Kurdish Studies and language classes at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)
At the direction of President McPhee, plans were developed to create a Middle East Center (MEC), which officially came into being in December 2006. From July 2006 through June 2009 MTSU had a Department of Education Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Languages grant to initiate language programs in Arabic and Hebrew, develop courses for a new Middle East Studies (MES) minor, support faculty members working in MES, and offer workshops for middle and high school teachers in the region that presented ways to incorporate the study of the Middle East in their curriculum.
With the foundations of the MES program well established, Dr. Allen Hibbard (director of the MEC) met with the MES faculty and students to discuss future goals. The Kurdish Students Association attended the meeting and members advocated for the development of a Kurdish Studies program citing the large Kurdish community in Middle Tennessee. Dr. Kari Neely, professor of Arabic, supported the motion agreeing that language programs need strong community support to be sustainable. Dr. Canak, the faculty advisor for the KSA, also supported the motion along with several other faculty members. As a member of the Foreign Language Department, Dr. Neely volunteered to take the initiative on the project.
Dr. Neely started modestly offering a special topics course for the Middle East Studies minor “Introduction to Kurdish History and Culture” in the Spring of 2009 which immediately filled. The success of the topics course allowed Dr. Neely to submit proposals for a two-year sequence in Kurdish language that were accepted by the Department of Foreign Languages and the University Curriculum committee. Seeking funding for a professor to teach these courses, Dr. Neely applied for and obtained an Access and Diversity grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).
MTSU hired Mr. Deniz Ekici, a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, as a full time faculty member. Mr. Ekici is an accomplished author of Kurdish language instructional materials. He is the author of both Beginning Kurmanji Kurdish (an interactive DVD-ROM) and Kurmanji Kurdish Reader. Additionally, his background in Kurdish Studies has allowed him to collaborate with MTSU faculty members to co-teach general MES courses while incorporating Kurdish themes. In the 2011 year, Mr. Ekici will offer Intermediate Kurdish in addition to the Elementary Kurdish. In order to reach a larger audience, he is developing an online course to be offered in the Spring of 2012 through MTSU. Mr. Ekici teaches a standardized version of Kurmanji (Behdînî) rather than a particular regional version.
With these developments, MTSU is uniquely positioned to become a center for Kurdish Studies in the United States for a number of reasons. First, we are situated near to the largest Kurdish community that gives scholars the ability to have direct experience with a Kurdish community and practice their Kurdish language skills in context. Also, it allows international Kurdish students to easily adjust to life in the United States. Second, there are already two faculty members (Dr. Neely and Dr. Clare Bratten) who are interested in Kurdish issues and who incorporate Kurdish issues into the MES courses. Dr. Bratten teaches Media in the Middle East and Dr. Neely will be teaching Introduction to Middle East Studies and Peoples of the Middle East in addition to occasional offerings of Women in the Middle East. Thus, Kurdish themes are present in three of the primary courses in the MES minor.
The Kurdish Studies program at MTSU continues to grow through the support of the administration and MES faculty. MES faculty and KSA members are working with the university on new projects to help strengthen and enrich the program. Chief among the goals is to strengthen ties with international Kurdish institutions, especially within Kurdistan.
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