Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) studies program expands campus-wide

May 26, 2016

Since its launch in fall 2014, North Central College’s Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) studies minor has added courses and faculty. Partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the MENA program has infused the campus with a multi-dimensional understanding of MENA cultures.

The addition of two faculty has been key to its campus-wide expansion and student engagement. Esra Tasdelen is adjunct assistant professor of Arabic and MENA and coordinator of MENA, and Maha Mourad has served as the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence during the 2015-2016 academic year.

“The MENA program fits perfectly within North Central because of its interdisciplinary focus,” said Tasdelen. “It’s crucial and relevant to students’ educations because of what’s going on in the world today. If you turn on your TV, there will be news on something related to the Middle East. Students who graduate with a MENA minor will be distinguished from their peers because of their wide range of knowledge on the influential topic.”

Tasdelen has taught Elementary Arabic (levels 1-3) and Introduction to the Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Two courses will be added for the 2016-2017 academic year: The Middle East in Popular Culture and Literary Landscapes of the Middle East and North Africa.

Tasdelen has helped organize and lead cultural events, lectures, field trips and a noncredit Verandah course. These included a TIP Talk on the Syrian refugee crisis and a globalization event on the city of Istanbul, its history, significance and Tasdelen’s personal narrative connected to the city.

Assisting Tasdelen in the growth of the MENA program is Mourad (right), associate professor of marketing at The American University in Cairo. As North Central’s Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence, she has shared consumer and marketing research expertise in business and global studies courses, as well as her knowledge of Muslim society and topics like music in Egypt and why women wear veils.

“One of my goals is to change the stereotypes,” Mourad said. “You must understand the rituals, the religion and the customs in order to do business in this region.”

She also advised a new student club called the Muslim Association and helped prepare graduate students for a D-Term study abroad course in Abu Dhabi, led by Veselina Vracheva, assistant professor of management, and Bill Muck, associate professor of political science.

As the MENA program continues to grow, North Central students will have opportunities to broaden their world views of the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa beyond stereotypes and prejudices.

“To be able to break the cycle of hatred, we need to be much better informed about this region of the world and the history of its civilizations,” said Tasdelen.

For more information on the MENA program click here.