UBC students may soon be able to pursue a minor in Middle Eastern studies.
In November, UBC’s Middle East Engagement Collective (MEEC) — a student initiative aiming to expand the university's academic offerings on the Middle East — submitted a proposal to the faculty of arts to create a Middle Eastern studies minor program.
According to the arts faculty’s Associate Dean Academic Dr. Stefania Burk, the proposal is currently being expanded to be reviewed by the faculty’s curriculum committee potentially in the upcoming academic year — and it seems to be going well.
“There is clear evidence of student interest, demand and enough courses to become a minor,” Burk said.
“This minor program will allow us to build a scholarly community where students and professors with different perspectives can have that interdisciplinary space to discuss issues related to the Middle East.”
Other faculty members who teach current courses that would be in the minor program — like geography senior instructor Dr. Siobhán McPhee and history instructor Dr. Pheroze Unwalla — noted that there’s no real barrier to creating the minor. Instead, there was just a previous lack of will to do so.
“The absence of a Middle Eastern Studies Program at UBC was not due to the lack of funding but rather the will to create a program like this,” said Unwalla.
“... Now we have MEEC, a student group that has been showcasing the need for a Middle Eastern Studies minor program and you got the faculty will as well who are willing to put in the work to see this happen.”
While it’s currently unclear how long it would take until the minor becomes a reality, both Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern students are excited about how the program would help them better the region.
“The minor program would help Middle Eastern students like me to learn about their own culture as well as to provide a new way of learning for the non-Middle Eastern students who don’t know much about the region,” said Niki Najmabadi, a political science and gender, race, sexuality and social justice student.
“I think the Middle East is always framed in terms of its problems and I think this minor program would complicate these assumptions ... and prevent students from learning about the region the wrong way,” added Christian Pollock, a visiting student from the University of Saskatchewan.
With the minor program proposal in progress, MEEC is already setting its aim high for following up initiatives.
“I think that having a minor like this approved will be pivotal to the progress of Middle Eastern Studies in UBC,” MEEC executive member Marya Atassi wrote to The Ubyssey.
“The minor, however, is only the first step.”
“Once we meet our goal of establishing a Middle Eastern Studies program and Modern Standard Arabic program,” added Marcella Muse, another MEEC executive member, “we’ll redirect some of our advocacy efforts towards the creation of more international opportunities for UBC students in the MENA region.”
In the meantime, both faculty and student groups encourage others to support MEEC’s effort by raising awareness about its initiative with their peers.
“[Students should be] encouraging faculty within each department, make them aware of this initiative and ask them to share it with their colleagues at a formal faculty meeting,” said McPhee.
“What MEEC did was inspiring. They were able to convince the faculty and the Dean’s office that there is a real need for this program and it helps students to become more critically engaged global citizens,” Unwalla added.
“I hope this inspires other students to do similar things.”
This article has been updated to clarify the proposal’s progress.