'Contested Areas' Fulbrights

September 2, 2005

The Fulbright Program has long been known as a tool to promote international understanding by sending American scholars abroad and bringing professors from all over the world to American campuses.

Earlham College and the Fulbright Program are starting an experiment this semester that adds a new twist to Fulbright: Rather than bringing a single Fulbright to campus through the Scholar-in-Residence Program, Earlham will be host to an Israeli professor and a Palestinian professor at the same time. The college hopes that this "contested areas" pairing will succeed and inspire other Fulbright participants.

"We want all points of view in the conversation," said Alice Almond Shrock, associate dean for program development and a professor of history. Shrock worked for more than two years to get an Israeli and Palestinian scholar approved at the same time, losing bids earlier when visas couldn't be obtained for one or both participants.

While large universities no doubt have plenty of scholars from "contested areas" all the time, Shrock sees the Fulbright effort as one that should have special significance for scholars in the United States and throughout the world because of the program's fame, and because the scholars aren't at the college by coincidence only. "This really says that open dialogue is essential for higher education, and for peace," she said.

For Earlham, peace is a big issue. Earlham is a Quaker college with an emphasis on peace studies. And the new Fulbright effort is also linked to the Plowshares Collaborative, a joint peace studies program of Earlham, Goshen and Manchester Colleges. Goshen and Manchester are affiliated with the Mennonite Church and the Church of the Brethren, respectively, which like the Religious Society of Friends are pacifist. The visiting scholars will also lecture at Goshen and Manchester during their time in the United States.

While Shrock worked to start the program with two scholars from the Middle East, she noted that there is no shortage of regions to which the same idea could be applied.

The Earlham experiment in "contested areas" Fulbrights has strong support from the U.S. State Department.

Nancy Gainer, director of external relations at the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, which administers Fulbright programs for professors, said that about the same time Earlham started to propose the program, officials at the State Department were asking about the possibility of pairing scholars in a similar way. "This is a very innovative approach," Gainer said, and the State Department sees it as very consistent with the goals of the Fulbright Program. "This is about partnerships that lead to mutual understanding," she said.

The two scholars at Earlham didn't know each other before arriving in Richmond, Ind., but they are both pleased to be part of a Fulbright experiment. While they will be teaching courses individually, they plan to appear in one another's courses, and to look for ways to work together, which they say probably would never happen at their homes.

Muhsin Yusuf is a historian at Birzeit University and former director of the Palestinian Center for Israeli Studies. He will be teaching a course called "Historical Context of Current Conflicts in the Middle East." Tal Litvak-Hirsch, meanwhile, will be teaching a course called "Social Psychology of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." She is a psychology professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Yusuf stunned Litvak-Hirsch by telling her, in Hebrew, that he is fluent in the language. His undergraduate degree is from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "It was a surprise," she says, "a very good surprise."

Litvak-Hirsch does research on how Israelis and Palestinians see one another, but she says that she rarely is able to come into contact with Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens. So she is thrilled to have the chance to do so -- in Indiana. "I think this is a great idea. You don't have to agree about everything, but when you meet and get to know a person personally, then you can talk and maybe find your own solutions," she said.

Yusuf said he too found it frustrating that despite his interest in Israeli-Palestinian relations, he is largely cut off from Israeli society, even though the physical distances are short. "We have so many problems that we almost can't contact each other there," he said. "But here, far away from the problems, we can be human beings like everybody."

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