Arab program raises cultural sensitivity

Oscar Abello

Dr. Silvia Nagy-Zekmi, the chair of the department of classical and modern languages and literatures, is proposing a Middle Eastern Sensitivity Training Program for the upcoming spring semester with the intention of creating an interest in the culture of the Middle East.

Nagy-Zekmi aims to stimulate an interest in the study of Arabic language and foster a level of communication that could help diminish misunderstandings between American and Middle Eastern cultures.

“Language is the key to getting acquainted with a culture,” Nagy-Zekmi said.

A professor for 25 years with an extensive background in Latin-American and other third-world cultures and post-colonial studies, Nagy-Zekmi says, “A lack of real communication may lead to unexpected violence between two cultures.”

The goal of the proposed Middle Eastern Sensitivity Program would be to heal that cultural enmity. This spring, the department of classical and modern languages and literatures will be offering a course on Arab culture.

Taught in English by Professor Sayed Omran, the course will cover a range of topics in Arab culture.

Among the topics covered are geography and demography (the physical, social, economic and human geography in the region) ethnicity and identity (what it means to be an Arab) family and society (the tribal society of the Arab world) and architecture (Arab aesthetic and artistic traditions.)

“The sociopolitical situation in today’s world elicits some sort of response from us to learn beyond our own culture,” Nagy-Zekmi said. “It’s crucial that we develop an understanding of other cultures to comprehend the reasons behind policies of different governments.”

The proposal for sensitivity and awareness training courses provides for significant flexibility in terms of the time frame and format of the courses. Although the program was originally thought to be geared towards military participants, it will now be open to all students.

“Educating America’s students about Middle Eastern culture and history is extremely important,” senior Frank Brogna, Second Lieutenant for the New Jersey National Guard, said. “It’s even more crucial that those future commissioned officers receive an in-depth awareness about this region. At Villanova we need to recognize that educating our students is the beginning of combating these prejudices about people from the Middle East.”

The courses are proposed to fulfill requirements for a minor in Arabic language and for the Arab/Islamic Studies Concentration.