This school year, the Kenyon Arabic program is experiencing significant updates. Welcoming a new professor, Qussay al-Attabi, the department is now making moves to create a more challenging classroom environment.
"When I took Arabic my freshman year, you had a lot of people who were just there in order to complete their language requirement," Arabic Assistant Teacher (AT) and Arabic minor Phoebe Carter '17 said. "This year, as an AT, I have noticed that students are far more invested. I think you can expect far more people to continue the language, rather than just taking it as freshmen, in the future."
The department is now striving to provide an increased workload for first-year students. New assignments — ranging from learning multiple dialects to taking quizzes every week — are encouraging students to study more. This workload is to ensure students are more likely to reach proficiency. The Arabic curriculum also gained a new direction, with the addition of a full three-year plan for teaching Arabic at Kenyon. This means that each level of Arabic will build on the previous one to a greater degree than in the past. Al-Attabi, who is one of two Arabic professors at Kenyon, said this is expected to encourage more students to stick with the language.
Al-Attabi is aware of the easy-A stereotypes once associated with the department. "[Arabic's reputation] was something I discovered on the first day of class," he said. "Classes were more than full, almost double capacity. Some of the students came to me and said they were only taking it to fulfill requirements, and I advised them to drop it, as it is now a rigorous class."
Al-Attabi conceded his new approach would make getting high grades in the class more challenging. "The grades are not what's important," al-Attabi said. "The type of teaching that we do now is task-based, and what will be important is what the students can do with the Arabic acquired in previous units."
He also acknowledged that the program has taken a new direction in terms of rigor. "Our goal right now is to expand the foundation of knowledge that students receive during that first year in the program," he said. "We want to essentially instill confidence that students can be successful with language independently after college."
Dora Segall '20 said she felt the reputation of the classes had changed based on what she had heard from other students. "It might not be an intensive class, but it certainly feels like one," Segall said. Professor al-Attabi is very passionate about what he does, and he's done a great job at making sure we learn the material at a fast pace."
Al-Attabi said the department hopes to add another professor in the near future — in addition to al-Attabi, Professor Christopher Hemmig teaches Intermediate and Advanced Level Arabic. The program has already added a temporary professor for the spring 2017 semester. More advanced classes involving Arabic poetry and literature may be on the horizon in the next several years.
Hemmig added that, although enrollment in the higher-levels of Arabic is at a respectable level, he hopes continued improvements in the program will maintain, and even improve, these numbers.
It looks as though Hemmig will not have to pursue this goal alone: Al-Attabi said he has had a great experience in his new role so far, and plans to be at Kenyon for the foreseeable future.
"I had heard about how good, smart and hard-working Kenyon students were, but I'm even more impressed now that I have taught them," al-Attabi said. "They have been very hard-working and collaborative, and it's refreshing to see students who not only want to be at the top, but want others to be at the top as well. I love that about the culture at Kenyon."