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Queens College Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding Honors Three With Its First-Ever "Uncommon Courage Awards"

--May 26 Event Recognized Nobel Peace Prize Nominee for his Israeli-Palestinian Reconciliation Efforts; a QC Alum Who Brought Sesame Street to the Middle East; and a Thai-born Student Activist--

FLUSHING, N.Y., May 27, 2010—As part of its continuing effort to promote cross-cultural understanding, Queens College presented its first annual Uncommon Courage Awards yesterday. The recently established Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding, which created the awards and chose the honorees, hosted the ceremony.

Begun in fall 2009 from a generous multi-year grant provided by the U.S. Department of Education—which singled out Queens College for its award-winning public education program and diversity—the new center is founded on the idea that dialogue and shared experiences are essential to combating intolerance, overcoming stereotypes and promoting understanding.

The three recipients who were recognized for their work in bridging religious, cultural and social divides are:

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a prominent Palestinian physician committed to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and a nominee for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.  Three of his daughters were killed during the Gaza tragedy of January 2009; to honor their memory, Dr. Abuelaish—who had trained and worked in Israeli hospitals—has created Daughters for Life, a foundation dedicated to providing education and health services for women and girls in Gaza and the Middle East.

Dr. Abuelaish, who received his master’s degree in Public Health from Harvard University, is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Canada. He is also a senior researcher at the Gertner Institute, affiliated with Sheba Hospital in Israel. Among other projects, he has contributed research to studies documenting the effects of conflict-related stress on Palestinian children in Gaza and Israeli children in Sderot. He remains committed to the peace effort and was a nominee for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. He is the author of I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey.


Dr. Lewis Bernstein, who spearheaded the Israeli/Palestinian version of Sesame Street and served as executive producer on the project. As executive producer of Sesame Street, he won three Emmy Awards for the series curriculum, which encouraged American children to respect the diversity of children from all over the world. As Executive Vice President of Education, Research, and Outreach at the Sesame Workshop, Bernstein currently sets the educational agenda for all the organization’s productions and creative executions. Formerly Vice President of Global Sesame Street Productions, Dr. Bernstein has been integral to the success of the children’s series internationally, training production teams from France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Kuwait, and Israel to develop their own versions of the program. Prior to his role as Vice President, he served as Executive Producer for Sesame English, a television program that teaches conversational English in foreign countries.

He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University in communications research, a master’s degree from Hebrew University in communications, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Queens College.

Vimonsiri “Dear” Aunaetitrakul, an international student from Thailand, who coordinated the annual War on Hate series of student events. Designed to combat bigotry, homophobia, racism and hatred in all of its forms, the series is attended by approximately 400 students each year. Aunaetitrakul, who is graduating from Queens College today with a double major in political science and media studies, came to the United States from Bangkok at the age of 11.


During her term as president of the Political Science Club, she organized more than 70 campus events and brought such prominent speakers to campus as Randall Kennedy, author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, and Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. Aunaetitrakul also served as president of the award-winning Model United Nations team; a National Model United Nations Teaching Assistant, and has trained and guided students for the Model United Nations National Conference. She will attend the Yale Women’s Campaign School in July.

The Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding is directed by Queens College history professor Mark Rosenblum, a renowned Middle East expert whose initiative, “America and The Middle East: Clash of Civilizations or Meeting of Minds,” won a major Ford Foundation grant. Professor Rosenblum has met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah II, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as President Obama.

Artists Basya Schechter and Boonaa Mohammad performed at the awards ceremony. Schechter explores multiple musical traditions that extend beyond her Jewish Orthodox heritage. Her group, Pharaoh’s Daughter, mixes Mizrahi and Sephardic folk-music with Hasidic chants, Arabic rhythms, and African beats. Boonaa Mohammed, dubbed the “voice of a generation,” is a critically acclaimed award-winning writer and performer. He has toured internationally and frequently conducts writing workshops and seminars.


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Maria Matteo
Media and College Relations
(718) 997-5593

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