CSUN offers new minor in Middle Eastern studies

Jacqueline Kalisch

The Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies minor (MEIS) is being offered for the first time at CSUN this semester due to the program receiving a large grant from the National Endowment for Humanities.

Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, professor at Gender and Women’s Studies department, is the founding director, advisor and lead contributor of the grant.

“This new minor is aimed at studying people who make up the majority of Middle Eastern nation but also people who are coming from a Muslim tradition who live in other parts of the worlds. That’s why we have included both terms in the title,” said Tohidi.

The minor can interest students in becoming scholars, journalists, translators, interpreters, diplomats, businesspersons, negotiators, and personnel in foreign offices, according to the MEIS website.

The minor became possible when the College of Humanities received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which Tohidi lead.

“That was a turning point in making us able to actualize what have been talking about for several years,” said Tohidi. “We’ve been planning this for five years.”

The minor took longer than expected to make possible due to several professors involved leaving CSUN. Faculty from different departments stepped up to the plate and fulfilled the department’s requirements to having a full faculty.

“Now we have a co-faculty of experts who have made out the faculty committee of MEIS,” said Tohidi.

The minor aims for students to understand a cohesive picture of what the Middle East is really about.

“Given how tense the relationship now is between the US and the Middle East and the importance of new immigrant groups in the United States coming from different parts of the Middle East and other parts of the world with an Islamic background, it is a very timely program now for students because we tend to, in America, not to know much about Muslims and Middle Eastern people. There are a lot of simplistic notions and stereotypes,” said Tohidi.

There are a variety of jobs this minor can complement or pursue for students.

“Students interested in becoming scholars, journalists, translators, interpreters, diplomats, businesspersons, negotiators, and personnel in foreign offices.  Some of the courses in the MEIS program satisfy General Education requirements or may be used as electives in several majors,” according to the meis website.

Several students are already enrolled in the program, like Veronica Caro, a junior majoring in Cinema and Television Arts and double minoring in Teaching English as a Second Language, TESL, and MEIS.

“I’ve always been interested in the Middle East, since I was 15. I have a couple of friends who are Middle Eastern and they introduced me to the culture and I’ve been interested since then,” said Caro, 20.

Caro heard about the minor online when she browsed through the different minors offered at CSUN. She believes it is important to learn about the Middle East because of how the media represents them poorly.

“It’s not exactly how it is, it is completely different. We see something different than what is really going on out there. My boyfriend is from Pakistan and he tells me a lot of different things from what we see,” Caro said.

She believes the minor will benefit her film major because she plans to do documentaries based on the Middle East culture.

“Since my major is film, I have had this plan to learn about a culture and do a documentary about it. This minor will provide the research. It will benefit me to know what I am getting into and what I am going to be filming,” Caro said.

Arnold Alahverdian, 21, is a senior majoring in history and minoring in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies minor. He is three credits away from finishing the minor.

“It’s in the field I am interested in,” said Alahverdian. “I also I think it’s one of those areas that you can never really learn the truth. There is the media, there is everything you hear, stereotypes and school is the only place where I can learn the truth.”

Alahverdian recommends taking HIST 426 Early Modern Middle East.

“It’s a really good class,” Alahverdian said. “There are so much things going on. There is so much misinformation in the media.”

The Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies minor complements his minor as a history major but that is not the only reason why he is taking this minor.

“It’s something I always wanted to learn and I think everyone should, especially in the modern states. It’s really important,” Alahverdian said.

Tohidi believes the minor will engage students on the political standpoint from the Middle East. Students will be able to learn about the wars going on in Afghanistan and Iraq from a Middle Eastern point of view.

“There is a talk now perhaps another war, this time with Iran with a lot of tension,” Tohidi said.“Students need to understand why we have so much intentional tension with Middle Eastern people. What is the history behind it? What is the politics behind it? What is the economy interest behind it? Is this really all about oil? Or is there something more than that?”