As the landscape of the Middle East continually evolves, the region is the subject of news coverage and public attention. Founded in 1969, the Middle East Studies Center provides expertise on the Middle East and promotes Middle Eastern education to OSU students, as well as to the Columbus and national communities, through seminars, courses and outreach work.
Alam Payind, director of the Middle East Studies Center, said it are constantly working to promote Middle Eastern studies, be that learning Turkish, specializing in Middle Eastern politics, and learning about Middle Eastern religion, among other avenues that students can take. Payind said that the center looks for ways to help fund students in these areas of studies through grants, scholarships and waiving course fees.
“As terrorism grows and words like ISIL and ISIS are thrown around, there is a need for people to be educated about the Middle East,” Payind said.
The center also looks for ways to connect with community colleges, local teachers and other community members. Melinda McClimans, assistant director of the Middle East Studies Center, said she reaches out to Columbus-area teachers in order to educate them about the Middle East.
Every summer the center hosts a two-week program called the Summer Institute for Teachers, during which McClimans teaches K-12 teachers about the Middle East, as well as how to properly instruct their students about it.
McClimans said that she has encountered many people who think that the Middle East is a place that is “backward, barbaric and without technology.”
“It is so important that we start to learn how to look at the Middle East relatively and from different angles so we are not just being biased,” McClimans said.
Payind said he believes students are the world’s future leaders, so it is important that they not only understand what the Middle East is, but why it is the way it is.
“How can we sign economic and political agreements with other countries if we do not know who these countries are and why they are that way?” Payind said.
In order to inform the public about the region, Payind and the Middle East Studies Center also travel out into the community.
Payind said that he, McClimans and their colleagues in the center have given talks to local kindergarten classes, schools for the deaf, military bases and prisons.
When community members reach out about a topic that the Middles East Studies Center is not an expert on, they arrange for specialists from around the country and world to speak to them. For example, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the Mershon Center, Amr Al-Azm, an associate professor at Shawnee State University, will be giving a talk on extremist jihadi groups.
Payind said Islamophobia is a popular topic, and the center receives requests daily to discuss it.
“In my 30 years here, I have never been contacted by anyone in West Virginia, but today I was, and it is, I’m sure, because of the way the world is changing,” Payind said.
McClimans said an OSU anthropology class is currently connecting with a social studies class at Istanbul University in Turkey. She said that the students have a chance to learn about each other and that while there is a language barrier, it hasn’t stopped their enthusiasm.
Payind said because of the technology the center has access to, it can put OSU students in direct communication with students in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.
As the world continues to change, there will always be something happening in the Middle East, good or bad, Payind said.
“I want the Middle East Studies Center to be ready to disseminate information and educate America as its questions continue to rise,” Payind said.
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