By Meghan Zea /// News Editor
Lewis & Clark is known for its international studies program, but recent faculty and student efforts are pushing to cover an overlooked program: Middle East Studies.
A newly founded student movement called the Middle-East Initiative (originally the Arabic Initiative) is determined to show that a Middle East Studies minor and full-time Arabic language program are both needed and desired by students. Since last spring, club members have published an editorial in the Pioneer Log, gathered signatures on a petition and appealed before the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark Senate with unanimous support. All the while, they’ve been putting together the first Middle East Studies Symposium.
“While the Middle East Studies Symposium will be unofficial, it will still include many of the touchstones of recognized symposia at LC: panels of students and professors sharing their work on the Middle East, roundtable discussions, film showings and notable speakers that will culminate in a collective dinner at the Co-op. The symposium will run from Feb. 25-27.
Symposium organizer Julia Duerst (’15) believes that the symposium will help show administrators that students want this program.
“Since the Middle East Symposium is largely composed of student research, it shows that there is a huge interest in the Middle East at LC,” Duerst said. “I think the symposium will be a big push.”
LC offers various survey courses for students to take across disciplines,with many students writing and researching the Middle East in their free time. Every other year, the Morocco Study Abroad program allows students to take one semester of Arabic. So far, the only factor LC needs for a Middle East Studies minor is a full-time Arabic program.
Currently, if students are interested in taking Arabic, they must go to Portland State University. Middle-East Initiative President Dina Yazdani (’15) said this is difficult for many students because PSU “has quarter credits that don’t always transfer to LC, and it can be an inconvenience because you waste time traveling.”
The only obstacle the Middle-East Initiative has encountered so far has been from administrators about funding.
“[The Middle-East Initiative] met with an administration official who said ‘you don’t need to convince us, you need to find the funding,’” Yazdani said. “We feel like the administration should be finding the funding to make Arabic possible because the school [funds] new programs all the time, and [LC] would make more money because students wouldn’t have to go to PSU.”
Students are not the only members of the LC community advocating for a Middle-East Studies minor.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies Paul Powers, Associate Professor of Japanese Bruce Suttmeier, and Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Oren Kosanky teach classes focusing on the Middle East, and have noticed student interest in the subject. With the help of the Northwest 5 Consortium of liberal arts colleges, they’re drafting a proposal for an Arabic program and an interdisciplinary Middle East Studies minor. If they are successful, the program will likely be created within the next few years.
According to Kosansky, if LC began teaching Arabic full-time, it would be the first Liberal Arts college in the Northwest to do so, and would make the college more competitive.
“[A Middle East Studies program] could make a better student experience and make LC distinctive,” Kosansky said. “It could help with attracting and retaining students and be a win-win for both the students and the college.”
Email the Middle-East Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
This article was updated on Dec. 5th at 15:15 to reflect the correct dates of the Middle East Studies Symposium, which will run from February 25-27, not November 25-27.