Middle East studies in the News
Idaho State University Promotes Cultural Understanding Post Controversial Semester
by Madeleine Coles
As of the Spring 2016 semester, ISU boasts an impressive number of students from multiple cultural and ethnic backgrounds. However, as many students discovered last semester, diversity does not always come without controversy.
Most students will remember the unsavory events that occurred last spring involving ISU's Middle Eastern and Muslim students. And while the situation was far from ideal, many see it as a learning experience: a platform on which students and community members alike can grow and improve.
"Some positive things definitely took place," said Zack Heern, an ISU history professor with specific research interests in the Middle East and Islam. Among these positive events he cited the diversity rallies on campus and students and community members visiting the Pocatello mosque.
Although Heern commends the work that was done last semester, he is already looking towards the future and additional ways to increase understanding and friendship between all ISU students.
"I always think that more can be done. We can always be doing better," Heern said. "I think we should facilitate mentorship and relationships between people."
One such effort is being led by Heern himself, as well as other professors at ISU. Heern teaches an Arabic language class every semester that he says never fails to encourage students to engage with the culture.
"In terms of what the university is doing in an academic sense that [Arabic language] class and Middle East history classes can really help bridge the gap," Heern said, adding that having so many Middle Eastern students in the classes adds an extra level of learning and understanding.
"International students are a great opportunity for students to learn about other cultures and other people without going anywhere," Heern said.
Another effort to increase the cohesion between native and foreign students is a host family program, according to senior Seraj Almutawa, an international student originally from Saudi Arabia.
Almutawa, who works in the International Programs Office, said that he is currently staying with a host family, and he thoroughly enjoys it, saying, "I feel like I am home."
Almutawa has been living in the U.S. for about five years, and says that even before he moved, he was fortunate enough to have experiences that prepared him for living in a different country.
"I traveled a lot, and my family is not as strict. They are not really religious; they are open," Almutawa said.
However, he acknowledged that for other students, it is not always as easy.
"It's a totally different culture, and especially when people have never travelled to somewhere else and right away come to America, it is a different life. Some students will just be surprised," Almutawa said.
Ultimately, Almutawa says, one of the greatest things that students can do to understand each other is to keep an open mind.
"Don't think everyone is the same, and what you hear on the news is not always true. When I go back home, I hear the same thing about [Americans] that you are hearing about us," Almutawa said. "I hear that you are terrorists, and when I come here, I don't see terrorists. I think most people here just judge us by Islam, but every religion has bad people who only take what they want from the religion."
That open mindedness is exactly what the university needs, according to Heern.
"I think one of the main missions of any university is to create a space to understand and grow," Heern said, but added that whether or not the attitude of students and the environment of the university has grown since the last semester remains to be seen.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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