First annual Middle East Symposium advocates for a potential minor in the field

By KT Kelly /// Staff Writer

From March 4-6, Lewis & Clark College will hold its first annual Middle East Studies Symposium, co-chaired by Julia Duerst (’15) and Dina Yazdani (’15), to expose students to an interdisciplinary perspective on the Middle East.

This symposium will feature Dr. Andrew Gardner, an anthropologist and professor at the University of Puget Sound, as its keynote speaker. Along with Dr. Gardner’s speech and Q&A at a family-style dinner at the Rusty Nail Co-Op, the event will also include a student research panel and a film screening of “Encounter Point: Reconciling Grievances in the Pursuit of Peace in Israel/Palestine,” along with other discussions.

Duerst received a grant from the Student Academic Affairs Board to attend a Middle East Studies Association Undergraduate Research Workshop in Washington, D.C. The inspiration to create this symposium came from the requirement that Duerst bring back what she learned at the workshop to the Lewis & Clark community.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do the same thing on campus?’” Duerst said. “The conference was amazing. It emphasized Middle East art, music, literature and religion, as well as the politics and crisis so often the sole focus.”

Yazdani was approached by Duerst to co-chair the symposium. Yazdani is the president of the Middle East Initiative, which started as a club that taught Arabic 101 and eventually turned into a campaign to create a Middle East Studies minor on campus.

“The motivation behind organizing the symposium is two-fold: to educate people about the Middle East through different perspectives, and to push for a Middle East Studies minor by affirming what we already know––students are interested and passionate about the region and would study it further if given the opportunity to do so.” Yazdani said.

Unlike other symposia, the Middle East Studies Symposium does not have a department to support it.

“We are entirely student-run,” Yazdani said. “Even though we are an Area Studies, we don’t consist of just one department.”

Although not having a department gives the symposium greater versatility, both Yazdani and Duerst agree there is a dire need for a Middle East Studies minor at L&C.

“[The symposium] is in the spirit to promote interest for a Middle East Studies minor,” Yazdani said.

Because it is their first symposium, the committee decided against giving it a theme in order to explore topics outside of mainstream Middle East politics.

Although many of the speakers are coming for free, the Middle East Studies Symposium still hassome costs.

“We just presented our Student Initiatives Fund grant to the ASLC Finance Committee, so with that, all of our budget needs should be met,” Duerst said. “If they aren’t, we can always ask the departments and the Anthro Club, who is holding an informal Q&A with our keynote speaker, for monetary support.”

The battle for a minor has been a conversation between students, faculty, and administration for quite a while.

“It started with a student interest in the Arabic language,” Duerst said. “That was the original push. Students wanted the ability to learn Arabic, but one semester is offered exclusively for students going on the Morocco program, and when they return they cannot continue their education. If we have the language programming, we should be able to attain a minor.”

Yazdani emphasizes the importance of a minor for a school boasting to be so internationally competent.

“After 9/11 and poor misguided foreign policy, we virtually destroyed this region,” Yazdani said. “We need to be proactive and educate everyone about the Middle East.”

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