Student Body President Richard Portwood, accompanied by 14 fellow student body presidents from around the country, wrapped up an eight-day-long trip to Moscow to foster U.S.–Russian relations on Nov. 20.
The presidents met with the Russian Agency for Youth affairs, an association that sponsors pro-Kremlin youth groups such as the Youth Guard and the Nashi, to share ideas on student government.
“Building positive relationships between Russian and American youth is the goal,” Portwood said when asked in an interview about the trip’s purpose.
Portwood offered the Russian Agency of Youth Affairs a copy of the UVU Constitution, since most Russian universities don’t have a student council.
Portwood was asked by Rusty Butler, associate vice president for International Affairs and Diplomacy, to gather fellow student body presidents from around the country to attend the meeting. The trip has been in the making since September and is completely funded by the Russian Government.
When Portwood received the invitation, he immediately invited every student body president in the state of Utah to attend with a number of presidents from Ivy League schools such as Stanford, Harvard, Berkley and Georgetown.
The Russian government sifted out many of Utah’s larger schools such as The University of Utah and Brigham Young University. Out of the 14 schools represented from the U.S., four are from Utah: UVU, Dixie State, Westminster and Snow College.
“UVU is among the top level schools in the country … in that every student has the opportunity to do anything,” Portwood said when asked about the importance of UVU on the world stage and among Ivy League schools.
Portwood wanted every student to know that the stereotypes attached to UVU are not correct.
“I’m very passionate on changing that perspective,” Portwood said.
Vladisav Surkov, the top aide to former President Vladimir Putin, and Russian billionaire Vikotor Vekselberg are among some of the top Kremlin officials that the university presidents had an opportunity to mingle with. Meetings with students from Moscow State University, as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, were also on the agenda.
In preparation for the trip, Portwood received a conference call from Michael McFaul, special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Russia, to tell the presidents to research the top Russian leaders and to “do your homework and know who you’re meeting with,” McFaul said, according to Portwood. “We like what you’re doing because it’s helping build U.S.–Russian relations.”
The State Department also told Portwood and his fellow presidents to “engage them directly and don’t be afraid to express your opinion.”
The Russian trip fits into the State Department’s Duel Track Engagement Program, with one track focusing on politics and the second being non-government. The student body presidents attending will help aid the latter track by engaging in a dialog with Russian leaders and students about student programs and opportunities that are planned on building U.S.-Russian relations.