New Club and New Minor: Middle Eastern Studies
A new club on campus is refocusing the lens on an often misunderstood yet often talked about, culture.
The Middle Eastern Exchange had its first meeting Nov. 2, taking a first step to becoming a distinctive club on campus.
Group founders are sophomores Rita Jabar and Kate Hardison, two women who are “starting small and are happy to expand.”
Middle Eastern Exchange events will range from movie showings and dinners at authentic Middle Eastern restaurants to evening meetings learning Middle Eastern styles of dance.
“There is even a future possibility of a study abroad exchange program with a Catholic University in Lebanon,” Jabar said.
Interest for the club stems from a number of sources, including one of Niagara’s newer minors on campus.
“The Middle Eastern and Islamic studies minor (is) already well under way; we have had about 30 students so far,” said Dr. Amelia Gallagher, assistant professor of religious studies. “The minor is inter-disciplinary, with classes in history, religious studies and modern languages.”
Both Jabar and Hardison, as well as several of the nine attendees of the Middle Eastern Exchange, are declared Middle Eastern studies minors.
“The government, military, and industry need employees who have familiarity with the Middle East and the larger Islamic world and knowledge of the languages of the region,” according to the university website. “This minor will prepare students for further study in graduate and professional schools and allow them to demonstrate to potential employers or graduate schools their seriousness in studying the region.”
An important component of both the Middle Eastern studies minor and the Middle Eastern Exchange is the Arabic language. At least one Arabic culture class is required in the five classes needed to complete the Middle Eastern studies minor.
The Middle Eastern Exchange will also include the Arabic language. Depending upon the number of speakers who are members and the willingness of those who do not speak Arabic to learn, the Middle Eastern Exchange could become “an Arabic conversation table where students can bring their Arabic homework,” Hardison said. “We’ve taken a semester of Arabic. This would be a place to expand that knowledge and to put it into practice.”
Coming off last month’s panel on “Mosque at Ground Zero,” The Middle Eastern Exchange is ready to cover issues of religious and political concern.
“It’s the religious perspective I’m interested in,” said international studies major Ian O’Rourke. “I’m hoping to talk about the controversies that arise when comparing traditions based in Christianity with Middle Eastern religions.”
Jabar also wants to cover Middle Eastern history.
“There is no section in high school history that even deals with that section of the world,” she said.
“It is useful to have an understanding of other ideas,” Hardison said. “This club and its minor will show that every group has gone through their own turmoil to achieve equality and be accepted by the masses.”
Middle Eastern Exchange meetings will occur periodically. Look for signs around campus and an upcoming Facebook group. For more specific information or to learn more, contact Hardison at firstname.lastname@example.org.