Aaron Mayes/Las Vegas Sun

Green Valley High School junior Ramond White stands while talking during a Sun Youth Forum discussion group Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001 at the Las Vegas Convention Center as others wait their turn to speak.

Students at the Sun Youth Forum were not so blinded by the glow of patriotism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States that they didn’t understand why some people, groups and even nations hate Americans and the U.S. government.

While no one justified the attacks on civilian targets like the World Trade Center, many Clark County students were not afraid to use words like “pompous,” “greedy” “arrogant” and “imposing” to describe how much of the world — including U.S. allies — views the United States.

“Some nations view America as a giant, pompous thing that wants to try to impose our economics and values on other countries,” said Phillip Clayton, a senior at Bonanza High School, who lived 10 years in Germany and 2 1/2 years in Israel. “And we do so assuming that we are correct.”

Clayton was one of more than 900 teens participating in the 46th annual Sun Youth Forum Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Outside his discussion group, the Maryland-born 17-year-old was just as outspoken.

“We are viewed in parts of Europe and the Middle East as arrogant,” he said. “Also, I found that many people in the Arab nations I visited were nice to Americans while some in Israel felt they were being used by the United States just to further our interests in that region.

“We have to reassess our values. We can be something better.”

Christina Dryanski, a senior at Foothill High and the daughter of a London-born woman, said the United States sometimes displays an attitude that it has all the answers because of its diversity.

“America is a melting pot, but sometimes we take that too much to heart,” she said. “Yes, we help everyone else, but because we are this melting pot we tend to feel we know what others want and can impose our views on them. We should look before we leap.”

However, Mike Mantis, a senior at Bishop Gorman High, said America is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t when it comes to helping the rest of the world.

“We take the lead because we have the manpower, the money and the ambition to take care of the issue,” he said. “But it is either we do too much or we don’t do enough. It’s like we can never do anything right. We are criticized.”

One student said America “projects a greedy image” especially in Islamic countries where outsiders generally are considered intrusive. And the narrow views of many Americans toward the Muslim world don’t help, students said.

“We tend to throw every single Islamic person into one heap, when there are many who do not hate us,” said Catherine Davis, a junior from Coronado High.

Still another student argued that poorer nations “are jealous of what we have,” referring to the material wealth that many Americans flaunt with great pride.

“Who are we to impose our ways of life on them?” asked one student.

“How would we feel if another country came over and told us how to run our government?” another posed to her group.

“How do we convince them (Islamic fundamentalists) not to hate us when we use the very Western techniques that they despise?” still another student asked.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., a former Sun Youth Forum student finalist and a past forum moderator, visited several of the topic groups and answered students’ questions. He was encouraged that so many expressed concerns over their country’s image among other nations.

“The kids are right,” Reid said after addressing one topic group. “We have to improve the image of America and do a better job in areas like diplomacy. We need to get the message out that we are a country governed by law and not by men.”

One student asked Reid if the United States should be the policeman of the world.

“I don’t think we are, but we have responsibilities we cannot ignore,” he said. “We are the only superpower left. People look to us for help. But there is a limit on how far we can spread ourselves.”

Twenty-one groups of students addressed seven topics — American issues, world issues, law and crime, school days, teen issues, Nevada issues and potpourri.

Sun Editor and President Brian Greenspun, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and U.S. District Judge Philip Pro were among the adult moderators. Greenspun is the son of late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun, who co-founded the Sun Youth Forum with Sun Assistant to the Publisher Ruthe Deskin.

Each group, following the two two-hour discussion sessions, selected a representative who will either write a column for the Sun, appear on a roundtable discussion on the UNLV cable television channel or write a column for CLASS!, a nonprofit monthly magazine for, by and about local high school students.

Writing columns for the Sun will be Kenneth Bayless, Eldorado High; Foster Kamer, Silverado; Garrett Weir, Bishop Gorman; Chris Bishop, Trinity Christian High School; Heather Chang, Green Valley; LaShawna Ngadiuba, Las Vegas Academy; and Patrick Vincent, Green Valley.

Appearing on the UNLV-TV panel will be Eric Cheung, Green Valley High; Anna Rosenman, Advanced Technologies Academy; Elizabeth Young, Silverado; Lyle Celler, Foothill; Shanelle Henry, Cheyenne Community High School East; Heather Kydd, Silverado; and Isac Thomas, Bishop Gorman.

Writing columns for CLASS! will be: Sydney Venable, Green Valley High; Megan Proctor, Coronado; Yanne Givens, Valley; Mark Ross, Bishop Gorman; Tim Williams, Cimarron-Memorial; Gabrielle McGhie, Las Vegas Academy; and Brad Lawrence, Centennial.