New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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U.S. State Department official discusses media and diplomacy at roundtable discussion

The head of the Bureau of Global Public Affairs spoke to students and faculty at the Tisch School of the Arts about the intersection between entertainment and diplomacy.
People+are+sitting+at+tables+facing+one+another.+There+are+paper+plates+with+food+in+front+of+them.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia
Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Bill Russo talked to NYU Dramatic Writing students and faculty at the 12th floor of Tisch School of the Arts. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

A U.S. State Department official spoke with students and faculty in NYU’s dramatic writing department about how to use creative writing techniques to communicate diplomacy to the public at a roundtable discussion on Wednesday.

The official, Bill Russo, serves as Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs — the branch of the U.S. Department of State that focuses on communicating policy decisions to the public. At the discussion, Russo spoke about how to convey American foreign policy to domestic and international audiences through the fine arts, including through art installations and film production. In an interview with WSN, Russo encouraged students to give their thoughts on how to make the department’s public outreach “more compelling.”

“Part of the reason I wanted to be here at Tisch and part of the reason I enjoyed that conversation is we do diplomacy, we do foreign policy, we do foreign affairs — that’s our bread and butter,” Russo told WSN. “But, telling the stories about that is where we could use feedback, we could use expertise, we could use input.”

At the roundtable discussion, Russo said the State Department’s communication of U.S. foreign policy needs to be “a little more human” and “a bit more funny,” comparing American policymaking to creating fictional characters and complex narratives. 

“When you talk about a character with a long past, some parts of which are deeply flawed and some are admirable, that sounds a lot like telling the history of America,” Russo said. “Storytelling is at the heart of persuading people and explaining the work that we do every day.”

Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Bill Russo, wearing a suit and glasses, is sitting at a wooden table and smiling. There is a paper cup and a paper plate in front of him.
Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Bill Russo. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Students and faculty shared how they each deal with complex and flawed characters in their works. Max Reuben, a second-year graduate student at Tisch who attended the event, said acknowledging flaws or mistakes is essential to good storytelling, especially from a government agency. 

“There needs to be humility and honesty when something comes from the government or else it’s propaganda,” Reuben said. “That comes with failure and past failure and it also comes with incremental success, that is storytelling and it opens an audience up for that story.”  

Russo’s visit to NYU comes three weeks after the university was named twice in a U.S. Senate resolution condemning “antisemitic student activities” on college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war. In an Oct. 25 letter, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the executive director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, said that he has received hundreds of complaints of “enduring discrimination, harassment and vandalism” from community members since the beginning of the war. 

In October, hundreds of students and faculty called on NYU to address incidents of antisemitism on campus and provide greater support for Jewish students amid the war. Less than two weeks earlier, more than 30 student groups called for NYU to address Palestinian deaths in the war, and claimed the university was neglecting its Palestinian community. 

A wooden, L-shaped table with four people sitting with paper plates of food in front of them. Three of them are on one side of the table, looking at the one person on the other side. To the left there is a purple sign that reads N.Y.U. Tisch.
(Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Russo told WSN he thinks protections for student expression are important, but that regulations to prevent the inciting of violence are necessary. He said that one of the focuses of the state department is to prevent the spread of Islamophobia and antisemitism during the conflict.

“When you talk about student expressions, that is a great thing, our tradition of dissent and freedom of speech and expression is one of the great stories that we will tell all around the world because it’s incredible,” Russo said. “But when that expression veers into things that could increase hate and violence and threats on people, we are looking to do what we can to prevent it.”

Russo said that his conversation at NYU is the first stop of several universities he will visit during his two-day trip to New York City, and that he is hoping to encourage students and other New Yorkers to become involved with the State Department and voice their opinions on policymaking.

“Diplomacy touches everyone’s life almost each and every day, and in many ways, it’s invisible, but it’s real,” Russo told WSN. “That’s why it’s important to show up and have these conversations. It’s always important to kind of keep diplomacy in the State Department.”

Contact Ania Keenan at [email protected].

About the Contributors
Ania Keenan, Features Editor
Ania Keenan is a sophmore double majoring in Journalism and Data Science. She is from California and loves black coffee, long walks, writing poetry and reading non-fiction. When she is not working on the next features investigation, you can find her running along West Side Highway, listening to audiobooks or complaining about the cold.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia, Editor-at-Large
Jason Alpert-Wisnia is a junior majoring in Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, primarily focused on photojournalism and documentary photography. His photography ranges from coverage of professional sports, to political protests and music festivals. When he is not pounding the pavement with a camera in his hands looking for the next story, you are likely to find Jason in a used bookstore looking for rare finds or in the park reading. You can find him on Instagram @jasonalpertwisnia and contact him at [email protected].
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