What would you feel like if you could no longer study the one subject that you loved and were passionate about? Would you feel angry or sad? Or frustrated? Would you feel hostile? Or would you feel hopeful that something could be done for the future? For Claire Brennan '13 and Ryan Dillon '13, the feelings listed above are only the tip of the iceberg.
The Middle Eastern Studies program at Connecticut College (or lack thereof) has developed beyond many people's expectations: there are language offerings and classes dedicated to culture, students have fallen in love with Arabic and people have had the opportunity to travel to Egypt, Morocco and Jordan to put their knowledge to the test. However, many students now feel as if they have "outgrown" the program, and that although it has made significant progress, it still has a long way to go.
Four years ago, Professor Wong taught the first Arabic class to a group of about ten students; he was the first person to really get people excited about studying the language. Unfortunately, after his contract ended a year later, he left the school. The following year was held with big expectations – the school had hired a woman from UPenn who would supposedly revamp the program and make it into something worthwhile. Regrettably, she barely made it through the first semester, missing about half of her classes before Fall Weekend hit. A few substitutes tried to replace her, but no one was as trained or as academically capable as she had been.
Today, Professor Waed Athamneh teaches most of the College's Islamic Studies and Arabic classes. She says, "We have the most enthusiastic students in the Arabic Studies Program at Conn. Our students face the challenge of learning such a demanding language as Arabic with hard work and determination." She has collaborated with the students to make the program what it is today, but now with the growing interest, she is unable to teach many higher-level classes. Alas, there are only twenty-four hours in a day. Many students have studied abroad in Islamic countries and feel as if there is nothing left to take – once you have surpassed everything offered, what are you supposed to do?
Another issue with the Middle Eastern Studies "department" is that there isn't in fact a department at all. All Islam/Arab classes are put under the umbrella of the Classics Department. Thus, one cannot major or minor in "Islamic Studies" or "Middle Eastern Studies" – instead, one must design their own interdisciplinary major.
The system as of now is flawed, but not irreparable. Just this week, in fact, faculty and students have been meeting to discuss a "Global Islamic Studies" program/department, which would create a more direct path to a "Middle Eastern Studies" type of major.
Just this year, there are about twenty-five freshman taking Arabic 101. With so much interest in the program, it needs to keep growing. As Ryan Dillon '13 says, "If the interest is there, then it must be nurtured or it will die. People don't want to waste their college time on something that won't lead to anything."
Hopefully, the school will hire more professors and make the Middle Eastern Studies program a more visible priority – the students are invested and their work thus far should be applauded. The College is on the right track, and everyone "thinks we should have a more accomplished Arabic Department," says Claire Brennan '13. "We just hope that students and faculty continue to put time and effort into making the program as much of a success as we know it could be."