The Eastern club will be offering classes in two languages you will not find offered by any professor at Hillsdale. Seniors Virginia Phillips and Megan Kime will lead the Middle Eastern and Chinese committees and teach beginning Arabic and Chinese language courses, respectively.
While the club has always included the Middle East in its intended scope, Merritt said that, before this semester, no one had been willing or qualified to chair a committee on that region. Phillips, who has traveled in Morocco and studied Arabic for two years, will offer instruction in grammar, common phrases, and the Arabic alphabet.
"Virginia's just a really great teacher," said Amy Benjamin, a senior who has taught Russian language courses as chair of the Russian committee.
Benjamin said she was excited that the club would represent the Middle East.
In addition to Arabic, the club will offer Mandarin Chinese.
Merritt and Kime have been studying the language through the Rosetta Stone program for the past couple years, Merrit said. Mandarin lessons are scheduled to begin with the Chinese committee after Kime finishes her role in the college's musical production of "Company."
Merritt said she hopes to continue teaching Japanese this year at the kindergarten and first-grade levels on Thursdays at 6 and 6:30 p.m. She has studied Japanese for seven years and has achieved a third-grade competence level. She knows the two basic writings systems, Hiragana and Katakana, and more than 400 distinct characters, called Kanji.
Merrit founded the Eastern Club in 2008 in order to fill what she believed was a gap in the education students were receiving.
"Hillsdale is a college about the Western heritage," she said. "The focus is not going to be on the East."
But she said she believes learning about the East is crucial to a liberal arts education. "If you want to learn more about the Western culture, learning about a different culture helps you to learn more about your own."
Associate Professor of English John Somerville, who grew up in South Korea and serves as the club's adviser, has similar reasons for supporting the organization.
"Hillsdale could do more to teach about that part of the world," he said. "Our commitment to the West should not diminish our capacity to teach Eastern culture."
In order to facilitate this broad purpose and accommodate its e-mail list of more than 120 members, the club is uniquely structured around semi-independent committees focused on individual regions and cultures. Every committee is like a miniature club with its own leadership, meeting times, and educational opportunities.
Merritt said she believes the club is best known for its courses in languages not offered by the college. She encourages her fellow students to contact her if they are interested in any of the language opportunities Eastern Club offers.
Somerville said he hopes that expanding interest in the Eastern club will lead to the administration offering classes to study the East.
"In an increasingly global community," he said, "our lack of knowledge about China – our failure to know about these parts of the world is a dangerous thing."