|Middle East classrooms have endured a number of “culture wars” and schisms since the 1970s. In the last decade, it feels like this has accelerated: the region’s popular uprisings, rising authoritarianism, civil wars, and shifting regional power dynamics have all created fault lines that reinforce prejudices and encourage simplistic analyses rather than deep engagement. These issues are received differently by my students than others at more diverse colleges. I teach at a small, liberal arts college in Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. Over 85% of my student body identifies as white and many come from fairly ethnically and socioeconomically homogenous communities. My university is one of six senior military colleges and about 10% of students on my campus are in the Corps of Cadets. Most have prejudiced understandings about the Middle East transmitted by the internet, their friends and family who have served in the region, or entertainment media. |
As the field turns towards a more introspective movement, as evidenced by Omnia el Shakry’s recent book, my contribution to the roundtable will ground it in a classroom without allies. My students are largely white, conservative, rural, first generation, and middle class or lower. My university is also part-military college, providing important opportunities, but also challenges in the classroom.
Keeping that context in mind, my contribution will speak to the issue of accessing sensitive subjects in an online and hybrid sphere, as well as the tools I used to engage students: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Perusall, StoryMapJS. This past year 2020 forced me to use tools and develop new approaches to critically engage my own biases in order to find the common ground with my students and help us together to move forward towards greater engagement with each other and the material assigned. My Arab Israeli conflict simulation went online in Spring 2020 and my Modern Middle East history course was hybrid in the fall 2020 and fully online in summer 2020. I was not entirely successful in creating allies or reaching every student, but the questions we raised as a class and the new directions this engagement pushed me in was enormously beneficial.