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International Realm Pushes U.S. Diversity

International Realm Pushes U.S. Diversity

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were beyond comprehension. But out of the tragic event came a renewed interest in the Middle East. So much so that five years later, colleges and universities across the country are struggling to keep up with students’ demand for Middle Eastern studies and languages courses.

According to Dr. Amy Newhall, director of the Middle East Studies Association, the growth in Arabic language courses is at 100 percent, with some reports as high as 400 percent. And even though the number of students enrolled in Arabic is miniscule compared to those taking Spanish, Russian and even Japanese, Arabic language and related courses are more popular than ever, prompting schools to hire more instructors and add additional course offerings.

The events of Sept. 11 also revealed that the U.S. government was in dire need of more personnel who could speak and translate Arabic and other “critical need” languages such as Chinese, Farsi and Korean. As a result, the federal government, through various agencies such as the U.S. Departments of Defense and Education, has allocated millions of dollars to support foreign language programs. In January, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings hosted the U.S. University Presidents’ Summit on International Education, where they announced the National Security Language Initiative. One component of the $114 million partnership between the government and the education community seeks to expand language competency programs. In “Bridging Cultural Divides,” Diverse correspondent Peter Galuszka speaks with scholars about the growing popularity of Middle Eastern studies and languages. Is this a passing fad, or is it here to stay?

In “Opening Eyes and Minds,” contributing editor Dina Horwedel looks at the current campus climate for Muslim scholars and students. Many Muslims attribute the ongoing war in Iraq and media coverage that focuses on Islamic extremism as two reasons for the growing negative perceptions of Muslims. Students also say they feel obligated to defend their religion and speak on behalf of all Muslims.

Helping students cope with issues related to their faith and nationality, as well as other identity issues, is where Muslim chaplains Ruhmee Ahmed and Yahya Hendi come in. Ahmed was recently hired as Brown University’s first Muslim chaplain, and after serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, Hendi too is now in the university setting. In “Call to Lead,” assistant editor Kendra Hamilton explores their diverse paths to the chaplaincy as well as their roles on their respective campuses.

Lastly, Diverse online editor Shilpa Banerji, a native of India, in “Pens, Papers and Passports,” looks at the growing number of students at U.S. institutions that are seeking to get a piece of the booming Indian economy. Several top-tier business school programs are sponsoring trips to India, allowing their students to get acquainted with not only Indian business executives, many of whom are alumni, but with the country itself. As one University of Chicago student put it, “India is a hot topic, and everyone wants a piece of it.”

Hilary Hurd Anyaso

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